A recent government update on the UK’s benefit system revealed that five million people are claiming housing benefit. It’s therefore of no surprise that comments by the previous Minister of Housing, Kris Hopkins, regarding renting housing while receiving this benefit enraged and worried many, including MPs. In a Panorama documentary aired last month, Hopkins described the landlord’s right to evict those on benefits as “perfectly legitimate”, sparking fury amongst those who utilise this country’s financial support system. However, was Hopkins right? Is the tenancy completely dependent on the wishes of the landlord? Or, is this yet another case of discrimination against those who aren’t rich enough to be heard?
According to the official government website, you’re entitled to housing benefit if you’re paying rent, earn a low income, you’re having to claim other benefits and you have less than 16,000 in savings. You can be employed and claiming housing benefit as long as you’re earning below a certain amount – usually too little to pay your rent and bills. The amount you’re entitled to can vary depending on how much you earn, your payment needs and who you live with.
Unfortunately, however, many landlords will not accept your application to their property if you’re claiming housing benefit. This can be for a few legitimate reasons such as the benefits not including the deposit, paperwork taking longer to go through (meaning they don’t receive rent for up to a few months), and insurance premiums. However, a lot of this comes down to misconceptions regarding those who are receiving benefits being lazy, unreliable and dodging responsibility. A stigma which no one seems eager to amend any time soon. Although a portion of those claiming housing benefits are having trouble finding work, many are also claiming because of long term illness, being a single parent with no one else to look after their child or simply not earning enough in their existing line of work.
Despite Hopkins' attempt to backtrack and “clarify” his statement, his original words reflect a general view of those claiming housing benefit. Although it is a landlord’s right to turn away anyone they don’t wish to rent their property, actively putting someone out on the street when they are already clearly in need is another matter and a dangerous one for the Minister to support. Labour’s Emma Reynolds has echoed this view, describing it as “appalling” that someone could be evicted simply for receiving social security despite paying their rent on time.
Let's hope Hopkins' newly appointed successor as Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, has a more enlightened view.