Minister accused by landlords of fiddling figures

Nia Williams

November 4, 2010

Lord Freud, who gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into housing benefit reforms on Wednesday, has been asked to retract claims that private landlords have been most to blame for the rising cost of housing benefit – a claim made despite his own department’s figures showing that the opposite is true.

Data from the Department for Work and Pensions shows that a greater proportion of the rise in the housing benefit bill since November 2008 was caused by increasing unemployment and by government policies on social housing, rather than by landlords pushing up the rents that they charge to housing benefit tenants.

Analysis using DWP’s figures shows almost 70% of growth in the benefit bill can be attributed to additional claimants – the unemployed of this recession. A further 17.7% is attributed to an increase in payments in the social rented sector – due to the transfer of council house stock to housing associations, which have higher rents – and only 13.2% to an increase in average payments in the private rented sector.

Landlord bodies claimed that the misuse of statistics was part of a campaign by the DWP to justify its programme of housing benefit cuts.

This has seen the department misrepresenting independent research it commissioned from the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies and the University of Birmingham comparing low income working households not receiving housing benefit with benefit recipients.

It wrongly claimed in one newspaper article (Daily Telegraph, 17 October) that “on average, private landlords charge higher rents to housing benefit claimants than working adults in equivalent accommodation, but provide worse conditions”. The report however found the difference was “not statistically significant”.

Commenting, Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, said: “Landlords and their representatives support benefit reform, but are not prepared to take the rap for the Government’s unpopular policies. Constant spinning and fiddling with the statistics just embarrasses the Department of Work and Pensions and has no place in the Coalition’s politics.

“The private rented sector has housed an additional 1.1 million households in the UK over the past decade and should be welcomed as almost the only source of housing growth in this country over the period. HM Treasury statistics show that rents are no more costly to working people now, in real terms they were a decade ago.

“Rather than distorting the findings of the report and misusing statistics the Department should be focusing its energies on how it can work with the sector to keep people in their homes.”

Richard Jones, the policy director for the Residential Landlords Association added: “Unfortunately DWP seems to have embarked on a campaign to slur the vast majority of landlords who rent their properties to benefit recipients.

“The public has been hearing about exceptional cases involving large benefit claims and are getting a distorted picture. In the last few days this has become a major political issue and the general public are beginning to learn more about serious consequences which will result from what the Government are proposing. At the RLA we have written to Lord Freud to point out the errors in the Daily Telegraph report and to ask him to retract the misleading DWP claims.”

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