A single mother of four who was was forced into homelessness due to a shortfall in housing benefit is to challenge the government in Britain’s highest court.
The woman, known only as Ms Samuels, was treated as intentionally homeless because she refused to use her non-housing benefits, intended to cover other living costs, to cover the £35 weekly gap between her housing benefit and her rent.
When she subsequently fell into rent arrears and was evicted, Birmingham City Council refused to treat her and her children as unintentionally homeless on the basis that she could, in theory, have used some of her non-housing benefits to plug the shortfall.
Charities Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Shelter are intervening in the case. They argue that it is unlawful to force tenants to spend money intended for basic daily living needs on their rent because housing benefit has been reduced.
Around 1.6 million adults rely on housing benefit to help with private rents, most of whom are women. But the benefit covers only a portion of private sector rent in 95 per cent of England’s broad rental areas.
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, which are used to determine housing benefit entitlement for tenants renting in the private sector, have been frozen since April 2016, although private rents have risen by 22 per cent since 2010. So inflation means the freeze is a cut in real terms.
CPAG’s head of strategic litigation, Carla Clarke, said the case was important in a climate in which housing benefit has been “eviscerated” while rents continued to rise.
“No mother should have to see her children go short of essentials in order to pay the rent. No one should be required to live below the income that Parliament has decided they should have for the basic essentials to keep a roof over their head,” she said.
He added: “When someone is forced to choose between rent and keeping their children fed, they cannot be viewed as ‘intentionally’ homeless when they choose the latter. This situation is a damning indictment of our housing and benefits system, and how it too often works against the very people it is supposed to support.
“Housing benefit has not kept pace with rising rents for years and cases like this are the result: we are hearing from more and more families who are choosing between rent and meals.” Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter, said the charity was intervening because it was “not lawful or right to expect families to scramble to find money from their day to day expenses to pay the sky high rents that housing benefit can’t cover”.
It comes after child homelessness in England hit a 12-year high, with government figures showing a total of 123,630 minors were housed in temporary accommodation between April and June, marking a rise of nearly a quarter in the past three years.
Campaigners said the rise was the result of cuts to housing benefit and reduced funding for homelessness services, as well as a lack of affordable homes and regulation in the private rented sector.