The budget announcements on housing benefit made by the Chancellor this week could push households over the edge, Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb has warned.
Responding to the Government's planned reduction in LHA rates, the CEO of the highly respected national housing charity declared: "Shelter has been calling for housing benefit reform for years, but this debate must not be muddied by the use of an extreme example from one area* in the country."
He continued: "The vast majority of housing benefit claimants are either pensioners, those with disabilities, people caring for a relative or hardworking people on low incomes, and only one in eight people who receive housing benefit is unemployed," according to the Survey of English Housing 2007/08.
Robb went on: "We are really concerned that even at current levels, nearly half of local housing allowance claimants are already making up a shortfall of almost £100 a month to meet their rent. If this support is ripped out suddenly from under their feet it will push many households over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness.
"The underlying issue which this budget has failed to address is the critical shortage of affordable housing, which means more and more people are being housed in the private rented sector where rents are almost double those in social housing.
"If we are to reduce the housing benefit bill in the long term, we must continue to build more affordable housing," said the Shelter chief executive.
The government's plans were also criticised by the Chartered Institute of Housing, whose CEO pointed out on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday 23 June that only one in three of the houses currently needed were being built.
Part of the problem, say analysts, is that the combined ideologies of 'localism' and choice' mean that more and more housing schemes are being rejected by well housed people in neighbouring communities.
There is particular concern that housing benefit restrictions will hit lower income individuals and families in relatively prosperous areas. In recent years key workers have become reliant on the private rented sector when they have been priced out of mortgages.
Members of Housing Justice, the churches' national housing coalition, who were meeting in conference this week, have also expressed concern about the impact of the budget on a variety of people in housing need.
* £104,000 is the current rate for a 5 bedroom property in Central London BRMA (Broad Rental Market Area). An example of the households eligible for this amount would be a family of two adults living with an elderly relative and six children under the age of 16 (if paired with same sex over 10).
Housing Justice: http://www.housingjustice.org.uk/