Government defensive over Supreme Court ruling on housing benefit

DWP minister speaks of “the same considerations and choices faced by people not in receipt of benefits should also face those claiming benefits”.

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The government has gone on the defensive over a Supreme Court ruling over the use of benefits to cover housing costs – with the Commons told housing benefit can no longer cover the cost of private sector renting.

As reported by 24housing, the case focussed on a woman known as ‘Ms Samuels’ being declared intentionally homeless by Birmingham city council when she could not afford to pay her rent in 2011.

The Supreme Court overturned the council’s decision ruling that Ms Samuels should not have had to use her other benefits to make up the shortfall in housing related benefits.

Ms Samuels was using non-housing benefits intended to cover other living costs such as food and clothing to cover the £35 weekly gap between her housing benefit and her rent.

When she lost her private tenancy, she approached Birmingham city council for homeless assistance, saying she could not meet the shortfall.

The council refused her request, telling her to use her non-housing benefits to plug the shortfall and decided she had intentionally become homeless.

Raising the case in the Commons, Shadow Work and Pensions Minister Marsha De Cordova questioned ministers as to the policy implications of the Supreme Court ruling.

DWP minister Will Quince said the department would “consider” those implications.

“The intention behind the welfare reform programme is that the same considerations and choices faced by people not in receipt of benefits should also face those claiming benefits,” he said.

De Cordova directly blamed government for the circumstances that brought the case about.

“Housing benefit can no longer cover the cost of renting in the private sector,” said De Cordova.

“The cost of preventing homelessness [is] being pushed from national government to local government.

“The government cannot continue to expect the poorest people in our society to find a way of paying for what the government refuse to,” she said.

Anti-poverty campaigners see the Supreme Court ruling as showing it’s unlawful to expect families to rely on funds for basic living expenses when housing benefit can’t.

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