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Rural communities hit hardest by housing benefit reductions

Reductions in housing benefit are hitting social housing tenants in the countryside harder than those in cities and towns, new research has found.

The study, published by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC), looked at the impact of changing Government policies on eligibility for benefits. It found:

•    Reductions in benefits for tenants who live in social-rented properties with more bedrooms than they are deemed to need, will have a greater impact on people living in rural areas than urban areas. This may force people to choose between losing benefit and moving away from their friends and community in search of smaller properties in towns. There is an acute shortage of one-bedroom properties in many rural districts.

•    Some people needing to re-locate as a consequence of the benefit reductions affecting the private rented sector will have to move tens of miles across a ‘broad market rental area’, away from friends and family and possibly from a rural to an urban area

Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and Commissioner of the CRC said: “Changes to benefit eligibility sometimes have unintended consequences. The Commission is concerned that these changes will affect vulnerable people in rural area in ways that have not been anticipated, and will lead younger people to move out of small rural settlements. Other people too may lose benefit unless they move to smaller homes – perhaps away from their friends and communities. There is a real danger that such places will be less sustainable, and less able to support jobs and services”

The research was carried out by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research. Lead researcher Anna Clarke said: “These changing benefit criteria are likely to lead to increased demand for smaller social rented properties in rural areas. We also found particular problems with housing quality and fuel poverty in rural areas, and concern over the affordability of the new Affordable Rent product, which is largely replacing the construction of new social housing.”

The Commission recently praised the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) because it believes that the NPPF is likely to speed up the planning process. It also has the potential to enable local people to have a greater say in the kinds of properties that are allowed to be built in their local areas. However, the provisions of the NPPF are unlikely to help that demand to be met in the short term, the CRC believes.

The Department for Work and Pensions has commissioned an independent review of the housing benefit reforms in the private rented sector and the outcome of this research is expected later this year.

published on: 15 May 2012