Hundreds of thousands of people are experiencing acute forms of homelessness across Britain, with rough sleeping set to increase sharply over the next few years unless the government takes action to tackle the problem, including creating greater incentives for private landlords to accept tenants receiving the housing costs element of Universal Credit, a councillor in East Lothian has warned.
Only last month, the Liberal Democrat’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, Stephen Lloyd, expressed his concern that the 1.5 million private sector rented tenants on housing benefit across the UK could, unless the government makes it easy for landlords to receive direct payments from tenants on Universal Credit, be in danger of losing their homes if they fall behind with their payments, because quite simply most private landlords simply cannot afford not to receive rents for months on end.
Now a sudden increase in homelessness among people in East Lothian has been blamed on a decline in the number of private landlords in the county, and the fact that many private landlords are unwilling to rent to people on benefits.
A report on the risks facing East Lothian Council over the coming year placed its ability to deal with homelessness at the top of the danger list.
Jim Lamond, chief finance officer with the council, told the East Lothian Courier: “One of the changes has been giving tenants much greater rights by giving benefits to them. Landlords are uncomfortable with that.”
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s audit and governance committee on Tuesday, councillor Stuart Currie, SNP group leader, said: “In parts of England it has become almost impossible for people on UC [Universal Credit] to get a private let. It is all holiday lets. That is a concern for East Lothian.
“If we get to a point where private landlords do not want to accept anyone on UC or benefits or are not looking to expand their portfolios it is a major issue in East Lothian because rent prices will go up as demand outstrips the supply.”