Overpaid and overclaimed

Too expensive to repeal the bedroom tax? Look what’s happened to housing benefit overpayments.

A damning report published on Tuesday by the Commons public accounts committee reveals that overpayments cost £1.4 billion in 2013/14, the first year of the under-occupation penalty. That is an increase of £420 million since 2010/11.

Of that £1.4 billion, the DWP estimates that £900 million was claimant error, £340 million claimant fraud and £150 million official error. Overpayments since 2000/01 now total a staggering £12.6 billion – and there seem to be no figures on how much of the money that is overpaid is ever recovered.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

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Winners and losers

So buy to let landlords made £177 billion from rising house prices over the last five years – and that does not include rental income.

A series of linked stories in the Financial Times this morning make clear who the beneficiaries of booming property market have been since 2009, when interest rates fell to a record low. In addition to buy to letters, they are home owners in London (prices up by £563 billion in the last five years) and in Conservative constituencies outside the capital (prices up eight times faster than in Labour seats). Even social landlords get in on the act, with a 20 per cent increase in the value of their stock since 2009.

Yet all the research by Savills and impressive FT data visualisation beg some far bigger questions about what it calls the politics of British housing. Why has this happened? If those are the winners, who are the losers?

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The return of rent control?

An idea that was supposedly buried a generation ago is rising rapidly up the housing policy agenda.

Last year saw modest proposals by Labour for rent regulation within three-year tenancies in the private rented sector. Now there are calls for something that goes much further.

The conjunction of two news items last Friday put the issue into sharp relief. The first was an opinion poll for the private tenants campaign Generation Rent that asked ‘would you support or oppose proposals for the government to introduce a “rent control” system in the UK’. The result was 59 per cent to support, 6.8 per cent to oppose and 34 per cent with no opinion. Levels of support rose to 77 per cent among private renters, 69 per cent of Labour voters and 64.5 per cent of Londoners. However, rent control also had the support of a majority of Conservatives (55 per cent) and homeowners (56 per cent).

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