York housing benefit bill rises to £45.2 million

City housing benefit bill rises to £45.2 million

City housing benefit bill rises to £45.2 million

First published in News York Press: Photograph of the Author by , mark.stead@thepress.co.uk

YORK’S housing benefit bill has almost doubled in the space of ten years, with more than 11,000 residents having to seek support.

Figures released by City of York Council’s ruling Labour group show the authority’s expenditure on housing benefit, which stood at £23.4 million in 2003/04, reached £45.2 million in 2012/13. Its leader, Coun James Alexander, has now called for a debate on whether York should introduce rent-capping in an attempt to bring costs down.

The statistics show the largest proportion of the 93 per cent increase over the last decade - £7.7 million - has been in the city’s private rented sector, where 1,501 more people claimed housing benefit last year than in 2005/06, which was the first year figures for the number of residents affected were available. Labour said York’s average weekly rents were now £75.35 for council tenants, £90 for housing association tenants and £177.46 for private tenants.

Coun Alexander said the housing market was now “broken” and public money was having to go to landlords because of the city’s high rent levels.

The council’s Conservative leader, Coun Chris Steward, said he would be happy to participate in a rent-capping debate but believed a cap could not work.

In 2012/13, housing benefit spending in York rose £2.13 million compared to the previous year, with 11,269 claimants, and Coun Alexander said the bill was now at its highest-ever level.

He said: “Since the 2010 General Election, it has increased by £5 million while the number of people requiring this support has increased by 1,000.

“York is the most difficult place in the north of England to get onto the property ladder, with some of the highest rents. Surely it is about time we had a sensible debate about rent-capping to get this benefit bill down, rather than attacking the recipients of housing benefit.”

Coun Alexander said council money spent on housing benefit would be better used to kickstart new housing schemes. However, Coun Steward said: “Rent-capping is unworkable and it is interesting Coun Alexander is now merely calling for a debate after previously calling for a cap, but refusing to say what the cap should be.

“I look forward to hearing from him about the level of cap he supports, how it would work and when and where he would like the debate to be held.”

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