Homeless Link
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Shared Accommodation Rate guidance includes exemptions for homeless people

Guidance on the implementation of the new age extension to the Housing Benefit Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) has been published by the Department of Work and Pensions.

The accommodation rate restricts the amount of housing benefit someone can receive because of their age. It has recently been increased from under 25 years old to under 35.
Research has shown that the life experiences and vulnerabilities of people who have been homeless can make sharing a home an inappropriate option, and therefore the accommodation rate may not work for them.

Homeless Link, along with our members such as Crisis, has been working to ensure that the experiences of people who are homeless are recognised by the Government and thanks to the efforts of homelessness agencies two key exemptions have been made:
  • People moving on from hostels will be exempt from the age extension. This will apply to 25–34 years old who have lived in a hostel and have received resettlement support for at least three months. The exemption only applies to clients moving from hostels into private sector accommodation and will take effect from 1 January 2012.
  • The exemption will also apply to ex-offenders subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).
The DWP estimates that 85,000 people who are under 35 will be affected by the new Shared Accommodation Rate. It is therefore extremely important that all local authorities and frontline staff:
  •  are aware of these exemptions and how they will affect those that they support: Local Authorities should be writing to local hostel services about this in the near future
  • can provide evidence for people who are eligible for exemptions: The DWP guidance states thatThe claimant will need to provide evidence of their period of stay in an appropriate specialist hostel (or hostels) as well as confirmation that they had been offered and accepted support to help them be rehabilitated or resettled in the community.”
  • know which local hostels meet the criteria set: The key criterion for hostels is that their main purpose is the resettlement of homeless people. It will not apply to self-contained supported housing. The DWP recommends that the local authority “develops a list of suitable hostels that can be referred to for local use.”
Despite these changes Homeless Link is still concerned that the exemptions could be applied inconsistently. Alice Evans, Head of Policy at Homeless Link, explains:

“While these exemptions are a step in the right direction, councils must now make sure that they apply a consistent and transparent system to ensure anyone who is eligible for an exemption gets one.

“We are concerned that the Government’s definition of a hostel could be open to interpretation and that it only applies to people moving on from hostels. This could leave vulnerable people in a position where they are unable to get the exemption they need and are placed in accommodation which is unsuitable.

“This could have costly long-term consequences both for the individual and for the local community. We must monitor the impact of these changes and push for further amendments if they are needed.”

The new policy will start in January 2012. You can find out more about the Shared Accommodation Rate on the Department of Work and Pensions website

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