Headlines: April 6th, 2005

Local authorities acting as Pathfinders for the Local Housing Allowance system have helped to ensure there have been fewer problems with its implementation than had been feared. An evaluation of the first six months of the scheme also shows little sign of effects on homelessness or evictions but it finds the system does require intensive use of staff time.The full evaluation is being carried out over a two year period following the introduction of local allowances in the private rented sector in nine areas of Britain. Results of the study – being conducted by the Universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and York as well as the National Centre for Social Research – will be used to determine the national rollout of the system. At the same time the Department for Work and Pensions will conduct an analysis of its own administrative and statistical data to be fed into the evaluation.

Early findings from the evaluation have been published in the first of three reports. It looks at the live running of the LHA, six months after its introduction in each of the Pathfinder areas – Blackpool, Brighton and Hove, Conwy, Coventry, Edinburgh, Leeds, Lewisham, North-East Lincolnshire and Teignbridge. The report focuses on stakeholders involved in delivering the allowance, including Rent Officers, Jobcentre Plus, local authority and independent advice agencies and Housing Benefit administrators. Future reports will concentrate on the experiences of landlords and claimants.

This initial report shows that the introduction of the system and its first six months of operation have been generally much smoother than had first been anticipated. It says detailed preparations, planning and improved communications put in place by the Pathfinder authorities have meant problems have not materialised as had been feared.

The report says procedures for assessing vulnerability and arrears have generally worked in the nine areas, where procedures reflect local needs and circumstances. Making decisions on vulnerability is being taken seriously but this is demanding in terms of staff time, especially as only a small number of claimants are found to be vulnerable. Overall, fewer than one in ten claimants have Housing Benefit paid to their landlord under the vulnerability and arrears provisions of the LHA scheme. Most claimants either have a bank account or have been able to open one. Overall 60 per cent of claimants are paid their benefit under the LHA directly or by Automated Credit Transfer.

The evaluation says, too, that although it is still early in the process there has been little evidence in the nine areas of any impact on homelessness levels, threats of eviction or terminations of tenancies.