Hunt’s housing benefit boost welcomed but Enfield Council leader says ‘immense financial pressure’ remains

Nesil Caliskan warns “working people are still paying the price” for government failures

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers the Autumn Statement and (inset) Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers the Autumn Statement and (inset) Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan

An increase in the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) has been cautiously welcomed by the leader of the Enfield Council – but she warned the Autumn Statement “does very little” to help local authorities.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced today (Wednesday 22nd) that the LHA rate, which sets housing benefit levels for low earners living in rental accommodation, would be increased for the first time in nearly four years.

The move was one of the key measures being called for by local politicians across Enfield borough – where an acute housing shortage and high eviction rates have left hundreds of homeless families stuck in hotels.

Hunt told the House of Commons: “To further support low-income households with increasing rent costs, the government will raise Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents in April 2024.

“This will benefit 1.6 million low-income households, who will be around £800 a year better off on average in 2024/25.”

Council leader Nesil Caliskan, who is also the Labour leader on the Local Government Association, said in response that many financial challenges faced by local government had not been addressed by Hunt’s statement.

Enfield Council currently faces a £39m budget gap ahead of the next financial year.

Cllr Caliskan said: “At a time when families are struggling to pay their bills, the chancellor’s Autumn Statement this afternoon will do little to repair the damage the Conservatives have done to our economy. After thirteen years of Conservative failure, working people are still paying the price.

“Council finances across the country are under immense pressure, yet the government has failed to provide any certainty to local authorities who are struggling under the weight of Conservative cuts, inflationary pressures and soaring interest rates.”

Regarding the long called-for rise of LHA, she said: “Since the government froze LHA rates in 2020 there has been a 21% increase in rents, with local authorities spending 19.9% more nationally on homelessness help.

“Following successful lobbying from the sector, including myself with a letter to minister Lee Rowley earlier this month, I am glad to see that the government has finally listened and unfrozen LHA to cover the bottom 30% of market rents.

“Although, this uplift won’t be implemented until April 2024, leaving many families facing an uncertain winter.”

London Councils, a body representing local authorities in the capital, has echoed Cllr Caliskan’s reaction. Claire Holland, acting chair, said: “Boroughs will continue to face massive budget pressures. Many are struggling to balance their budgets and the Autumn Statement leaves them teetering on the edge.

“London’s homelessness emergency is a key concern. After years of campaigning for an increase in Local Housing Allowance, we welcome the decision to end the freeze. Boosting LHA is essential for helping low-income Londoners pay their rent and avoid homelessness. This is good news for London renters and for boroughs’ hard-pressed homelessness services.

“But with one-in-50 Londoners currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation, the housing crisis remains a critical risk to town hall budgets. Enormous and growing pressures can also be seen across other vital services, especially adult and children’s social care.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan added: “This Autumn Statement was an opportunity for the chancellor to recognise the important role that London plays in creating jobs and growth across the UK, while providing vital support to Londoners with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Instead, what we’ve seen is another deeply anti-London budget.

“Whether on TfL capital funding, desperately needed affordable housing or providing the Met Police with the funding it needs, today’s statement again fell woefully short. Londoners continue to suffer from higher prices at the shops, higher energy bills and soaring housing costs because of the government’s failure and mismanagement.

“The limited additional help being provided by ministers today is dwarfed by the deepening housing crisis affecting Londoners across our city.”