Frozen Future- Our report looking at LHA and the Bucks Housing Crisis

Our Research and Campaigns taskforce here at Citizens Advice Bucks, have released a new report looking at the undeniable housing crisis in Buckinghamshire. The report examines the Local Housing Allowance rates in the county, and the devastating effects on the residents of Bucks since it was lowered in 2011, and frozen in 2020. 

It looks at how the initial drop and subsequent freeze in LHA rates is adding to the numerous challenges already faced by our clients. Not only are they feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, but rents are increasing, and rental properties are scarce. The combination of these challenges has led to a surge in people coming to our charity for advice as they are unable to afford rent. Many find themselves in difficult situations where they are spiralling into debt, needing to apply for food vouchers, having to cut essential heat and energy use and applying for Discretionary Housing Payments. 


LHA report

Whilst Bucks is often seen as an affluent area the report highlights the fact that 8 areas within Bucks fall within the 30% most deprived areas in the entire UK, with one in the 20% most deprived. It also highlights an incredible increase in the need for food parcels, rising from 4000 in 2017-2018 to over 22,000 in 22-23. An enormous 450% increase.  

Latest inflation rates may have seen a welcome downward trend for energy and food prices (although still at a challenging high) however the housing market has seen an opposite trend and the freeze on LHA rates is having a significant negative impact.  

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates are calculated based on the area you live in and the number of bedrooms you are eligible for.  The LHA rate and means testing then determines how much Housing Benefit or Housing Element you can receive for your private rented accommodation. If the rent for your property is higher than your Local Housing Allowance rate, you will be expected to pay the difference. The freeze on LHAs in Bucks, coupled with market rent increases, has created challenging circumstances for not only people who are unemployed, but also low-income working families who receive help with their rent through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.   

The report states how rent levels in Bucks from April 2020- March 2023 increased by 16%- with 2-bedroom properties seeing the highest increase at 22%. This has led to over 90% of private rentals in Aylesbury Vale, for example, not being covered by LHA rates. And the monthly shortfalls for the people living in them are shocking- for example £326 for a three-bedroom property in Aylesbury. 

People needing to find the money to fund the shortfall, to avoid losing their homes, are resorting to cutting down on food and energy, or using other benefits- such as their disability allowance to cover rental costs, with often detrimental effects on their physical and mental wellbeing.  

In many cases the rent shortfall cannot be covered, leading to a concerning increase in evictions in Buckinghamshire and a record number of statutory homelessness claims filed between January and March 2023. 

 Craig Glynn, our Interim CEO states: 

‘Helping people in Bucks who come to us with difficulties paying their rent is becoming an all-too-common occurrence for our charity and it has only risen over the years as the LHA rate has been frozen. Sadly, there is only so much help we can give, and it is for this reason our Research and Campaigns team have published this report. We are at the frontline with helping people through this and we will do our best always, but hopefully this report will help pave the way to the changes that are so desperately needed.’ 


The report concludes our recommendations;  

➢ Unfreeze LHA rates and match them at least with the 30th percentile of rent levels. This is particularly critical in the Aylesbury Vale BRMA.  

➢ Take action to increase the number of properties available on social rent (LHA rates not applicable). 

 ➢ Consider implementing measures to cover the difference in rent should landlords unexpectedly increase rent on existing tenants. 

The report can be read in full by clicking the button below. 

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