Manchester faces affordable housing crisis, new research shows

  • Research shows people on housing benefits are being priced out of the city
  • Rising number of families living in poverty
  • Council pledges to build more affordable homes

Manchester faces a dire shortage of affordable homes as families on housing benefit face a rise in poverty levels and being priced out of the city, according to new research

Data gathered by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shared with the Northern Quota suggests that the city is facing an affordable housing crisis partly due to a freeze in housing benefits.

The snapshot data shows that just 1.6 % of two-bedroom private rental households in the city are affordable to people on housing benefit. The benefit would have to increase by £188 each month to make the bottom 30% of the two-bed properties affordable.

This could lead to more families being made homeless and living in temporary accommodation or hotels.  Last year alone, more than 4,300 homeless assessments were carried out in the city, the third highest number outside of London.

report by the housing charity Crisis said the benefits freeze and subsequent reduction in line with inflation is “considered to be key driver of poverty”.

 Chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “Housing benefit is a tool to prevent people from being forced into homelessness in the first place.

“But rates are currently failing to cover the cost of even the cheapest private rents in the majority of areas, pushing people to rent more expensive properties and making up the difference – skipping meals or not putting the heating on to try and ease this financial pressure and keep the roof over their head.

“We can’t let individuals shoulder this burden simply because housing benefit hasn’t kept up with rising rents.”

End Child Poverty figures already show that in Manchester 45.4% of young people aged under 16 are living in poverty. This is an increase of 2.4% since 2016/17. 

Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that government benefit reform is a factor behind the rise. 

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Poverty Action said: “Central government policy has been acting to drive up poverty in Manchester, and across the UK, in recent years.

“In spite of this, there’s a huge amount we can do locally to address poverty and to protect people from the worst effects of central government cuts.”

Crisis says increasing housing benefit could reduce poverty for as many as 55,000 households.

Last week Manchester City Council published its annual ‘State of the city’ report showing overall economic growth, including rising employment and the building of new homes in the city.

It has also published that between April 2015 and March 2019, 1,044 new affordable homes were completed in the city, with a further 1,061 on site to be completed by March 2021.

The council has set itself a target of a minimum of 6,400 new homes built by 2025. 

Councillor Suzanne Richards, executive member for housing and regeneration, said: “We want Manchester to be a place where our residents can live in the type of neighbourhood that they want, with sustainable, low-carbon homes and long-lasting communities.

“Housing is the bedrock of this and we need to commit to delivering the homes that meet the needs of Manchester people.

“These affordable housing targets are ambitious – as they need to be – and we will work closely with our housing partners across the city, and Homes England, to ensure we can make them a reality. 

“Importantly for me, when the Council can use our own resources to build homes, these should be focused on delivering homes that are Local Housing Allowance or below to ensure they are accessible to those on the lowest incomes.”

Research by the Residential Landlord Association suggests benefit claimants are further limited as 36% of landlords said that they had buy-to-let mortgage conditions which prevent them from renting to benefit claimants.

This is echoed by work by reporters from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism who contacted the landlords of 180 two-bed properties that would have been affordable on housing benefits. In each case the reporter claimed to be a single parent with an eight-year-old daughter. 

Half of landlords said that they would not let to anyone on benefits. Of the others, more than half said they would consider letting but only if they could fulfil further conditions, such as paying six months’ rent in advance or providing a guarantor. One property site asked for a week’s rent in advance to even talk to the landlord.

While many of the landlords only refused to let when contacted in person, some are more blatant in their bias against tenants on benefits. The Bureau analysed the text of some of the advertisements and found 80 that explicitly stated “No pets. No DSS” or “no housing benefit”.

Leilani Farha, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing, said: “It’s not clear where it is that Governments and housing providers think poor people should live. What is clear is that there is a systematic disregard for the human rights of those most in need.”

There is also evidence that the council is having to take on the financial cost of the housing benefit freeze. It is increasingly stepping in and helping people cover the shortfall via the discretionary housing payments.

Freedom of Information data acquired by the Bureau shows that the council has spent more than £3.4m in 2018/19 helping to top up housing benefits for those unable to afford private rents. This figure has increased year on year since the housing benefit freeze. 

The council did not issue a response when asked about this spending.

It comes as the council is facing huge financial pressure having to make a further £9m of cuts over the current financial year.

The report by Crisis also states that increases in housing benefits would reduce this pressure on local authorities also potentially providing saving as the cost of supporting homeless would reduce.

A government spokesperson responded to the reasearch by saying: “Providing quality and fair social housing is an absolute priority. The Government increased more than 360 Local Housing Allowance rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households.

“We’re investing over £9bn in affordable housing and an additional £2 billion after 2022. And we have abolished the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap – giving councils across the country the tools they need to deliver a new generation of affordable housing.”

Bureau of Investigative Journalism research was passed to the Northern Quota as part of the Bureau Local initative.