Norfolk MPs join forces over youth homelessness concerns

MPs across Norfolk yesterday agreed to ask questions of government agency that sets local housing allowance levels, after a meeting with a group of homelessness charities and support services.

MPs across Norfolk yesterday agreed to ask questions of government agency that sets local housing allowance levels, after a meeting with a group of homelessness charities and support services.

Norman Lamb, Simon Wright and Chloe Smith were in Norwich to hear from the Greater Norwich Youth Homelessness Forum, which explained the housing challenges facing the region.

The Forum says that research done by the Valuation Office Agency to set the LHA – which helps low-income tenants meet their rent – is skewed by being conducted predominantly in certain areas of the county, rather than Norfolk-wide. The inclusion of student housing in the survey distorts it further, as students are not eligible for LHA and people on LHA cannot move into student houses.

As a result, the forum says the LHA level is not representative of the real rental rates in certain areas, and the three MPs are to write to the VOA to request clarification on the data.

Norwich South MP Mr Wright, who organised the meeting, said: 'There is an issue for politicians in how we get the balance right: making sure the housing benefit system doesn't line the pockets of landlords but at the same time ensures vulnerable people receive the support they need.'

Mr Lamb said his North Norfolk constituency was particularly affect by holiday accommodation, adding: '[The data] seems quite skewed in terms of postcodes and including student accommodation, and the Forum's fear is it doesn't adequately show what real rents are.'

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Ms Smith, MP for North Norwich, agreed the issue needed to be investigated and said she was 'hopeful' the letter would move matters forward.

Danny O'Hara, YMCA support worker and Forum member, said rent arrears were affecting more people than ever, with costs rising and the recession hitting earnings. She said: 'Many people are struggling, or know someone, who is struggling with rent. They live with that worry constantly, and there is a lot of instability at the moment.

'People are aware of the problem, but not how close it can be to them - all it takes is for a relationship to break down, or for them to lose their job, and they could find themselves struggling to keep a roof over their head.'

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