Tory MPs’ rent expenses soar as they inflict real-terms housing benefit cut
Exclusive: Tory MPs blamed rising rents for increased claims, while government imposed freeze on poorest tenants
A fifth of Tory MPs have increased the amount they charge taxpayers for rent while their party inflicted a real-terms cut in housing benefits on the UK’s poorest tenants, openDemocracy can reveal.
MPs representing constituencies outside London are entitled to expense some or all of the rental costs of a second home. Some 69 Conservative MPs have not moved house but are claiming more for rent than they did three years ago, according to figures obtained from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
Several MPs confirmed to openDemocracy that their increased claims are due to their landlords charging them more – despite housing benefit claimants across the UK having to shoulder similar increases themselves.
The government has not increased the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) – which is used to determine the amount of housing benefit paid to the poorest tenants in private rental accommodation – since April 2020. This three-year freeze amounts to a real-terms cut as private rents in the UK soared to record highs last year, rising by more than 20% in some areas.
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Nearly 60% of housing benefit claimants in private accommodation have been left with a shortfall in their rent, according to the government’s own data.
Until 2011, LHA was capped at the average private sector rent for the relevant property size in the area. So, a private tenant in a one-bed flat would have their housing benefit capped at the 50th percentile of local rents for one-bed homes. If their rent cost more, they would make up the difference themselves.
But the Tory-led coalition government reduced the cap from the 50th percentile to the 30th percentile – leaving tenants paying average local rents with a shortfall.
Subsequent below-inflation benefit rises, followed by a lengthy benefits freeze, led the value of LHA to plummet significantly. This, combined with rapid rent inflation, meant that in some parts of the country, few properties were affordable with housing benefits.
The government boosted LHA in response to the pandemic in April 2020, restoring its link to the 30th percentile of local rents – but the freeze since means it has been cut in value again.
Meanwhile, dozens of Tory MPs, who have a base salary of £84,144, have increased the amount of rent they claim on expenses each month – with some doing so more than once.
A spokesperson for tenants’ union Acorn told openDemocracy that government MPs are “exploiting their own position of power to make their own lives easier while actively making life worse for others”.
They added: “It is bad enough that the government decided to freeze LHA rates, actively abandoning tenants and people in poverty in the midst of the worst cost of living crisis in generations.
“But to do this while the government’s own MPs are increasing the amount they claim for rent through expenses is absolutely disgraceful. These MPs are using public money to cover skyrocketing rent costs while denying people on much lower incomes the chance to do the same.”
Seven Tory MPs have confirmed to openDemocracy that they increased the rent they claim in expenses without moving house, while we identified an eighth – Marcus Fysh – from the wording of his expense claims.
IPSA has confirmed 61 others have also increased expense claims without moving but refused to name them due to data protection rules. This excludes MPs whose rise in expenses was due to increased allowances for children or other dependents. In such cases, housing benefit payments can also be increased depending on their circumstances.
The amount Fysh charges the taxpayer for rent on a London property rose from £2,750 to £2,900 a month last spring – equivalent to £1,800 a year.
But a housing benefit claimant in Fysh’s Yeovil constituency who was paying the 30th percentile of local market rents in April 2020 will have since suffered an annual rent shortfall of £780 for a room in shared housing, £658 for one-bed accommodation, or more than £1,000 a year for two-bed housing.
Paul Maynard, the Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP, told openDemocracy that the £52 increase in his monthly rent expense claims from September 2020 is because his landlord increased the rent. Meanwhile, the value of LHA in his constituency has fallen by £520 a year for a tenant in shared accommodation and £247 a year for one-bed housing since April 2020.
In June, the monthly rent expenses of Colchester MP Will Quince, who shares a flat with a fellow Conservative MP, rose by £115 – £1,380 a year – after his rent went up. Local housing benefit claimants paying the 30th percentile of local market rents for one-bed housing have seen annual rent shortfalls of nearly £840, and nearly £720 for those in two-bed housing.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman’s rent expense claims rose from £1,150 to £1,300 in July 2021 – equivalent to £1,800 a year – according to IPSA records. Opperman has been a minister at the Department for Work and Pensions – which is responsible for setting LHA – for almost six years (bar a one-month spell when Liz Truss was prime minister last year).
Opperman did not respond to questions from openDemocracy, and IPSA’s refusal to name MPs means it is not clear if this rise was due to a change of property or dependant uplifts.
There is no suggestion that any of these MPs have broken any rules.
Anela Anwar, the chief executive of anti-poverty charity Z2K, told openDemocracy that the LHA shortfall is leaving people with “impossible choices”. She explained: “Do you pay your rent, and go without heating or food? Or do you get behind on your rent, build up debt, and risk eviction and homelessness?”
Anwar added: “To make matters worse, the budget for the stopgap Discretionary Housing Payments was cut by £40m this year, meaning people facing eviction risk being told there’s no support available with their arrears.
“The government should urgently increase LHA so it reflects actual private rents. This would provide some immediate relief, and help our clients and hundreds of thousands of others stay in their homes.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “During the pandemic, we increased Local Housing Allowance significantly and beyond inflation, benefitting over one million households by an average of more than £600 over the year.
“We recognise the pressures of the rising cost of living and are committed to protecting the most vulnerable, which is why we’re maintaining that boost – keeping support for private renters above pre-pandemic levels.
“Our £11.5bn Affordable Homes Programme will help deliver more of the affordable, quality homes this country needs – including tens of thousands for social rent.”
The pandemic boost to LHA has only been ‘maintained’ in cash terms, however – with rents rising, the real value of LHA continues to be cut each year the freeze lasts.
The spokesperson did not comment on Opperman’s expense claims. Fysh and Quince did not respond to any of openDemocracy’s questions, and Maynard did not comment on the LHA cuts.
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