More than 1,000 families set to lose housing support in Westminster

Westminster housing boss takes a tough line on housing benefit claimants

CITY Hall’s housing chief has sent out a hardline message to Westminster’s jobless new arrivals saying they will no longer be able to live in costly private properties at “taxpayers’ expense”.

Cllr Philippa Roe has warned that claimants who cannot meet their rent payments when the government’s proposed cap on housing benefit comes into force will not be bailed out by the council - and could be forced to move elsewhere.

The Tory councillor branded the benefits system “deeply inequitable” because it allows people who are unemployed to live in homes they could only afford if they had �60,000-a-year salaries.

And she revealed that only certain groups will receive assistance from the council to pay their rents if the benefits cap prevents them from doing so.

“There is a discretionary pot that we will use to help people who have a genuine need to be in Westminster but may not be able to afford their rent when the cap comes in,” she said.

“I’m talking about low income people who are working in Westminster, pensioners who have lived here all their lives and pupils doing their GCSEs.

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“It seems deeply inequitable that people who arrive in Westminster with no local connections, but who we have a statutory responsibility to house, should be able to live in some of the most expensive real estate in the country paid for by taxpayers.”

Cllr Roe’s comments are likely to enrage those who oppose George Osborne’s proposals for housing benefit to be capped at a maximum of �400-per-week. In his budget speech, he claimed the cap would save the public purse �1.8million in just a year and would end a situation where some families are receiving annual housing allowances of more than �100,000.

But critics argue that it will have a devastating effect on expensive cities like London, driving thousands out of inner-city boroughs and making some areas the preserve of only the wealthy.

Labour MP Karen Buck predicted that in Westminster alone, more than 1,000 of the poorest families could be forced out of their homes.

Meanwhile last Thursday, she received the full backing of her party at a conference in the Paddington Arts Centre.

A line-up of leading Labour figures used the venue to launch a campaign to fight the policy changes.

Among the big hitters who attended were acting leader Harriet Harman, shadow work and pensions minister Yvette Cooper and shadow London minister Tessa Jowell.

They were joined by former housing minister John Healey, along with Mayoral hopefuls Oona King and Ken Livingstone. A report – Building London’s Future – was unveiled, revealing Labour’s plans to attack the cuts to housing benefit and the abolition of secure tenures for council tenants.

Ms Jowell said: “What we love and cherish about London is the essential diversity that makes it unique. But the coalition will put that at risk by creating a tale of two cities of the very rich and the socially excluded.” Cllr Roe dismissed this claim, saying that there would still be plenty of social housing in Westminster.