Desperate houselives: How Cambridgeshire is using local housing data to identify housing insights

We have recently re-launched our Local Housing Allowance (LHA) changes atlas on Cambridgeshire Insight website. The atlas, originally developed in 2011, looks at how some of the changes to housing benefit may affect claimants in the Cambridge sub-region (Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk). Using data from Hometrack it shows where typical and entry-level market rents fall within the LHA rate.

The atlas looks at the affordability of private rented housing for local housing benefit claimants. Since 2010 there have been a range of changes to this benefit and more are planned. For example, the local housing allowance rate (used to calculate housing benefit for tenants renting from private landlords) was previously based on the median (mid-point) rent within a Broad Rental Market Area. In 2011, this was reduced to the 30th percentile, meaning the LHA rate used to cover the cheapest half of rents in the market and now covers the bottom 30 per cent.

This means there are fewer properties available for benefit claimants.

Effect of changing LHA rate of from median rent to 30th percentile

In October 2012, it was announced that benefits would be uprated at 1 per cent a year to 2016 – rents typically rise at 2 per cent (based on Valuation Office Agency trends). The atlas shows the possible effects of this by 2016 – a further reduction in the number of places where the LHA rate will cover the rent in full.

Does the LHA rate cover the entry level rent for a 2 bedroom property in 2012?

A large and increasing number of housing benefit claimants are people in low paid employment. A new addition to the atlas shows the number of hours someone would need to work at 2012/13 national minimum wage just to cover the average current private rent.

In some of the more expensive areas of the sub-region for a 2 bedroom property this is equivalent to more than 30 hours per week (without any support from housing benefit to which a low income worker may be entitled), further demonstrating affordability problems for lower income households, even those in work.

This atlas shows increasingly how important market rents and benefits are to those on lower incomes.  The social impact of this over time is yet to be fully determined but this atlas model suggests that affordability will worsen, making it more difficult for people to work and live in the local area.

Audiences for this data and atlas range from housing officers, social researchers to elected members and other senior policy decision makers.

This is definitely a topic of research that must be monitored and projects like our sub-regional Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) assist in this ongoing monitoring.

The Cambridgeshire Atlas | Local Housing Allowance changes is available at http://www.cambridgeshireinsight.org.uk/interactive-maps/localhousingallowance

Cambridgeshire Atlas | Local Housing Allowance changes
Cambridgeshire Atlas | Local Housing Allowance changes

Polly is a Research Officer (Housing) in the LGSS Research, Performance and Business Intelligence Team at Cambridgeshire County Council

Learn more about Cambridgeshire County Council’s work with InstantAtlas in the case study ‘Combining customer insight and Output Area Classification data to create visualisations of local information and analysis’