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Royal Borough called on to focus on social housing as private landlords gain from housing benefits

Hundreds of thousands of pounds were paid to private landlords over several months last year to support tenants’ rent payments.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request into how much the Royal Borough paid in housing benefits to private landlords shows more than £350,000 was given to them every month between May and October 2017.

It has caused Altwood resident Robert Gray, of the Labour Party, to criticise the sums and call on the Royal Borough to concentrate on social housing instead.

However, the borough’s lead member for housing, noted the borough aims to work with developers to provide affordable housing and that housing benefits, which the council bills to the government, are a statutory obligation.

Mr Gray believes the current system does nothing to help families, who need tenancy security that private landlords may not always provide while they benefit from council payments.

“I used to work in housing,” the 46-year-old, who is leading the Maidenhead Constituency Labour Party’s housing campaign, said.

“I have got a good idea of the rents. I knew how much social housing there is in the borough, but I didn’t know how many private landlords there were.

“It was a bit of a shock (to see the sums). The scale of the money was probably the biggest shock.”

A total of £396,034 was paid in May last year – the highest figure of all the months included in the FOI. The lowest was in October with £351,196 paid out.

An FOI into how much has been paid from February 2017 - February 2018 was not responded to because the information was not held. Mr Gray, who worked as a housing officer for a council in South-east England, called on the Royal Borough to buy up land or use what it already has to deliver social housing – homes which are specifically designed for people on low incomes.

That would provide an alternative to developers buying up land, only to submit an application that may include less affordable housing because building cheaper homes could make the scheme financially unviable.

Cllr Ross McWilliams said: “We have a statutory duty to pay housing benefit to residents who need it and as this money is centrally funded it cannot be used to subsidise the building of affordable homes. 

“However we work very closely with any developers looking to build homes in the borough to ensure that all developments provide an adequate level of high quality affordable housing and we plan to continue increasing the levels of affordable housing across the borough in the coming years which includes delivering much needed new social housing on council owned sites.”

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