“I am just surviving”: Life in the Manchester areas with the highest numbers on housing benefit

The Manchester ward of Harpurhey is home to 1,854 people claiming Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the most in Manchester, according to data from the city council.

LHA rates are based on private market rents being paid by tenants in a Broad Rental Market Area (BRMA), the area within which a person might reasonably be expected to live.

More than 9.2% of Harpurhey’s 20,050 residents are claiming LHA – while in Deansgate, the ward with the lowest number of claimants, the rate is 0.4%.

Samantha,* a Harpurhey resident and claimant of LHA, moved into her apartment two years ago.

She rents from a private landlord, with whom she has a troublesome relationship.

She said: "I've been in this property for two years and I can't wait to move out. I've had nothing but issues.

“Since moving into this property I’ve had 17 repairs which needed to be made to the house. After the first year, they increased the rent by 15.5% and this was on negotiable terms. I was originally paying £955 a month but in my second year, after all the repairs, I was left with waste water coming through my kitchen, from my bath and mushrooms coming through my ceiling."

Bathwater dripped through the ceiling into the kitchen for three months before the problem was fixed.

Mould in a house in Harpurhey (image by Samantha*)

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Samantha added. “They’d upped the rent to £1,150 per month. I begrudged that, negotiated and was offered an extra £50 a month for the security of having a stable home.”

However, her landlord maintained a minimum 10% rent increase.

She continued: “I was told the property was renter-seen. The owners had only purchased the property the year I moved in so I knew they weren’t increasing the rent because interest rates were increasing - who buys a one-year fixed mortgage?

“The landlord lives in London and has never viewed the house. These problems are likely to reoccur.

"I grew up in a rough housing estate in Wolverhampton and I saw the same thing there as I see here. A large amount of people not working and claiming housing benefits break this cycle by finding work and then end up not being able to find anywhere affordable for the working person to live.

 "I work three days at the hospital and I get £40 profit after paying rent. I wouldn’t survive without benefits.”

Sam can only work part-time because she suffers from epilepsy, for which she also receives Personal Independence Payment.

Reasons for high LHA rates

Julie Reid is a councillor for Abbey Hey and Gorton, the ward with the second highest number of LHA claimants at 1,474 - 6.2% of the local population.

When asked why the number of claimants was so high in her ward, she responded: “Poverty.”

She explained: “There are an awful lot of people living in private rented accommodation in my ward and whereas some other areas have had a private landlord clearance, we have a lot of private landlord properties.”

Data from the Office for National Statistics indicates that Manchester experienced the greatest rise in monthly private rent as a percentage of Household Disposable Income. To be eligible for LHA, a tenant must rent from a private landlord.

Cllr Reid added: “At the end of the day, you have to ask what the government are doing. The average rental in my ward is £900-£1100 a month. The government won’t support any rent higher than £650.

“A lot of people subsequently get served a section 21 (eviction order) and all we can do is our duty to rehouse people. There are 16,000 people in Manchester waiting in temporary accommodation on a social housing list. If someone is in band 2, they are waiting four to five years.

“People tend to move further out to Oldham or Bury because rents here are too high.”

Both Harpurhey and Gorton and Abbey Hey are located in the borough of Manchester, and thus are close to the city centre.

The above chart shows the percentage of the population receiving LHA across Greater Manchester. The highest borough is Manchester at 5.1%, and the second highest is Salford at 5%.

Sarah Whitehead, of mental health awareness charity Salford Mad Pride, said: “Salford has high rates of poverty that are only rising as the council seek to boost the economy and gentrify the area. The impact of the housing developments is pricing people out of homes and the areas they have lived for generations.

“There are around 500 children in temporary accommodation because the housing situation is so desperate in Salford. Private rents are too high but because there aren't many houses available in social housing, private rents are being subsidised sometimes by the council to try and help people stay in a home.”

Wigan had some of the lowest levels of LHA, at just 3.3%.

Paul Bennett, media officer for Wigan Council speaking on behalf of councillor Kevin Anderson, said: “Wigan Borough has the second largest population of all 10 Greater Manchester boroughs, and Wigan Council takes a proactive approach to helping residents access income streams to which they may be entitled.

 “Housing benefits offers means-tested support for low-income households to meet their rental liability, helping make their tenancies sustainable. As such… we encourage and support residents to apply for any and all welfare benefits, reductions, discounts and exemptions to which they may be entitled.”

And Jo Mitchell, Assistant Director – Customer Experience and Support, said: “As part of our highly successful Here For You campaign aimed at helping residents through the cost-of-living crisis, Wigan Council continues to proactively encourage and support residents to maximise their household income and apply for any benefits, reductions, discounts and exemptions to which they may be entitled.”

Back in Manchester, Samantha sees things clearly.

“I am being outpriced in a crap area.

“The problem is that Harpurhey is a deprived, impoverished neighbourhood. There’s lots of crime, and this impacts the properties."

In 2018, Harpurhey saw the third largest number of reported street crimes of all Manchester wards.

“Because of my epilepsy I can’t drive. I have to take three buses to work in the city centre to get to work. If I moved further out, I couldn’t get to work easily.”

Samantha is currently drafting a letter to her local MP because of her dire situation.

“I am basically asking: 'What are the working class to do?'” she said.

What does she plan to do? “I have no idea. I am in a really scary situation. Costs are going up in childcare and bills and electricity. I can’t afford to move out and I can’t afford to pay the increasing rent either. I feel like I’m trapped.

 “The system is pitted against the working person and I shouldn’t receive benefit just to get by. I am not living a comfortable lifestyle, I am just surviving.”

*Names have been changed for anonymity.

Image courtesy of Keith Williamson / Harpurhey Market via Wikimedia Commons

Join the discussion

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Articles