FOUR of the largest landowners in West Berkshire together receive almost £100,000 in housing benefit from the council each year.

West Berkshire has a high concentration of land ownership, with just 30 landowners owning half of the district, according to Guy Shrubsole, a writer from Newbury.

Figures obtained following a freedom of information request reveal that West Berkshire Council is paying some of these landowners thousands of pounds in housing benefit.

Yattendon Estates received £32,792.56 last year. Yattendon is owned by the Iliffe family, of which Edward last month bought the Newbury Weekly News.

The Englefield Estate received £32,630.33 last year. The estate is owned by the Benyon family, of which Richard is the Tory MP for Newbury.

Eling Estate received £14,694.31 last year. Eling is owned by a trust fund, set up in the name of Gerald Palmer, an author and Tory MP who died in 1984.

The Wasing Estate received £19,014.49 last year. Wasing covers 3,059 acres and has been owned by the Mount family since 1759. 

Mr Shrubsole, who wrote the recently published book Who Owns England?, estimated that Yattendon covers 8,295 acres, Englefield covers 12,332 acres, Eling covers 5,202 acres, and Wasing covers 3,059 acres.

Councils sometimes pay housing benefit directly to landlords, rather than to tenants. Most of the money that West Berkshire Council pays goes to housing associations like Sovereign, however much goes to private individuals.

However, the council redacted the names of private individuals to whom it pays housing benefit directly. Last year, 81 unnamed private individuals received in total £456,938.77, on average £5,641.22,

Councillor Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway) said: “It is immoral to expect taxpayers to subsidise rich landowners, including our Conservative MP Richard Benyon, with tens of thousands of pounds in housing benefit payments.

“Meanwhile, there is a shortage of social and affordable housing and a growing homelessness crisis in this country. The Conservatives like to lecture the public that there is no ‘magic money tree’, but it appears that there is when it comes to housing benefit.”

David Hill, estate manager for Eling, said: “Everyone in this country has to pay to live in a home. Housing benefit is a support to do that. We are a registered charity, we have a housing stock and we donate the vast majority of profits to charity.”

A spokesman for the Englefield Estate said: “The Englefield Estate is a responsible landlord and does not discriminate between people who receive housing benefit and those who do not.”