Families on housing benefit are priced out of almost all homes to rent in Reading, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ).

Out of 535 homes available in Reading during a day’s search carried out last month just 25 were affordable for people on the allowance.

This means around 95 per cent of homes in Reading are unaffordable on housing benefit.

Ian Caren, CEO of Reading homelessness charity Launchpad said: “There is a lack of supply. There aren’t enough houses.

“There is a lack of affordable accommodation due to landlords treating their accommodation like a cash point. It is fundamentally wrong.”

Why are so few homes affordable?

Local housing allowance (LHA) was frozen as part of the government’s austerity policy in 2016.

The allowance, which varies from region to region, was supposed to cover the cheapest 30 per cent of the local rental market. However, rents have kept rising.

In Reading, the LHA rate for a two-bed home is £199.80 per week.

The two-bed housing allowance rate in Reading would need to increase by £29 a week for the cheapest 30 per cent of homes to be affordable.

Councillor John Ennis, lead member for Housing, said: “It is grim. We have a real problem.”

He said the council’s rent guarantee scheme “helps dramatically” but the housing benefit allowance is too low.

The rent guarantee scheme matches up people who need a home with landlords – who receive rent directly from the council.

RBC guarantee up to six weeks rent as a deposit but landlords can only charge up to the local housing allowance rate.

The council spent more than £4.2 million on its rent guarantee scheme last year.

Landlords can contact the council’s rent guarantee scheme team here: (0118) 937 2233 or rgs@reading.gov.uk

What can be done to improve the situation?

Cllr Ennis and Launchpad’s Ian Caren have both called for more council houses and the introduction of rent control, while Mr Caren added that no fault evictions must be banned.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) says it is “committed” to providing more affordable housing and plans to build around 100 new affordable homes over the next three years.

How does Reading compare to the rest of England?

There is a similar picture nationally with an average of 94 per cent of two-bed properties unaffordable for those on housing benefit.

According to research published by Shelter, many landlords also refuse to rent to people in receipt of housing benefit either because it is paid in arrears or due to general discrimination.

BIJ contacted the landlords of 180 two-bed properties in England that would have been affordable on housing benefits.

In each case, the reporter claimed to be a single mother with an 8-year-old daughter.

Half of landlords said they would not let to anyone on benefits.

More than a quarter said they would only consider letting to the hypothetical family if they could fulfil further conditions, such as paying six months’ rent in advance or providing a guarantor.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “We should all have a safe and secure home. This investigation paints a clear picture that for the overwhelming majority, we’re not meeting this basic human need.

“This is simply unacceptable – we can and must do better.”