FAMILIES on housing benefit in Bournemouth are priced out of almost all homes to rent, latest research suggests.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that just 0.9 per cent, or six out of 670 two-bed properties, were available in Bournemouth.

Nationally, only six per cent of two-bed properties in the research were affordable.

Moreover, even many of the affordable homes are often out of reach, because most landlords won’t let to benefit claimants – as the bureau found when reporters called almost 200 landlords across Britain.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The freeze on housing benefits has been truly disastrous. People up and down the country are having to make impossible decisions on whether to cut back on food for their family or heat their home just to make up the shortfall between their benefit and rent.

“In the worst case scenario, families are facing homelessness simply because there is nowhere they can afford to live. Even when a family is able to afford their rent, we see many being turned away by landlords and agents with a 'no DSS' policy - a practice we believe to be discriminatory and unlawful.

"If this government is serious about tackling homelessness, it is not enough to just lift the freeze, as it has said it will. It must also increase housing benefit rates to ensure they cover at least the bottom third of the rental market across the country so people can retain their homes and avoid becoming homeless."

The 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, since the freeze rents have kept rising.

In a new and extensive piece of research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism collected the details of 62,695 two-bed rental properties across England, Wales and Scotland that were advertised on a single day. By mapping these against the LHA rates in each area, the bureau found just one in 20 was actually affordable on benefits.

As part of the investigation into housing and new homelessness laws, the bureau found councils have been encouraging those facing or experiencing homelessness to try renting privately.

Refusal to let to those on benefits makes the shortage of affordable properties even worse. Reporters from the Bureau contacted the landlords of 180 two-bed properties that would have been affordable on housing benefits. In each case the reporter claimed to be a single mother with an eight-year-old daughter.

Half of those landlords said definitively that they would not let to anyone on benefits. Of those that were left, more than half said they would consider letting to our hypothetical family, but only if they could fulfil further conditions, such as paying six months’ rent in advance or providing a guarantor. One property site asked for a week’s rent in advance to even talk to the landlord.

A government spokesperson said: “Providing quality and fair social housing is an absolute priority. The government increased more than 360 Local Housing Allowance rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households. We’re investing over £9 billion in affordable housing and an additional £2 billion after 2022. And we have abolished the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap – giving councils across the country the tools they need to deliver a new generation of affordable housing.”