Homeless families are in the middle of a perfect storm.
Since 2011 the amount of housing benefit paid for private rents has been calculated at the average lowest third of local market rates - almost always less than the landlord is actually charging.
And in April 2013 households on benefits face the benefit cap.
Total benefit paid to households must not exceed £500 per week and the total amount paid to single people must not exceed £350 per week, including the cost of their rent.
Last Friday the third restriction was brought into effect.
Councils no longer have to offer a council or housing association home to homeless families.
Instead, they can insist that homeless families are housed in the private sector.
Not all homeless people are given even that limited assistance. Councils are only obliged to help homeless people with children, or those who are "vulnerable" in some way - usually because of illness or disability.
Adult able-bodied homeless people are left to fend for themselves, which is why we see more and more people sleeping on the street.
Even those homeless applicants who do have children or are vulnerable have to be "meritorious" - if someone has become homeless through his or her own fault, perhaps several years earlier, he or she will be deemed to have "become homeless intentionally" and, at best, get a few weeks temporary accommodation.
None of these people would qualify even for the offer of private rented accommodation.
The people who are hit by these new rules are the luckier ones, those whom councils deem to be in enough need of help.
The idea behind the change is to break the link between applying for homelessness assistance and having some priority on the council's waiting list. The Tories have been trying to achieve this since the 1990s.
But the number of people who are homeless is increasing by about 9 per cent each year.
People are homeless because they cannot afford to pay their rent or mortgage, or because increasingly fraught living arrangements - with parents, other family members or friends - have come to an end.
Levels of private rents in London are rising by an average of around 7 per cent annually. As owner-occupation has shrunk, demand for private rented properties has increased.
The government claimed that reducing the amount of housing benefit paid to private landlords would bring down the level of private-sector rents - supply and demand.
The opposite has been the case. Private landlords, at least in London and other major cities, have not needed to rent to claimants who need housing benefit.
A recent survey found that 91.6 per cent of private landlords say that housing benefit changes mean they would be less likely to rent to claimants.
It is worth remembering that most housing benefit claimants are in work and receive means-tested housing benefit.
So, with more and more people unable to afford their rent, losing their homes and applying to local councils for help, what happens next?
Only the lucky get help as it is. But under the new rules those lucky ones will be told that they must accept a private rented property. If they refuse, they too face the prospect of being on the street.
The new private rented sector offer will be an assured shorthold tenancy for a period of 12 months or more. Generally landlords will want to negotiate the shortest possible period.
At the end of that period the landlord may or may not renew the tenancy.
If not, the tenant is back to the council with another application for homelessness assistance.
While these provisions were being debated in Parliament critics talked about a "revolving door" of homelessness applications.
On reapplication to the council, another private rented sector offer can be made - with the same sanction if refused.
Technically, councils still have to give a certain priority to homeless people when they organise their waiting lists.
But in practice once a homeless family goes into the private rented sector it loses that priority.
The new rules are causing councils considerable headaches.
The offers of private rented accommodation must be "suitable" for the particular needs of the homeless applicant.
Specifically that means that the prospective tenant must be able to afford the rent, with the assistance of housing benefit if he or she is entitled.
That rules out councils finding private tenancies in areas of high private-sector rents such as London, south-east England and major cities.
There is no prohibition on councils in one area of the country making offers to their applicants of private rented tenancies many miles away.
There are some general considerations concerning location that councils must take into account - what disruption is there likely to be to education, employment, support networks and so on.
But generally homeless families will be presented with an offer of accommodation perhaps hundreds of miles away and told to take it or live on the street.
We will see the poor shipped into already impoverished communities and shuttled between one private rented property and another.
Each time someone is told: "Take it or you're on the streets," arrangements will have to be made to change schools, doctors, dentists and somehow to maintain employment and keep in touch with friends and families.
By definition someone in this position can't afford the cost of train fares or long car journeys.
And this is all before the benefit cap kicks in in April.
It's philosophically outrageous because it breaks the link between benefit and need.
But it's even more infuriating because the amount of housing benefit paid is based entirely on the amount of rent charged.
Two families could be entitled to exactly the same amounts of income support, child benefit, child tax credit etc - the money that the state has assessed they need in order to survive.
But if one family is living in private rented accommodation and the cost of their rent takes them over the benefit cap, their benefits will be cut.
Besides anti-poverty charities and campaigns such as the Child Poverty Action Group and Shelter, a number of grass-roots self-help campaigns are springing up.
The London Coalition Against Poverty has existed for years. Associated with it are local housing campaigns - Hackney Housing Group in my area is one example - whose members usually consist of people who themselves first sought help and advice and then wanted to help others.
They combine practical effective advice and support to people in need with campaigning, including direct action such as mobilising to prevent bailiff evictions.
It's practical solidarity with political activity.
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