The excellent blogger Jules Birch, of Inside Housing magazine, demonstrates the value of a good journalistic nose and a bit of statistical persistence.
Last week, Ministers made much of the comparison between private sector rents, which they claimed the Office for National Statistics showed were down by 5% in a year, and rents where local housing allowance was being paid, up 3%. This proved, they declared in the House and on the airwaves, that LHA was distorting the market, driving high rents and fuelling profiteering by landlords.
Birch, aka Inspector Clouseau, smelled a rat. And in particular that the ONS produces no such statistics. A few calls later, and Inspector Morse forced the admission from the department that the statistics in fact came from a private property website. And Inspector Frost then discovered that using the website’s stats as an index was dodgy in the extreme, not to be relied on as an indicator of rents in the sector as a whole let alone the LHA market, and that their analyst was in fact predicting rent rises. And finally Inspector Taggart demonstrated that all the available evidence shows that LHA does not distort the market after all. No case to answer.
So, was Ian Duncan Smith misleading the House – sorry, in Parliamentary language, was he ‘inadvertently’ misleading the House? If this had been Labour Ministers it would have been all over the front pages and Paxman and Humphreys would demanding an apology, but so far our forensic investigator, Britain’s answer to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has only managed the pages of Inside Housing and not the Daily Mail.
I’m sure that erstwhile Jane Tennisons and Juliet Bravos on Labour’s front bench will pursue further enquiries in Parliament.
(illustration: an inspector’s insignia)