The Homelessness Reduction Bill has passed a key milestone in Westminster. What does this mean for tackling homelessness locally? What data supports this work going forward?
The growing homelessness problem is clear to see every night as we leave the office in Westminster. Visit any town or city centre and you see more and more people sleeping rough.
We are now feeling the pinch of reduced public funding. There is less money spent on supported housing, less on mental health services and ongoing cuts to benefits. Alongside this we see the continual rise of private rents and house prices, making housing dearer. These all add to this rise in homelessness.
Government statistics on homelessness show that rough sleeping doubled between 2010 and 2015, while the number of households accepted as homeless and in priority need by councils has been rising steadily since 2009, from 41,780 to 56,500 in 2015.
A new Bill
The Homelessness Reduction Bill, a private members bill from Conservative MP Bob Blackman, passed its second reading on Friday 28 October. It aims to give homeless people greater protection and support – and for longer.
Here are the Bill’s key points:
- Extending the meaning of being homeless or threatened with homelessness. In effect, providing support for more people and for longer.
- Councils will have to assess what led to each applicant’s homelessness and set out an action plan to resolve this. This means providing free advice and support for anyone at risk of homelessness, including those not considered to be in ‘priority need’. This will extend the support to many single people and to rough sleepers.
- Councils will have to help to find suitable housing for all eligible households threatened with homelessness, and provide help for longer.
- If homeless households refuse to engage, their support will be limited. It shows it has to be two-way.
- All young people leaving care will be deemed to have a local connection in the area the local authority is providing them with leaving care services.
- The Secretary of State has a power to produce a statutory code to raise the standards of homelessness support services across the country.
As well as support among MPs, the government and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have backed the Bill.
On 10 October 2016 the Communities and Local Government Committee published their report in support of legislation aimed at reducing homelessness by ensuring that vulnerable people receive consistently high levels of service from local housing authorities across the county. This is now awaiting government response. Read the report here.
Local government backing
Councils weren’t happy with the original Bill, particularly because it placed greater demand on them without any extra cash. However, the Bill has been changed – it no longer places a duty to provide emergency temporary accommodation for 56 days to people with a local connection but who aren’t in priority need.
This has won over the Local Government Association and therefore local authorities, although the LGA recognises that extra funding is still needed, including to help boost council house-building.
The government’s recent announcement to invest £40 million to reduce homelessness may well have pacified councils. In addition, government minister Marcus Jones has assured MPs that councils will be given new money to implement the bill. He said the government will work with the LGA on how best to provide funding. Tackling homelessness was also a theme from welfare minister Lord Freud at the recent IRRV conference.
Real support on the ground available
If the Bill makes it all the way through parliament, the real challenge will be implementing it. Our recent breakfast seminar looking at the 4 main challenges to implementing welfare reforms in London and the South East highlighted temporary accommodation as a key challenge, particularly in London. In addition, recently updated Policy in Practice analysis on the impact of housing benefit welfare reforms also highlighted this.
The cost of this type of housing is stretching many councils. Worse, for these claimants on Universal Credit, some councils are having to make Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to fund the temporary accommodation, therefore leaving less funding available to others in need.
How Policy in Practice is helping organisations
Policy in Practice can help you to identify households under financial pressure and their housing situation. Our welfare reform impact analysis helps councils and housing partners to better target scarce support resources to where they’re most needed. Our Universal Benefit and Budgeting calculator gives people clear information to help them make the decisions that are right for them.
Policy in Practice has been awarded a policy research grant by Trust for London to analyse the impact of welfare reform on households across London. Using councils’ anonymised data sets we will identify the main drivers of poverty in the capital. Our household level approach lets us track income, employment and poverty for half a million low income households over time.
As part to of this project we will assess how low income households are impacted by national and local policies, and whether support reaches those who need it most. Find out more about our Low Income Londoners and Welfare Reform project here.