Homelessness: a district challenge

Unsurprisingly, the challenge of homelessness is increasing. According to the charity Shelter, in 2017 more than 300,000 people were homeless, a rise of 13,000 on the previous 12 months. Furthermore, the National Audit Office has identified that the number of households accepted as unintentionally homeless and ‘priority need’ is increasing at an alarming rate, compared to other changes in demand on councils.

It is against this backdrop that the District Councils’ Network (DCN) carried out a survey of its members to explore the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA) on districts, six months after it came into effect in April 2018.

“More than half (51 per cent) of district councils have seen an increase in requests for homelessness advice and assistance.

The early experience of the HRA in reducing homelessness has been broadly positive. Many districts report that the longer 56-day period (previously 28 days) in which a household is defined as ‘threatened with homelessness’ has allowed them to identify potential homelessness at an earlier stage and take preventative action as opposed to reactive resolution.

However, the survey found that more than half (51 per cent) of district councils have seen an increase in requests for homelessness advice and assistance, with increases of more than 100 per cent in some areas.

Only one in five districts say that government funding to support the implementation of new statutory duties under the Act is sufficient, while more than two-thirds (69 per cent) have seen an increase in the visible signs of homelessness in their areas.

Everyone deserves a safe and affordable home. District councils, as the housing and planning authorities at the forefront of preventing and relieving homelessness, can and want to do more to support their most vulnerable residents.

This is why, while supportive of the HRA, we are urging the Government to ensure that the rising costs of tackling homelessness are reflected in the fair funding formula that is due to be consulted on shortly through its review.

The ongoing costs for new HRA duties far outweigh the initial funding, which isn’t enough on its own to address the lack of housing supply or the affordability issues affecting people in need.

Providing additional, sustainable funding beyond 2019/20 will allow districts to continue to support homeless people or those at risk of becoming homeless, and to deliver longer-term solutions. Such funding will also help address low-level issues that lead to homelessness, rather than being largely crisis-focused as it is now.

House building is key to helping reduce homelessness but, while scrapping the housing borrowing cap (see first 629) was well received by districts to help deliver more affordable homes, the DCN is also calling for greater financial flexibilities for non-stock-holding authorities to borrow to build more homes.

Streamlining the HRA administration process, which is more time-consuming than previous homelessness duties, would also let district councils help more people in need, as would strengthening multi-agency work to target the various factors that have either caused people to become homeless or are preventing them from being rehoused.

There are many reasons why people become homeless and districts are able and determined to help solve this national crisis. But a holistic approach is vital if we are to tackle the root causes of homelessness to ensure that initiatives will be successful in the long term.

For more information about the work of the District Councils’ Network, please visit www.districtcouncils.info

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