Tackling homelessness

The beginning of April marked the first anniversary of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 coming into force.

Councils are ambitious and working to make a success of the Act – which placed a renewed focus on homelessness prevention and introduced a range of new duties for councils – but they are facing real challenges.

Under immense financial pressure, councils have done everything they can to prevent and relieve homelessness in recent years – from joining up services to address its root causes, to outreach and support staff on the front line supporting rough sleepers. But the effort of councils has not been matched by funding and policy reform from central government.

Our recent Homelessness Reduction Act survey, which asked councils about their experiences since the Act’s implementation, reveals that more and more people are turning up at councils’ doors for help, and many are struggling to cope with the rising numbers of people at risk of homelessness.

Homelessness Reduction Act survey

  • Eight in 10 councils have seen an increase in homelessness presentations since the introduction of the Act.
  • Six in 10 said the number of people they were housing in temporary and emergency accommodation had risen,
    and the length of time people spend in such accommodation
    has increased.
  • Limited affordable housing and a lack of suitable accommodation for people sleeping rough is a serious concern for 91 per cent of councils.
  • Councils across the country said excessive paperwork required by the Act is costing them too much in administration and hampering their ability to meet the needs of people at risk of homelessness.

Councils are doing everything in their power to address the issue, but more people are being placed in temporary and emergency accommodation and stay there for longer, our survey reveals. More than 200,000 people are already living in temporary accommodation – including in bed and breakfasts, hostels and private rented properties – with more than half of them children. Councils cannot continue to foot the bill, and moving people from temporary accommodation into good-quality, affordable homes is increasingly difficult.

The Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy and its £100 million cash injection will give councils some respite, but with homelessness services facing a funding gap of more than £100 million in 2019/20 alone, and £421 million by 2024/25, homelessness is clearly a national issue that requires a national solution.

At the heart of the issue lies the chronic shortage of good-quality, affordable homes, with nine in 10 councils concerned that there is limited access to affordable housing and a lack of suitable accommodation for people already sleeping rough.

“At the heart of the issue lies the chronic shortage of good-quality affordable homes

Historically, councils have been at the front of the queue when it comes to building homes to match local needs – but despite council house building being at its highest in the past 17 years, councils simply aren’t in a position to build as many homes as they would like. Only by supporting homeless families into good-quality homes that are genuinely affordable can we really begin to tackle homelessness and make a success of the Act.

To begin to address homelessness the Government must: use its upcoming Spending Review to adapt welfare reforms; free councils to build more social homes, by allowing them to retain 100 per cent of their Right to Buy receipts and set discounts locally; and sustainably fund councils to deliver homelessness services.

More than 80,000 homeless families are currently in temporary accommodation, and a further one million people are on council waiting lists. They deserve a decent home to call their own.

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