Homelessness Reduction Bill - A step in the right direction

More than 300,000 people in Britain – equivalent to one in every 200 – are either homeless or living in inadequate homes, according to recent figures released by the charity Shelter.

It estimates that 307,000 people are sleeping rough or accommodated in temporary housing, bed and breakfast rooms, or hostels – an increase of 13,000 over the past year. To put this into perspective, more people are homeless in Britain than the population of Newcastle upon Tyne.

With homelessness now a key government agenda, a new law has been passed that will require earlier intervention by councils to prevent homelessness. The Homelessness Reduction Bill also requires councils to provide advice and help to all affected, and not just to those who are protected under existing laws.

The Bill, which is due to come into effect early this year, will oblige councils to start assessing those at risk of homelessness 56 days before losing their home – a vast improvement on the current 28 day timeline. The bill comes as the number of people sleeping on the streets increased by 16%, up from 3,569 in 2015 to 4,134 in 2016. Worryingly, these figures could be even worse, as they do not include homeless people who are hidden from official counts, such as sofa surfers.

Whilst the government will be providing £61m to councils to meet the costs incurred (£550m by 2020), many feel that this financial support does not go far enough. Local government homelessness departments are already bracing themselves for an exceptionally busy 2018, and will need the assistance of recruitment agencies to provide additional temporary staff to manage the increased workload.

Whilst it is widely accepted that tackling homelessness is a complex issue, there are a number of other factors that need to be addressed: there is a widening gap between incomes and rents, a lack of new affordable homes, and a joining up of all local services – such as health, justice and skills.

November’s budget saw Chancellor Phillip Hammond commit to building 300,000 new homes; an ambitious target which multiple governments have failed to implement. Whilst this (as well as the Homelessness Reduction Bill) is certainly a small step in the right direction, the additional legal protections introduced by the Bill will mean little in practice unless more is done.

The current freeze on housing benefit and welfare changes have, in the short term, significantly increased homelessness as tenants struggle to pay their rents on time. Councils need greater powers and funding, and the support needed to invest in building affordable homes. Only if this is carried out will we deliver our collective ambition to end homelessness.

By Robin Turner Principal Consultant - Local Government Housing


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