Want to reduce homelessness? We need longer tenancies
23 Mar 2017
With the passing of Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, there is a renewed emphasis on preventing homelessness. Today’s statistics show that the growth in homelessness is being caused by short-term private tenancies. If the Government is serious about reducing homelessness, we need stable tenancies which people at risk of homelessness can afford.
Today, the first new major new homelessness legislation for 15 years, the Government-backed Homelessness Reduction Bill, passed another parliament milestone. It heralds a welcome renewed emphasis on prevention which cannot come soon enough: today’s government statistics show that in the last year alone, 59,260 households were accepted as homeless by their local council.
That’s a rise of 22% over the last 5 years.
And behind these shocking statistics are thousands of families trying to raise children, living through the indignity and worry of being unable to house themselves. When the new legislation is implemented, councils will be legally required to try to prevent homelessness, rather than pick up the pieces.
But why is homelessness rising year on year and what can we do about it?
It’s rising because of short-term rentals. Eviction from a private (assured shorthold) tenancy accounts for 78% of the rise in homelessness since 2011.
In 2016, 18,750 households becoming homeless after an eviction from a privately rented home. The annual Crisis Homelessness Monitor for England, published yesterday, also highlights the phenomenon with this shocking graph:
The Monitor reports that, when asked to explain rising homelessness, local housing authorities most commonly referred to the growing pressure on private rental markets.
The Government suggests the increase in homelessness from ASTs is related to the expansion of the private rental sector, which has doubled in size since 2002. But this doesn’t explain why the ending of an AST only started driving up homelessness after 2010.
In last year’s Shelter Green Book on homelessness, we investigated this growing problem. We spoke to people who had lost their last home due to the ending of an AST. Most had been settled in their current homes for three or more years and were not at risk of homelessness until the moment they lost their AST.
However, at this point they couldn’t find an affordable home. This was either because housing costs had gone up or because they had tightened financial circumstances (such as being on maternity leave or going part time to cope with an ill child). The combination of a rising housing market and their lower income meant they couldn’t find anywhere else to live.
For all, eviction came unexpectedly and at a time when they weren’t preparing for a change. Families were settled in their neighbourhood with work, social networks and children’s schools. In fact, their housing was often considered to be one of the more certain elements of their lives, with other more fluctuating factors, like childcare or work, planned around it.
The most common explanation for such sudden eviction was housing market related. Most people had been told that the landlord had decided to sell as prices were rising. Others, that the landlord wanted to convert the property to attract sharers, or because they felt that the house was not priced at the market rate.
“I was paying £625 for it. He wanted £900 for it. He gets £925 for it now. He actually said ‘I’m entitled to more money so I’m gonna get it’. That’s what he said. So I was like, ‘thanks a lot mate!’”
And when families do have to move, councils struggle to prevent homelessness when frozen LHA levels bear no resemblance to market rents.
It’s time the PRS was made fit for purpose. Support for low income households needs to reflect the cost of private rents, which is why the freeze to LHA needs to be lifted. And all families need tenancies that last longer than 6-12 months.
We’re calling on the housing minister Gavin Barwell to make five-year rental contracts available to renters. If you agree, sign our petition for longer tenancies.