Deborah Garvie
Deborah Garvie

By Deborah Garvie

Homelessness Reduction Act becomes law – now we need a cross-Government approach to make it work

Last week saw the Royal Assent of the first major piece of homelessness legislation for 15 years – the Homelessness Reduction Act. Likely to be implemented next year, the Act has the potential to transform the way homelessness services are delivered and ensure that all eligible applicants are given the help they need.  But it will take political will to tackle the drivers of homelessness.  In the run-up to the General Election, we’re calling on all parties to end the scandal of street homelessness.

Fittingly, Bob Blackman’s Government-backed Homelessness Reduction Bill was introduced to Parliament during Shelter’s 50th anniversary year, and has made it to the Statute Book while Crisis is marking its 50th anniversary.  It’s based on the recommendations and legal drafting of an expert panel, convened by Crisis in 2015, and throughout the Bill’s passage we’ve worked closely with them to ensure that it will result in improved outcomes for people facing homelessness.

HRA Blackman Javid

Bob Blackman last week celebrating Royal Assent of the Homelessness Reduction Act with Secretary of State Sajid Javid

 

The new Act builds on two major pieces of homelessness legislation which came about through concerted campaigning:

  • The ground-breaking Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 defined homelessness for the first time and placed duties on local housing departments to house people with dependent children and other vulnerable people.
  • The Homelessness Act 2002, extended entitlements to rehousing to a wider group of ‘single’ homeless people, including care leavers and people fleeing violence.  It introduced an essential strategic approach to homelessness prevention.

The new Homelessness Reduction Act goes further and requires local housing authorities to help all eligible applicants – rather than just those with a ‘priority need’. It builds on the preventative approach in the 2002 Act, by requiring public authorities (such as the NHS) to notify the housing authority if someone they’re working with is facing homelessness.

It effectively bolts two new duties onto the full rehousing duties introduced by previous Acts:

  • Duty to take steps to prevent homelessness: Councils will have to help people at risk of losing suitable accommodation as soon as they are threatened with homelessness within 56 days.  This means people should get help on receiving a notice from their landlord if they are struggling to find a letting, rather than being told to come back when they have a bailiff’s date.
  • Duty to take steps to relieve homelessness: Councils will have to help all those who are homeless to secure suitable accommodation, regardless of whether they are ‘intentionally homeless’ or priority need.  This should mean that all eligible households are offered help to find a home, rather than some people being turned away.  It should also ensure that the true scale of homelessness is recorded.

But legislation alone won’t be enough. If neither of the above steps work and the household becomes, or remains, homeless, then those in priority need retain their right to be rehoused, but non-priority households will not be entitled to further help.

Shelter have warned from the outset that if the legislation is to do what it says on the tin and reduce homelessness, councils need national housing policy to work with them. 

Quite simply, if we are to reduce homelessness then homeless people need homes.

The 2017 Homelessness Monitor shows half (49%) of English councils, and virtually all (94%) London boroughs, report that helping homeless people to find a self-contained private rental is “very difficult” because of the combined effects of rising rents and welfare benefit restrictions, particularly frozen Local Housing Allowance rates.

And almost two-thirds (64%) report difficulties in helping homeless people access social housing, with three-quarters of London boroughs describing this as “very difficult” because there is such a chronic shortage.

Yesterday, the cross-party Public Accounts Committee flagged up the Government’s lack of ambition in addressing housing need, warning that the human and financial costs of growing homelessness were likely to persist for for years to come if it continues to depend on a broken market.

Until people, and the councils required to help them, have access to suitable housing, then priority households will continue to languish in expensive TA waiting for a settled place to call home – and ‘single’ homeless people will still slip through the net. We can’t afford to let this happen.

The number of men and women sleeping on our streets in England has more than doubled since more robust rough sleeping measures were introduced in 2010 – in 2016, more than 4,000 people slept rough on any one night.  This is scandalous.

That’s why Shelter won’t stop campaigning until we’ve ended homelessness for good. So we’re again working with Crisis and other campaign groups to call on every political party in the General Election to pledge to end the utter disgrace of people have to sleep on the streets.

We now need a strategic approach from across the next Government, including communities, health, and welfare. We want to see a new Rough Sleepers Initiative which prevents people from sleeping rough in the first place, provides a robust response to help people off the streets and ensure that they don’t have to return.

If you want to end homelessness as much as we do, please support our call using the joint hashtag #endroughsleeping.

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