Where the home is...

Many a time on this blog, emphasis has been put on how easy it is to lose a home. An unexpected event can throw things up in the air; a serious illness can prevent you paying the bills, the end of a relationship can spiral in the wrong direction.

Put simply, there’s only a frail safety net there which can be easily torn apart by life’s twists and turns.

At Shelter we believe that people who have become homeless should be given the means and opportunities to get back on their feet as quickly as possible. And while in the most basic sense that means a roof over your head, it’s about much more than that.

People should be offered accommodation in a safe and suitable environment, near what they know and what they need; whether that’s their family, their social support network, their child’s school, or their place of employment.

We’ve learnt from experience that finding a home in the right place can reduce the chances of someone becoming homeless again.

Yet following changes in the Localism Act 2011, there are only weak rules surrounding where homeless families can be moved to, potentially sending them anywhere in the country.

And if homeless applicants don’t take up the offer they’re given in the private rented sector, the council doesn’t need to provide any further housing assistance.

You only need listen to the story of a recently bereaved widow from London to realise the dangers ahead. She was told by her council that either her and her child move to Walsall, 130 miles away from everything and everyone she knew, or they would receive no further help.

Is this really a sensible solution for those facing the devastating impacts of homelessness?

We’ve already seen increases in out-of-area placements for temporary accommodation. The latest statistics, for March 2012, show that such placements rose by more than 1,500 from March 2011. It’s vital that this doesn’t become the norm for final offers to homeless households as well.

Just in time, we’ve got a Government consultation on the matter. Fortunately, it’s (pretty much) on the right lines, with the Government also supporting stronger regulation to stop local authorities sending people too far away from their local area.

But we think it’s crucial the Government knows there is support for these changes and that they’re needed now, before councils get the power to place people in private rentals this autumn.

We want to encourage debate on this important topic. Do you think stronger laws are needed on where homeless families should be moved?

Take part in the Government consultation today.