Homelessness Reduction Bill: Report and Third Reading

Today, the Homelessness Reduction Bill passed Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons. Shelter supports the overall aims of the Bill, particularly the emphasis on the prevention of homelessness and offering help to more people. However, the Bill alone will not significantly reduce homelessness, even with the new money announced by the Government.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill has come a long way since it was first introduced to the House of Commons last June. Although the Bill has changed significantly since then, the overarching aims have remained the same.

Shelter supports the Bill because it will mean that all those who are eligible are entitled to some help when threatened with homelessness, rather than just those who are unintentionally homeless and in priority need. It represents a huge expansion in the rights of single homeless people and should help to ensure that no-one is turned away without assistance.

Importantly, the Bill also aims to encourage councils to prevent homelessness by intervening early and taking a more humane approach. By helping people who are threatened with homelessness as soon as possible, councils will not only be able to use their resources more efficiently but will also have a better chance of helping them find a solution.

What changed at Committee?

At Committee Stage, the Government amended Clause 1 of the Bill. The majority of it was stripped out and they only kept the part which extends the period of ‘threatened with homelessness’ from 28 to 56 days. Currently, a council should accept you as homeless if it’s likely that you could lose your home within the next 28 days. This applies if you’re a tenant being evicted or if you’re a homeowner threatened with repossession by your mortgage lender. Clause 1 extends that period from 28 days to 56 days. We are very supportive of this part of the Bill, as it facilitates the early intervention mentioned above.

But unfortunately, if the help to prevent homelessness doesn’t work, Clause 1 now will not prevent the distressing practice of tenants being asked by local authorities to stay in their property until the bailiffs come. This was one of the original aspirations of many supporting the bill. Not just a missed opportunity, this move actually undermines the current statutory guidance by allowing councils to continue to argue that applicants are not homeless, nor entitled to interim accommodation, until the bailiff eviction. This is costly and distressing for tenants, and a reason why landlords can be nervous about letting to people on lower incomes. Even if statutory guidance reiterates that a person should be treated as homeless at the expiry of the notice, councils could continue to flout this as they do now.

What changed at Report Stage?

The Government brought forward an amendment to Clause 7 today, which introduces consequences for people have refused a suitable offer of accommodation at relief stage. Effectively, this means that priority need households could have to accept a six-month tenancy as a relief measure, rather than benefit from the greater protection afforded to them under the main homelessness duty, which requires a minimum of 12 months under the main homelessness duty. Monitoring of the bill must be alert to the impact on repeat homelessness.

The Government also amended Clause 1 to ensure that, in cases where a local authority breaches the Code of Guidance and does not consider a household homeless once a Section 21 notice expires, they will still be required to undertake prevention work with that household until the homelessness is either successfully prevented or the relief duty is owed.

What stayed the same?

The Bill retains the Clause 7 provisions for councils to give notice to applicants whom they consider to have “deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate”. This is intended to ensure that applicants cooperate with the help given.

We are supportive of the concept of “deliberately and unreasonably refusing to cooperate” as the justification for this sanction. If vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities, are not to be denied help under this measure, it must remain a high bar.

What impact will the Bill have?

Despite the laudable aims of the Bill, we must remain mindful of the fact that legislation alone will not significantly reduce homelessness. The rise in homelessness has primarily been caused by a chronic shortage of affordable homes where they are needed. Indeed, the leading cause of homelessness is people not being able to find somewhere else to live once their tenancy comes to an end. The Bill does nothing to solve this problem.

The Government needs to address the structural causes if it is to have any hope of genuinely reducing homelessness. This should include reversing the freeze on local housing allowance in the short term, and in the long term building homes that people on lower incomes can actually afford.

Housing benefit to tackle affordability problems is the most important tool to prevent homelessness. If the current freeze on Local Housing Allowance rates continues, by 2020 families in four-fifths of the country could face a gap between the support they need to pay their rent and the maximum support they are entitled to. Some 330,000 working families are likely to be affected.

In order to help the many private tenants who could be at risk of homelessness because of the freeze, the Government must review Local Housing Allowance rates and ensure that housing benefit reflects actual housing costs. This would go a long way to reducing homelessness, helping people to help themselves, putting less strain on council resources and, where they are required to assist, giving them more scope to help people keep their homes or find an alternative.

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  1. Could a law be passed that Landlords CANNOT ask for huge rent increases,alot of them do not do enough repair work to their properties, and when or if they do, they then put the cost of this onto the tenant. They shoud be forced to pay this from their own pockets through the money they have got from rents.

  2. Thank you sincerely Shelter staff who are working on this; it is the crux of homelessness right now and my goodness, it must feel like pushing an elephant from behind! Praying for you to have strength to pursue and the rest that you need. God bless you!

  3. There needs to be a return to council housing not private lettings. People should have a home for life, not having to live with the worry of short- term lets and having to find another home and the additional costs of moving.

  4. There needs to be a cap on private rents. landlords get greedy and cram as many people into their cupboards and call them flats . If you are unfortunate enough to earn less than the average banker you will need help from housing benefit ….this is not ideal as your landlord wants money every week .. Housing benefit pays 4 weeks in arrears. You can find yourself in trouble even if you’re entitled to full help with rent ,with a social landlord as they often want 4 weeks in advance

  5. In tandem with relaxing the freeze on housing benefits, there needs to be rent capping introduced. “Fair rent” determined by an independent tribunal. Isn’t that the crunch issue?

    1. Very much agree, we need fair rents and some sort of control or cap.

  6. Stop selling off council houses stupid policy

    1. Agree with you. It is not just the selling of council houses is the problem though, it is the lack of new ones. I actually benefitted from RTB as without I could never have afforded to buy. But the councils sold off houses and were not allowed to build any more, in fact the vast majority of the money from sales went to Central Government! I say, that ‘profit’ should have funded more new council houses. We would not be where we are today if that policy had been allowed.

  7. Landlord greed need to cap rents they should NOT be able to charge more for rent than what the housing Associations & Councils charge or at least Average amount of the two.. They Should also make it Law if the Bailiffs are to attend the Councils should help with temp accommodation immediately not make ppls wait until the last moment.. These conditions are suicidal & not Acceptable The law needs changed fast we are not Victorians..

    1. I’m a landlord. I’m taxed on my profits,I pay an extra 3% stamp duty, I pay CGT when I sell and as of April, I pay income tax on income that I don’t even receive !! Yup – that’s right. Housing Associations and Councils are exempt from all these taxes. Level the playing field and maybe you’ll see rents being normalised. No-one really bashing the big corporate landlords – they are really expensive by the way (about 50% higher rents than I charge)

  8. Laws also need putting in place to stop discrimination against LHA tenants applying for privately rental properties. Adverts containing phrases like “No DSS” should be outlawed. Yes there are some awful LHA tenants, but there are also plently of awful employed tenants.

  9. Thank you for spelling out in detail the positives and negatives of the measures that will come into place when this bill becomes law. I have written to my local MP Lucy Frazer regarding homelessness and rough sleeping. Her response indicates she doesn’t believe there has been a steady increase, in fact she says there has been a reduction since 2004/5’s peak. I know this not to be true I see the evidence before my eyes on the streets of Cambridge and from what I have read of the homeless crisis we are facing. I have a niece who is suffering with her son under her council’s policy of waiting until eviction to rehouse them.
    I have responded to my mp by sending her the Analysis article in this week’s big issue along with another letter.
    I have been a supporter of Shelter for many years and I applaud all your efforts and good work in continuing to fight for the rights of the vulnerably housed and homeless. With thanks

    1. I agree. I first moved to my present location there were literally just 3 – 4 homeless people on the streets in the City centre, often begging for money. Today 5 years later every time I go into the City I see at least 10 – 12 homeless people begging, lying in shop doorways etc. Every time! A poor state this country has been allowed to get into. Mind you I do know that there is a growing trend of ‘professional’ beggars and even criminals muscling in, which means even more danger and less sympathy to those genuine homeless. Things need to change.

  10. I wondered if the government has considered something along the lines of the concrete “prefabs” used during WW2 to provide rapid solution to housing needs caused by bombings?

    I recall an estanlished estate of “prefab” bungalows near Canterbury in Kent in the 1960’s, with picket fences, flowery gardens, and little lanes between. It was very homely and quite pretty. They were demolished years ago to make way for modern houses, I think they said some were becoingless habitable, but I recall the sense of sadness this caused to some of the local people who were fond of their little bungalows. So although not grand they had become homes that people were fond of.

    Although it would not be as good as “proper” houses of the usual kind, it would be better than homelessness, more affordable, and with today’s materials and technology could be made eco-friendly, with insulation, solar roofs, etc.

    Design and manufacture of them could provide a lot of jobs for people too.

    You see a lot on the internet these days about “tiny houses” made by people who can’t afford the norm in the USA, “green off-grid” houses, unusual designs like “hobbit holes”, shelters designed for refugees of war, etc.,

    There are a lot of clever, innovative ideas out there, and given the funding and opportunity, something ought to be possible that is better than the current situation in which so-called “affordable” housing is being built that is most certainly NOT affordable to most people on today’s average incomes.

    I believe a civilised, wealthy society like ours (which cares enough to provide free healthcare)is capable of caring better for our homeless citizens. They deserve at least the same kind of help as refugees in distant lands get, and should be provided with urgent free shelter, especially in winter.

    1. I agree entirely. Not enough done by the government or local authorities to help get people housed. Too many derelict sites and in some cities streets of old Victorian terraced houses boarded up. Liverpool council had a scheme where they sold these houses to first time buyers for £1 – provided they did them up and lived in them for at least 5 years before selling. That scheme revitalised a slum area, brought new shops and businesses into the area and provided lots of local trades when the houses were being renovated, builders, tillers, electricians, garden centres, building trade shops, as well as furnishers etc. People back into a forgotten area, a community being built. New bus routes opened, the council now collect council tax of that community and they do bot have the cost of looking after properties open to vandalism any more – a win, win for everyone! Councils should sell off all their brownfield sites cheaply to individuals, not the big builders.

  11. Well done Shelter, Janey and all who are fighting for rights for those on low incomes.

    Often the rent is feasible, it is only when the additional living costs are included that the price becomes unreachable.

    Several years ago, following divorce, the death of my parents meant that I slept in my car because I didn’t have sufficient cash to cover rent rather than board.

    Unemployment is rife at the moment, the space between top and bottom earners is vast and hopefully some medium will be found.

  12. Thank you sincerely, Shelter staff, Janey, St. Mungo’s, and others who are working on this bill. It is the crux of homelessness right now.
    I hope the bill gets passed even though I agree with the statement that despite the laudable aims of the Bill, we must remain mindful of the fact that legislation alone will not significantly reduce homelessness. I also agree with the statement that the rise in homelessness has primarily been caused by a chronic shortage of affordable homes where they are needed. I have heard of many tenants who cannot find somewhere affordable to live once their tenancy comes to an end due to affordability and often have to move out of a borough or city they have lived in all their lives, especially in London. The Bill does nothing to solve this problem.
    More council houses and social housing needs to be built based on the average wage. A house costing £134,000 in Cheshire as a new build may seem cheap for the middle classes but those on the living wage would find it difficult to get a mortgage even on the buy to schemes. House prices outstrip wages in most areas and need to be capped!

    Also, Clause 1 does not prevent the distressing practice of tenants being asked by local authorities to stay living in their property until the bailiffs come. This move actually undermines the current statutory guidance by allowing councils to continue to argue that applicants are not homeless, nor entitled to interim accommodation, until the bailiff eviction. This is costly and distressing for tenants, Even if statutory guidance reiterates that a person should be treated as homeless at the expiry of the notice, councils could continue to flout this as they do now. This must be changed!
    However, as a landlord, I see the need for change on both sides. I understand tenants views as to why they fall into arrears is because the housing benefit has not come, as this is paid 4 weeks in arrears whilst landlords expect to be paid in advance. If housing benefit was paid in advance and paid directly to the landlord this would prevent nonpayment and arrears. So this needs to be changed. If this was changed many more landlords would have DHSS renters as they would have secured rent coming in! As long as landlords were forced by law to inform the DHSS if a tenant left and the tenant likewise this would work. This would also stop the money being used on other things by the tenant!
    However, this is not the only problem. The current freeze on Local Housing Allowance rates exacerbates this problem creating a gap in the support the tenant needs to pay the rent and the maximum support they need. This should be looked at, as many tenants fall into arrears because of this shortfall.

    Although there are a minority of so-called ‘bad’ ‘unscrupulous’ tenants, there are just as many ‘bad’ and ‘unscrupulous’ landlords who get away with doing very little to their rental properties, charge extortionate rents and use the High Court Bailiff or Sherriff to get tenants out quicker. The law needs to change on both sides. Landlords complaints need to be listened to and acted upon by govt legislation, but tenants also must have the right to an affordable roof over their head. Rents should be based on average salaries in an area not based on the assumptions that most people are earning ‘banker’s bonus salaries’. In tandem with relaxing the freeze on housing benefits, there needs to be rent capping introduced. “Fair rent” determined by an independent tribunal.
    The problem we have is a class society who see the poor as “not one to have on my doorstep, thanks!” Often the homeless are sadly seen but not helped in society due to our misconceived ideas about the reasons why a person ends up on the street – drugs, alcohol abuse, untrustworthy scum. It is sadly the same with our perception on immigration – terrorists – not in my country, thanks.

  13. Increasing the supply of good quality public housing for rent is the best solution. Buying a home is not an option for a significant number of people. Providing sufficient social housing can only happen if there is the political will to do so. The private sector has a very limited role to play.Until the supply of social housing with affordable rents and secure tenancies is increased things will not improve

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