People who are street homeless shouldn’t have to take their council to court to get safe accommodation during a pandemic.
Street homelessness is horrific to deal with at any time. But during this freezing winter weather, with new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases at over 96,000 a day, it’s inhumane to leave people on the streets. That’s why an incredible 31,000 people signed our petition to the prime minister, calling for firm guidance from the government to councils that everyone on the streets should be offered safe emergency accommodation.
Three days after we handed in our petition, the government responded.
New ministerial letter: ‘Protect & Vaccinate’
On 20 December 2021, Homelessness Minister Eddie Hughes wrote to all local authorities in England asking them to ‘(subject to individual assessment) make offers of safe and appropriate accommodation to people who are rough sleeping’. Over 300 councils were allocated £25m in new ‘Protect & Vaccine’ funding to pay for this accommodation.
This letter and funding are very welcome. They follow the government’s ‘Everyone In’ letter of March 2020 and its ‘Protect Programme’ and ‘Protect Plus’ announcements last winter, which instructed councils to ‘make sure every rough sleeper [is] offered somewhere safe to go’.
No recourse to public funds
This latest ministerial letter makes clear to councils that people who aren’t eligible for homelessness assistance (for example, because their immigration status means they have no recourse to public funds), can be accommodated by councils under NHS and local government legislation during the pandemic. This was the judgment of the High Court in March 2021, in a case (Ncube v Brighton & Hove Council) in which our Strategic Litigation team successfully intervened.
Timon Ncube, a 61-year-old man sleeping outside Brighton Station, shouldn’t have had to take the council to court to access safe accommodation in a pandemic. So, we’re pleased that the minister’s letter asks councils to ‘ensure that you are exhausting all options within the law to support’ people in this position.
Councils must now accommodate people
It is vitally important that councils implement this letter. There shouldn’t be any need to bring further court challenges in order to secure people accommodation this winter. But since the minister’s letter was published, our helpline and hub advisers continue to be contacted by people who are on the streets, but have been refused accommodation by the council.
Our helpline reports that even where we remind councils of the minister’s letter, we’re having limited success in getting them accommodated. Sometimes this is because council officers claim they don’t know about the letter. Some councils tell us that their ‘Protect & Vaccinate’ funding is already running out or they no longer need to accommodate everyone. Some simply provide no reasons, until court proceedings loom.
So this week, our Legal teams are once again starting legal proceedings to make sure homeless people on the streets in freezing weather are offered safe accommodation.
Our briefing to councils
Today we’re writing to all councils in England, setting out how and why they should be carefully implementing the ministerial directions.
We’re also recommending they refer to helpful guidance from the Law Centres Network, clearly setting out exactly what legal powers they have to ‘exhaust all options’ to accommodate people facing the streets.
We need your help
Thanks to the thousands of supporters who signed our petition and donated to our Winter Appeal, we successfully campaigned for the minister’s letter.
We now need your help to make sure our helpline and hub advisers and Legal teams can make sure councils honour this letter; using their legal powers, and the funding they’ve been given, to offer safe accommodation.
We need your help to continue to campaign for the government to honour its election promise to end rough sleeping by 2024. We’ll keep giving everything to make sure no one has to be on the streets during this pandemic.
Please give what you can to help us succeed. Thank you.