LGA First Magazine | Helping the homeless

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No.606 | December 2016

Helping the homeless

A wider housing strategy is needed to deliver on the Homelessness Reduction Bill’s aims

Rough sleeper outside ECC

Ever since the draft Homeless Reduction Bill was published in Parliament in October, the LGA has worked hard to influence proposals within it and highlight concerns that without a wider housing strategy the Bill would not achieve its aim of reducing homelessness

The Private Member’s Bill – being led by Bob Blackman MP – proposes to extend the duties on local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness.

Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can with existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, the LGA has warned there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness.

The causes of of homelessness are many and varied, ranging from financial to social, and councils were concerned the original draft Bill was undeliverable and would not achieve its outcomes.

LGA engagement with Government officials and Bob Blackman ahead of the final Bill being published has led to a series of positive changes. This has helped shape it into a more realistic piece of legislation that is more workable for councils to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

This included the removal of the 56-day accommodation duty for those with nowhere to stay, as there is an insufficient supply of suitable accommodation to discharge this duty.

The requirement to recognise an expired section 21 notice [issued by landlords to evict tenants] as proof of homelessness was replaced with a more flexible requirement in line with existing statutory guidance.

The LGA has been clear from the outset that all new duties proposed in the Bill will also need to be fully funded. As a result of this lobbying, the Government committed to fully funding the new duties under the New Burdens Doctrine when the Bill received its Second Reading in October.

The sector continues to press the case for sufficient funding from the Government to successfully deliver responsibilities.

It wants the Government to commit to undertaking a comprehensive review of the bill’s impact after a year of implementation to ensure that it is achieving its objectives and that councils are being properly funded.

it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness.

Homelessness is spreading across all areas of the country. The number of households local authorities have been forced to place in temporary accommodation has risen by 48% since 2010, while rough sleeping has doubled.

This crisis is spreading nationwide. Since 2010, the use of temporary accommodation has gone up 44% in London and 58% across the rest of England.

Councils also need powers and funding to address the widening gap between incomes and rents, resume their historic role as a major builder of new affordable homes and join up all local services – such as health, justice and skills.

This is the only way to deliver on the national ambition to address the causes of homelessness and prevent it happening in the first place.

Private Eye | The Homelessness Reduction Bill

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No.1430 | 28 Oct – 10 Nov 2016

Campaigners are cautiously optimistic that a Private Member’s Bill to improve the safety net for homeless people will pass its first Parliamentary hurdle on Friday [28 October 2016].

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, put forward by Conservative MP Bob Blackman with the support of the all-party Communities and Local Government Committee and the homelessness charity Crisis, is modelled on legislation already introduced in Wales.

It would  introduce new duties to prevent and relieve homelessness, in particular by helping single homeless people currently being turned away by councils because they are not in ‘priority need”.

Two immediate tests confront the Bill when it comes to a Second Reading.

First,more than 100 MPs must turn up and vote on a Friday to prevent individual members from talking it out. That effort got a boost when Jeremy Corbyn wrote to his Labour MPs encouraging them to attend.

Second, only backing from the Government can secure enough Parliamentary time to eventually bring the Bill into law. So far, Ministers have made positive noises, but no commitments.

The larger question, though, is whether homelessness will keep rising faster than any legislation can prevent it. Demand for housing is increasing rents even as cuts to Housing Benefit reduce the ability to pay them. More cuts are still in the pipeline, starting with a reduction in the Overall Benefit Cap from 06 November. This will leave tenants in expensive areas and in larger homes across the country with worsening rent shortfalls to be paid from benefits that are frozen until 2020.

Although the homelessness prevention legislation in Wales seems to be working well, that is in the context of a very different attitude to genuinely affordable housing. Whereas Wales is still building social housing and is about to abolish Right to Buy, England stopped funding it in 2010, increased Right to Buy discounts and is about to force councils to sell their higher-value homes as they fall vacant.

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Priority Pass | Scene & Heard by David Ziggy Greene [Private Eye No.1430]

 

Crisis | Government backs the Homelessness Reduction Bill, but we’re not over the finishing line yet

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Government backs the Homelessness Reduction Bill, but we’re not over the finishing line yet

by Bob Blackman MP

Today marks a huge step forward for my Private Member’s Bill – due to be debated this Friday 28 October – with the government announcing its support for the bill. The Homelessness Reduction Bill offers a very real opportunity to offer meaningful support to people shut out of the current system and to place a new duty on councils to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.

Even with government backing, there’s no guarantee that the bill will be carried on Friday and it’s absolutely vital that at least 100 MPs turn up to the debate and vote in favour of the bill to carry it through this first hurdle.

Parliamentary business can be a thorny and difficult process to navigate. This is especially the case when it comes to Private Members’ Bills, as they’re allocated very little time and debates are always scheduled on a Friday when most MPs are away from Westminster in order to spend time working in their constituencies. The odds are stacked against them ever making it past their first debate and, as we saw just last week with the failure John Nicolson MP’s ‘Turing Bill’ to pass, you can never be sure of what will happen.

I would argue that the Homelessness Reduction Bill is somewhat unique as Private Member’s Bills go. As a member of the cross-party Communities and Local Government Select Committee, I took the opportunity to utilise the committee’s recent report on homelessness and to tie that into the creation of my bill. Clive Betts, the Chair, also kindly agreed to have the committee conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill and I revised the original draft of the bill in response to the committee’s recommendations. There are no direct precedents for this.

Now that the bill has been given government backing, I’m hugely grateful to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, and the Local Government Minister, Marcus Jones, in particular, for seizing this historic opportunity to tackle homelessness. This is obviously very helpful in terms of getting this legislation onto the books, but it’s important to say that it’s not just about getting Government support. I want to ensure that Members from all sides of the House back this bill and I’ll be spending the next few days rallying more MPs to commit to voting in favour on Friday.

So to colleagues who may be reading this, now is the time to make your commitment to helping those faced with homelessness clear. If you’re a constituent, it’s not too late to contact your MP to let them know that their vote on Friday could still make the difference between this bill succeeding or failing.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to radically improve the way we tackle homelessness in England and there is no room for complacency.