LGIU | Housing and Homelessness – Where are we now?

LGIU Policy Briefing

November 24, 2016

Housing and Homelessness – Where are we now?

Author: Sheila Camp, LGiU associate

Summary

This briefing looks at the changes heralded for housing policy by the post-Cameron Conservative government. Is it, as Inside Housing proclaimed in the wake of the Tory party conference, “a new dawn” or merely a slight shift in government rhetoric? At present, details are scarce but a Housing White Paper is promised before 2017.

We also look at the broad conclusions of the Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into homelessness (PDF document) and ask whether the potential policy changes will start to address the main contributory factors to the rise in homelessness which the Committee identified. It also looks at the proposals in the Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Members Bill introduced by one of the Committee members, Bob Blackman, and now backed by government.

This briefing will be of particular interest to members and officers with responsibility for housing, housing advice and support for vulnerable residents and of general interest to other elected members and officers.

Note This briefing was written just before the Autumn Statement – we will be publishing a detailed briefing shortly on the Autumn Statement which will include the housing measures in it.

Briefing in full

Following the referendum result and with few “big beasts” from the previous administration remaining in government, the stage was set for policy changes, most notably the abandonment of the previous Chancellor’s austerity programme, designed to produce a budget surplus by 2020.

Housing policy under the Cameron government was based largely on the belief that the current housing shortage could be resolved by prioritising home ownership and doing little to assist households who could not afford it – other than further welfare benefit restrictions. Social landlords, their development plans already constrained by the one per cent rent cut over the next four years, found that central government investment was to be restricted to home ownership schemes, with “starter homes” now dubbed affordable housing.

The Housing and Planning Act 2015 underpinned this policy drive, with right to buy extended to housing association tenants, a mandatory requirement for starter homes to be included in new build schemes, and various measures – for example “pay to stay” and fixed term tenancies – designed to make renting from councils less attractive, though Pay to stay has now been dropped by the government.

Against a background of housing shortage, rising private sector rents and increasing homelessness, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee begun an enquiry into homelessness in December 2015. Their report was published on 18 August 2016, shortly after the May government took office, and identified many of the underlying aspects of the housing crisis which were contributing to the rise in homelessness.

At the beginning of October, the Prime Minister in her Conference speech set out the broad issues on which her government’s housing policy would be based, signalling somewhat of a break with the previous emphasis on home ownership and prompting Inside Housing’s enthusiastic headline “a new dawn”. Whether that turns out to be the case is yet to be determined.

Potential Policy changes

In keeping with her pledge to govern for the whole country when she took over as Prime Minister, Theresa May’s main message in her conference speech was that housing policy should work for all. In perhaps a tacit admission that her predecessor’s policies to boost home ownership above all else, would not solve the housing crisis, she said “we simply need to build more homes”. So, what are the major policy changes heralded by May and fleshed out a little by the incoming ministerial team of Secretary of State Sajid Javid and Housing Minister Gavin Barwell?

Housing supply

With the Prime Minister indicating a more interventionist approach to housing supply than simply promoting home ownership initiatives, the government announced a new Home Building Fund of £3 billion (made up of unallocated funds from existing programmes) to be used both for infrastructure and to assist small builders; and a £2 billion Accelerated Construction programme to underwrite housing development – in the event of the market proving difficult, builders know properties can be purchased by the Homes and Communities Agency.

Increasing supply will focus on 100 local authority areas where demand greatly exceeds local supply; these areas have not yet been identified publicly, but may in fact be concentrated in the south east to the detriment of other parts of the country.

More flexibility over tenure

In keeping with Theresa May’s assertion that “we simply need to build more homes”, the new Housing Minister indicated that the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes programme may be expanded to enable schemes for sub- market rental dwellings to be funded.

Redefining Starter Homes

At present, Starter Homes are defined in the Housing and Planning Act 2015 as properties for first-time buyers under 40 with a discount of at least 20 per cent. The new Housing Minister indicated that he would consider widening the definition to include other types of Starter Homes. No details are yet available.

Brownfield land

Details are also awaited on a promised package of measures to encourage urban regeneration and building on brownfield land.

Housing White Paper (November/December)

The Housing Minister has indicated that the Housing White Paper, promised before the end of 2016, will provide a “detailed strategy” on increasing the supply of new homes. Hopefully, it will also flesh out the other changes the government has heralded, including any necessary legislative changes, for example any redefinition of Starter Homes. It will provide an opportunity for everyone with an interest in solving the country’s housing crisis to assess whether the new regime is really on track to increase supply to the degree necessary

Homelessness inquiry CLG committee

The Committee’s main conclusions and recommendations to stem the rise in homelessness are set out below.

Factors contributing to the increase in homelessness

There is no one single cause of homelessness, although there are trends in factors which contribute to the loss of a home.

The private rented sector (PRS)

The ending of a fixed term Assured Shorthold Tenancy is an increasing reason for a household becoming homeless, up to 30% in 2015 from 13% 10 years’ earlier (DCLG figures). Rising rents mean households are often unable to find affordable alternative accommodation, given the level of Local Housing Allowance – the housing benefit payment based on the 30th percentile of market rents in the area, which frequently does not cover the actual asking rent.

In addition, there is evidence that landlords are less willing to let to people on housing benefit and even more wary about letting to homeless households.

The Committee concluded that the government should look at ways of giving greater confidence to both landlords and tenants to let to homeless people, including reviewing LHA levels and promoting longer ASTs.

Availability of social housing

The Committee concluded that problems in the PRS were exacerbated by the shortage of social housing, which, despite the demonstrable demand, is no longer funded by government. Whilst accepting there is a demand for the home ownership initiatives, particularly starter homes, not everyone can afford them. The current government definition of “affordable housing” should be reviewed so that it includes social rented housing.

Changes to the welfare system

The Committee identified several changes which have contributed – or have the potential to contribute – the increase in homelessness. These are

  • the freezing of working age benefits for 4 years
  • the reduction in the household benefit cap from £26,000 to £20,000 (£23,000 in London)
  • excluding 18-21 year olds from claiming housing support (from April 2017)
  • extension of the Shared Accommodation rate of housing benefit to single people under 35
  • the payment of housing benefit direct to the tenant

The Committee concluded that, taken as a whole, the welfare reforms of recent years have increased pressure on levels of homelessness.

The role of local authorities

Gatekeeping and support

Local authorities have a duty to secure accommodation for homeless households in priority need. For other homeless people, they only have a duty to provide advice and support which, the Committee found, varied considerably throughout the country.

Whilst recognising the pressures on local authorities, the Committee concluded that the Government should monitor local authorities in order to promote best practice, to identify authorities which are not meeting their statutory duties and implement a code of practice to which local authorities should adhere. The Homelessness Reduction Bill, which now has government support, should go some way to ensuring a more uniform level of advice and support throughout the country.

Councils placing households outside of their administrative boundaries

Whilst recognising the reasons for some councils placing households away from their home authority, the Committee considered this should only be done as a last resort; the families should be supported in their new areas; and the receiving authority should be fully informed

The need for accurate statistics on Homelessness

Accurate statistics on homelessness are vital if the issue is to be addressed.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) publishes three sets of data on homelessness – statutory homelessness; prevention and relief; and rough sleeping. Statutory homelessness includes those households who are unintentionally homeless and in priority need. Prevention includes action by the local authority to prevent households becoming homeless; relief is where the household, on becoming homeless, has been helped to secure accommodation by the local council. The rough sleeping statistics are based on a snapshot of of the numbers sleeping rough on a particular night, ascertained either by a headcount or, more usually, an estimate by the local council.

The UK Statistics Authority assessed the DCLG data last December and concluded that only the statistics on statutory homelessness could be considered as national statistics; the two others were potentially misleading.

The Committee considered urgent action was needed to improve DCLG’s data collection so it more accurately reflected the actual scale of homelessness, including “hidden” homeless households. They resolved to monitor progress and review in 12 months.

Other issues identified by the Committee

The service user’s perspective

The Committee took considerable evidence on the perspective of the recipients of the homelessness service. They found that the main issues were:

  • Being treated with respect and compassion

At a time when they are extremely vulnerable, homeless households should be treated sensitively and not made to feel they are part of the problem.

  • Choice and autonomy

Households reported that they felt when using the homelessness service  that they had lost all measure of choice and autonomy

  • Quality of service

The Committee considered that the Government should review and reinforce the statutory Code of Practice to ensure it outlines clearly the levels of service that local authorities must provide and encourages regular training of staff to     ensure a sympathetic and sensitive service. Services should put users first with a compassionate approach that gives individuals an element of choice and autonomy.

Vulnerable groups and multiple complex needs

The Committee concluded that the homelessness services often dealt poorly with many vulnerable groups, particularly those who had more than one vulnerability. Such people frequently found their needs dealt with in isolation, even to the extent of being given conflicting appointment time. There was often a tendency for each group of professionals to deal with their specific area of expertise, rather than deal with whole person.

The Committee recommended focus on the individual and more cross-speciality working to ensure all vulnerabilities were addressed

Cross-Government working

A similar problem was identified in central government, where a lack of communication between departments or conflicting policies could work against the individual. A common approach to homelessness was needed.

Homelessness legislation

The Committee compared the approach to homelessness in England, where households not in priority need receive very little assistance in practice with the more recent legislation in Scotland and Wales.

The legislative approach in Scotland and Wales

In Scotland, priority need was abolished as from 31 December 2012, leaving Scottish local authorities with a duty to secure accommodation for all homeless households. As the legislation was passed in2003, councils had a 10 year lead in time to prepare.

In Wales, the 2014 Act placed a duty on local authorities to prevent households threatened with homelessness within 56 days (up from 28 days) from actually becoming homeless. For those households who are homeless when they seek assistance, councils must help secure accommodation for 56 days, but only have a continuing responsibility for households in priority need.

The Committee considered the Scottish approach was not appropriate for England because of the different housing markets. Having found support provided to homeless households not in priority need was at best variable in England, they welcomed the Welsh emphasis on prevention and linked this to their support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, now proceeding as a Private Member’s Bill but with government support, is designed to ensure that all households who are either homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days receive genuine help and advice from their local council. This is regardless of whether they are in priority need. Originally, the Bill would have given councils a duty to secure accommodation for 56 days, (the Welsh approach) but this was withdrawn as impractical in the England context. The current wording will impose a duty on councils to assist all homeless and potentially homeless households; the government has indicated it will provide additional to councils to cover their costs.

Comment

Policy changes

The under-supply of new homes has been identified for some years as being the root cause of the country’s continuing housing crisis. It fuels increases in housing costs – both rents and purchase price – which, in turn, leads to housing becoming increasingly unaffordable, contributing to overcrowding and, in the worst case scenario, homelessness. Ever higher rents place a huge burden on the country’s social security budget, which government seeks to address by cuts to benefits, rather than measures to control rents.

The recognition by the May government that the necessary increases in supply will not happen by the market responding to measures to increase home ownership alone is welcome and the emphasis on a cross tenure approach to the supply issue must be the way ahead. The target of one million new homes by 2020 is commendable – but we have had targets before. Delivery is key and a thorough assessment of the government’s plans must wait for the “detailed strategy” promised in the forthcoming White Paper.

Nothing so far is proposed to stem the potential loss of existing social housing stock through extending RTB to housing association tenants, to be funded by the sale of “higher value” council homes. Nor does there seem to be any indication of reviewing benefit cuts, which exacerbate affordability issues.

Homelessness

Affordability and housing shortages runs through the Select Committee’s recommendations on homelessness. A major increase in supply will, in the medium to long term, help greatly with stemming the rise in homelessness and promoting that increase across all tenures is also vital.

However, given the lack of any intention to review benefit changes, which are impacting on low income households being able to afford their homes, it does not seem that there are any short term answers to increasing homelessness. The new duty for councils to take steps to prevent people becoming homeless will only have meaning if there is somewhere available that they can afford; in many high pressured areas, this is not the case.

Related briefings: 
Housing and Planning Act 2016

Neighbourhood Planning update: Autumn 2016

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Policy In Practice | Delivering the Homelessness Reduction Bill

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14 November 2016

Delivering the Homelessness Reduction Bill

| posted in: Blog | 0 Comments
The Homelessness Reduction Bill has passed a key milestone in Westminster. What does this mean for tackling homelessness locally? What data supports this work going forward?
Reducing homelessness

The growing homelessness problem is clear to see every night as we leave the office in Westminster. Visit any town or city centre and you see more and more people sleeping rough.

We are now feeling the pinch of reduced public funding. There is less money spent on supported housing, less on mental health services and ongoing cuts to benefits. Alongside this we see the continual rise of private rents and house prices, making housing dearer. These all add to this rise in homelessness.

Government statistics on homelessness show that rough sleeping doubled between 2010 and 2015, while the number of households accepted as homeless and in priority need by councils has been rising steadily since 2009, from 41,780 to 56,500 in 2015.

Delivering the Homelessness Reduction Bill
Cartoon courtesy of Private Eye. Subscribe here
A new Bill

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, a private members bill from Conservative MP Bob Blackman, passed its second reading on Friday 28 October. It aims to give homeless people greater protection and support – and for longer.

Here are the Bill’s key points:

  • Extending the meaning of being homeless or threatened with homelessness. In effect, providing support for more people and for longer.
  • Councils will have to assess what led to each applicant’s homelessness and set out an action plan to resolve this. This means providing free advice and support for anyone at risk of homelessness, including those not considered to be in ‘priority need’. This will extend the support to many single people and to rough sleepers.
  • Councils will have to help to find suitable housing for all eligible households threatened with homelessness, and provide help for longer.
  • If homeless households refuse to engage, their support will be limited. It shows it has to be two-way.
  • All young people leaving care will be deemed to have a local connection in the area the local authority is providing them with leaving care services.
  • The Secretary of State has a power to produce a statutory code to raise the standards of homelessness support services across the country.

As well as support among MPs, the government and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have backed the Bill.

On 10 October 2016 the Communities and Local Government Committee published their report in support of legislation aimed at reducing homelessness by ensuring that vulnerable people receive consistently high levels of service from local housing authorities across the county. This is now awaiting government response. Read the report here.

Local government backing

Councils weren’t happy with the original Bill, particularly because it placed greater demand on them without any extra cash. However, the Bill has been changed – it no longer places a duty to provide emergency temporary accommodation for 56 days to people with a local connection but who aren’t in priority need.

This has won over the Local Government Association and therefore local authorities, although the LGA recognises that extra funding is still needed, including to help boost council house-building.

The government’s recent announcement to invest £40 million to reduce homelessness may well have pacified councils. In addition, government minister Marcus Jones has assured MPs that councils will be given new money to implement the bill. He said the government will work with the LGA on how best to provide funding. Tackling homelessness was also a theme from welfare minister Lord Freud at the recent IRRV conference.

Real support on the ground available

If the Bill makes it all the way through parliament, the real challenge will be implementing it.

Our recent breakfast seminar looking at the 4 main challenges to implementing welfare reforms in London and the South East highlighted temporary accommodation as a key challenge, particularly in London.

In addition, recently updated Policy in Practice analysis on the impact of housing benefit welfare reforms also highlighted this.

The cost of this type of housing is stretching many councils. Worse, for these claimants on Universal Credit, some councils are having to make Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to fund the temporary accommodation, therefore leaving less funding available to others in need.

How Policy in Practice is helping organisations

Policy in Practice can help you to identify households under financial pressure and their housing situation. Our welfare reform impact analysis helps councils and housing partners to better target scarce support resources to where they’re most needed. Our Universal Benefit and Budgeting calculator gives people clear information to help them make the decisions that are right for them.

Policy in Practice has been awarded a policy research grant by Trust for London to analyse the impact of welfare reform on households across London. Using councils’ anonymised data sets we will identify the main drivers of poverty in the capital. Our household level approach lets us track income, employment and poverty for half a million low income households over time.

As part to of this project we will assess how low income households are impacted by national and local policies, and whether support reaches those who need it most. Find out more about our Low Income Londoners and Welfare Reform project here.

Not in London? Join our webinar on supporting your most vulnerable residents on Wednesday 07 December.

St Mungos | MPs unanimously back Homelessness Reduction Bill

Dear Paul

We did it. Today, MPs turned up in Parliament to debate the Homelessness Reduction Bill. MPs unanimously backed the Bill and it is now one step closer to becoming law. This is a momentous occasion, thank you for being part of it. 

Whether you were one of the 4,000 St Mungo’s campaigners who emailed your MP, or shared our posts on Facebook, or sent MPs messages of thanks on Twitter – however you have showed your support for the work we do and the changes we have been calling for, this is your victory.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill is a Private Member’s Bill, and as such was always going to be harder to get through Parliament than a bill introduced by the Government.

Despite the odds, we are delighted that Bob Blackman MP was selected and that he decided to take this opportunity to introduce the Homelessness Reduction Bill in. Since then, you have contacted your MPs in your thousands, asking them to attend the debate today and vote in favour of the Bill.

In the last month, both the leader of the opposition and then the Government have come out in support of the Homelessness Reduction Bill. This was great to hear and a real boost – but the groundwork had already been laid by dedicated campaigners. People like you, who told their MPs that this mattered to them.

MPs do care what their constituents think. If your MP was one who said that they couldn’t attend, don’t lose heart. Today is a day that will not be forgotten easily, by us, or by those who thought that this couldn’t happen.

We’ve still got a way to go until the Bill becomes law, but this is a major step in the right direction. Well done.

Have a lovely weekend.

Jennean and the St Mungo’s Campaigns team

Crisis | Homelessness Reduction Bill passes crucial Second Reading

Hi Paul,

As a Crisis campaigner, I wanted you to be among the first to know that the Homelessness Reduction Bill has passed its crucial second reading in the House of Commons today. A huge number of MPs turned up to support the Bill and it was passed without opposition.

We’re hugely grateful for all the time and passion that thousands of campaigners like you have put into getting the bill this far. The fact that so many MPs were in the chamber for the debate is a direct result of the emails and meetings that have shown our representatives how passionately we care about ending homelessness.

We’ve got the momentum and the cross-party consensus. But this is no time for complacency. There’s still a lot of work needed to get this bill through parliament and to make sure any new law really works for homeless people. So we’ll need your help again. 

But right now we can feel proud that, against the odds, we’re a big step closer to stopping homeless people getting turned away when they ask for help.

Have a good weekend,

Alex
Campaigns Manager

PS. We’re not going to ask you to do any more campaigning right now, but if you’re feeling inspired to do more for homeless people you can donate to our life-changing services and campaigning.

Crisis Impact Report: Homelessness ends here

Crisis | The Second Reading of the Homelessness Reduction Bill: What’s all the fuss about?

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27 October 2016

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The Second Reading of the Homelessness Reduction Bill: What’s all the fuss about?

by Helena Brice,  Public Affairs Officer

You may have noticed over the past couple of months that we here at Crisis have been getting increasingly excited about the ‘Second Reading’ of the Homelessness Reduction Bill on 28 October but you may not know why.

It involves some rather arcane parliamentary processes, but could have a huge impact on homelessness in England. So here’s an explainer:

What’s the problem?

In England if you don’t have dependent children or you can’t prove that you are particularly vulnerable then your local authority has no legal obligation to offer you meaningful help.

Just imagine. You’ve lost your home. You’ve worn out the welcome on the sofas of family or friends so, in desperation, you go to your council for help. You tell them that tonight you will literally be sleeping on a park bench if you don’t get help. But even then you are turned away, sent back out the door to sleep on the streets, cold, lonely and forgotten.

What does the Homelessness Reduction Bill do about that?

If passed, it will give councils a legal duty to give people meaningful support to resolve their homelessness. It will introduce measures to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. If it survives its passage through parliament it will undoubtedly be one of the most important developments for homelessness in 40 years.

You say ‘if passed’… does that mean it could fail?

Yes. This Friday 28 October the fate of the Homelessness Reduction Bill hangs in the balance. It is a Private Member’s Bill which was brought forwards by MP Bob Blackman. As such it can be easily blocked or ‘talked out’ as it receives its Second Reading in Parliament this Friday.

(We’ve seen this happen recently with the Turing Bill and the Revenge Evictions Bill, both of which were Private Members’ Bills that were talked out)

…so we find out if the bill lives or dies at this Second Reading you keep tweeting about?

For now. The Second Reading is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the Bill. In order for a Bill to get past Second Reading the sponsor of the bill, in this case Bob Blackman, must secure the closure of the debate (which basically means getting MPs to stop talking).

For a closure motion to succeed in favour of the bill there must be at least 100 supportive MPs present. If there were 98 who supported and 2 who opposed, the Bill would fail. Hence we have been asking you to email your MPs asking them to turn up and support it. (and a huge thank you to the thousands of you that have done so).

However if no one opposes the bill the Chair puts the question on second reading (that is that people agree the bill passes its second reading), collects the ‘voices’ (essentially how many people say ‘Ayes’ and how many say ‘No’) and if it’s too close to call they call a division. For a division to pass in our favour the ‘Aye’ must be in the majority with more than 40 Members participating.

What if the bill fails?

We will have missed a precious opportunity to change the homelessness legislation and will be relying on the government’s good will to take it on and bring it forward as their own bill. In order for this to happen the government would have to announce it in the Queen’s speech (which didn’t happen this year round) or tag it on to another Bill, however no Bills have yet been put forward that it could be tagged on to.

And if it gets through?

If the bill gets through the Second Reading that is a massive hurdle overcome. But there is still a long way to go before it gets enshrined in the law. The bill then has to go through public bill committee, report stage, third reading and then the Lords.

Is there anything I can do to help?

Yes. Visit our No One Turned Away campaign page to find out how you can join the thousands of campaigners who have helped us to get the Homelessness Reduction Bill this far.

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]

 

LGA Briefing | Homelessness Reduction Bill House of Commons, Second Reading, 28 October 2016

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Homelessness Reduction Bill House of Commons, Second Reading, 28 October 2016

KEY MESSAGES 

 The LGA has worked productively with Bob Blackman MP following the first drafting of the Bill. We look forward to working to ensure the Bill delivers on our collective ambitions to better help prevent and resolve homelessness.

 Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to support those who become homeless to get into accommodation and to prevent it happening in the first place.

 Legislative change will only deliver on our ambitions if implemented alongside housing, employment and welfare reforms that tackle the broader causes of homelessness. If we are all to succeed in ending homelessness, then all new and existing duties on councils must be fully funded.

 There are a number of structural and personal factors that make homelessness more likely. Faced with increasing demand, reducing budgets, falling social housing and wide-ranging welfare reforms, it is clear that councils cannot tackle this challenge alone.

 Effectively tackling homelessness will rely on a collective effort from all partners. This should involve addressing the gaps between household incomes and rising rents, bringing together local housing, health, justice, and employment partners and allowing councils to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes.

The meaning of homelessness (Clause 1): The availability and cost of suitable housing to the local authority should be taken into account as a relevant factor in local authority decisions on whether to advise applicants to remain in their home. This is currently the case in the existing Code of Guidance.

The duty to provide advisory services (Clause 2): Councils share the Bill’s ambition to prevent homelessness through timely advice and bespoke personal housing plans. It is important that all relevant public services work together to achieve this for households. Given this, there should be a duty on other public services to cooperate with councils in fulfilling duties resulting from Clauses 2 and 10.

Duty to assess all eligible applicants’ cases and agree a plan (Clause 3): The focus on developing a personalised model of support is welcome. The prescribed process should allow councils to flexibly meet the wider needs of households without being too prescriptive. The resources needed to develop this approach for all eligible applicants must be fully met by the Government.

Duty in cases of threatened homelessness (Clause 4): Councils are committed to efforts to prevent homelessness within existing resources. Additional responsibilities must be fully funded. It is important that other elements of the Bill does not detract from the emphasis on prevention, and that there is clarity on the consequences for non-priority need applicants that refuse to cooperate with efforts to prevent homelessness.

Duties owed to those who are homeless (Clause 5): This clause places a duty on councils to relieve homelessness for all eligible households, which should be fully funded. We are also seeking clarification that the interim duty to accommodate an applicant in apparent priority need ends once a council is satisfied that the applicant is not in priority need, rather than enduring for a period of 56 days. There may be significant financial risks to councils should this point not be clarified.

Clause 4 and 5 should also clarify the right of households to reapply once their circumstances have changed materially, reducing speculative reapplications from applicants that may have refused to cooperate.

Deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate (Clause 7): The Bill intends to create parity of service for everyone. However, unlike in Wales, this Clause places a duty on councils to offer applicants with priority need that do not cooperate a six month tenancy. Those that are not priority need and do not cooperate with the local authority do not have access to this support. This may impact on priority need applicants’ cooperation in a preventative approach. There is a risk that this may encourage local authorities to target limited resources away from prevention activities, as they would have a duty to accommodate priority need applicants regardless. It would be preferable to replicate the Welsh model in this case.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON HOMELESSNESS 

A shared ambition to end homelessness 

It is a tragedy when a person becomes homeless. Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to support those who become homeless to get into accommodation and, where they can, to prevent it happening in the first place. This includes helping people develop the skills needed to find work, improve their health and wellbeing or gain access to family or relationship support.

There are a number of structural factors that make homelessness more likely, including the availability of affordable housing and the rise in the number of people struggling as rents increase at a faster rate than incomes. However, there is no silver bullet. Faced with increasing demand, reducing budgets, falling social housing and wide-ranging welfare reforms, it is clear that councils cannot tackle this challenge alone.

Legislative change will only deliver on our ambitions if implemented alongside structural housing, employment and welfare reforms that tackle the broader causes of homelessness. Crucially, this is a collective effort that should address the gaps between household incomes and rising rents, bring together local housing, health, justice, and employment partners and allow councils to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes. If we are all to succeed, then all new duties proposed in this Bill will need to be fully funded.

The need to build more homes: The Bill places a number of new duties on councils. Realistically, these will only help to end homelessness if they are accompanied by measures that address the national shortage of housing supply. 3

Around 139,000 new homes were built in the year to June 2016, whilst estimates of the housing need of people across the country indicate that we need to be building up to 250,000 homes a year.i Stable social housing is therefore increasingly important for housing people who are homeless or at risk. However, the availability of social rented council housing has halved since 1994, dropping from 3.6 million properties to 1.6 million properties in 2016.ii

The private rented sector has doubled in size over the last decade and the growing uncertainty of the sector increases the significance of providing a sufficient supply of genuinely affordable housing options for helping reduce homelessness. The Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s recent report into homelessness highlighted that the ending of a private sector assured shorthold tenancy (AST) is now the leading cause of homelessness in England.iii It is likely that this trend will continue to grow and it should be a focus of future policy.

Addressing gaps between household incomes and housing costs: Alongside a shortage of housing supply, two thirds of local authorities in England have reported that falls in household incomes relative to rents have increased homelessness in their area.iv In our Autumn Statement submission we argue that the freeze on the Local Housing Allowance rate should be lifted as part of a strategy to reduce Housing Benefit by building more social rented homes.v

Focus on prevention: Councils want to ensure that any legislative changes contribute to their existing focus on prevention. Local authorities are delivering homelessness strategies that seek to respond to local conditions. Local approaches, led by councils, are best placed to succeed in reducing homelessness, as they are able to shape housing markets and target the delivery of services to prevent and respond to homelessness. In 2009/10, 85 per cent of 165,200 cases where action was taken were successful in preventing homelessness. In 2015/16, 93 per cent of 212,600 cases were successful in preventing homelessness.vi

Collective local effort: For individuals at risk of homelessness there is a need for any legislative changes to be accompanied by coordinated action to bring together local housing, health, justice and employment partners to tackle the broader causes of homelessness. Since 2009/10 in the number of people who are found statutory homeless because they are vulnerable due to old age (up by 47 per cent), have a physical disability (up by 62 per cent) or because of mental ill-health (up by 56 per cent) has risen.vii Councils cannot address this challenge alone.

Fully fund new duties: Local authorities are facing significant financial challenges. Therefore, any extension of legal duties on councils would need to be accompanied by sufficient powers and funding from the Government. Without this, local government will continue to find it difficult to deliver on our ambitions to end homelessness.

DETAIL OF THE LEGISLATION 

The meaning of homelessness (Clause 1) 

Clause 1 sets out the circumstances whereby households would become homeless. It integrates a series of tests from the existing Homelessness Code of Guidance into judgements about when it might be appropriate for applicants to remain in their home after the expiration of a section 21 notice.

The existing wording does not take into account the availability of suitable housing in the local area, or the costs to the local authority in securing accommodation as relevant factors in local authority decisions on whether to advise applicants to 4

remain in their homes. The existing Code of Guidance allows for this, and it is important that councils are able to factor such local circumstances into their decision-making. We would therefore welcome clarification that the availability and costs of suitable accommodation can be taken into account in the decision-making process under the new reforms. This might be achieved by including ‘(iv) the local authority’ under 3F (a) and (b) in Clause 1.

In order to help councils to focus on preventing homelessness it might be useful to consider and accept an applicant as homeless once they have been issued a section 21 up to the expiry of a possession order, rather than upon granting of any order of the court. This will enable councils the opportunity to negotiate a solution with tenants landlord, maximise the amount of prevention work the council can undertake with the tenant, and reduce the chance of them presenting late after the expiry of a section 21.

If councils are unable to factor in the costs of accepting applicants as homeless upon the expiration of a section 21 notice, then the increased numbers of homeless acceptances will increase the overall costs for housing authorities. This new burden should be recognised as such and met by the Government.

The duty to provide advisory services (Clause 2) 

Councils share the Bill’s ambition to utilise local expertise to prevent homelessness through timely advice and bespoke personal housing plans.

It is important that public services work together to achieve this for households facing varied circumstances. For instance, the existing Code of Guidance advises joint working between prison staff, probation officers and housing providers to identify housing options for prisoners or youth detainees on release, to prevent homelessness and enable them to make a smooth transition from prison, or remand, to independent living.

There is a risk that the singular duty on councils to design housing plans for persons released from prison or youth detention (in addition to Clause 10 which enables other services to refer households onto councils) incentivises other services to ‘pass on’ vulnerable households to councils without having a responsibility to work with councils to meet their overall needs. This could discourage the provision of earlier support to households. The singular duty could also potentially increase costs for housing authorities. If this is the case, this burden must be fully met by the Government.

In our view, there should be a duty on other statutory services to cooperate with preparing the actions and working in partnership to take actions relevant to them to help prevent or relief homelessness.

Duty to assess all eligible applicants’ cases and agree a plan (Clause 3) 

Clause 3 sets out in some detail the process that councils and applicants must go through in agreeing a homelessness plan. While we welcome the focus on developing a personalised model of support, it is important that the prescribed process is not too overly prescriptive and allows councils to meet the wider needs of households. The resources needed to develop this approach for all must be fully met by the Government.

Duty in cases of threatened homelessness (Clause 4) 

Clause 4 sets out duties on councils to take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants threatened with homelessness. A lesser duty is owed to those deemed to be threatened with homelessness intentionally and those deemed in non-priority need. It also sets out circumstances under which an authority’s duty to prevent homelessness may be brought to an end by the service of a written notice.

Councils are committed to efforts to prevent homelessness as far as possible within existing resources. Additional responsibilities must be fully funded. Furthermore, it is important that other elements of the Bill do not detract from the emphasis on prevention. There should also be greater clarity in the Bill around the consequences for an applicant owed a prevention duty but where that duty has been brought to an end if they refuse a suitable offer of accommodation, or become homeless intentionally from accommodation secured for them

Duties owed to those who are homeless (Clause 5) 

Clause 5 would place a duty on councils to relieve homelessness for all eligible households. This would involve taking reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure suitable accommodation over a period of 56 days.

Clause 5 also states that homelessness applicants in apparent priority need are entitled to be placed in interim accommodation for the duration of the 56 day relief duty. We would welcome clarification that the interim duty to accommodate an applicant in apparent priority need ends once a council is satisfied that the applicant is not in priority need, rather than enduring for a period of 56 days.

As drafted, the requirement that councils must accommodate apparent priority need applicants “until the later of” a decision on their priority need status or 56 days appears to replicate the 56 day accommodation duty for those with nowhere safe to stay regardless of priority need, which was removed from the previous draft of the Bill. As we set out in our policy briefing on the previous draft, there is insufficient supply of suitable accommodation to discharge the 56 day accommodation duty. Attempts to do so would have relied on councils sourcing expensive temporary accommodation, which would have detracted from their prevention work.

Reapplying for assistance following a duty ending on a previous application (Clause 4 and Clause 5) 

There is no clause in the Bill or the original 1996 Housing Act to deal with reapplications following the ending of a prevention, relief or main homelessness duty to an applicant. This would mean an applicant would be able to refuse council assistance at any of these stages and reapply to the same local authority, or any other local authority, as soon as any new facts emerge about their circumstances, such as a change of address or medication, thereby restarting the whole process.

The Welsh Government brought in new homelessness legislation in 2015. The statutory law was amended to clarify that an application is not triggered unless the person’s circumstances have changed materially. This is a higher threshold than the any new facts test set by existing case law. The Welsh legislation recognised the risk that applicants would be able to refuse help and avoid any consequences of their actions by simply reapplying. A solution along these lines is required in England if the Bill is to achieve its ambitions of ending homelessness through a focus on prevention.

Deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate (Clause 7) 

Councils support the original rationale behind the main changes to homelessness law contained in the Bill, which was to create a parity of approach for all households approaching councils at risk of homelessness, focussing on prevention. 6

There is a risk that the Bill will not achieve this aim as it places a duty on councils to offer a six month tenancy to applicants with priority need who deliberately and unreasonably refuse to cooperate, while those that are not priority need do not have access to this support. There is insufficient understanding of how this form of sanction is likely to impact on the behaviours of priority need applicants to ensure cooperation in a preventative approach -this approach was not adopted in Wales.

This duty also increases the risk that councils will struggle to target their limited resources towards prevention activities, given that they will be responsible for funding the symptoms of non-cooperation regardless. This concern is exacerbated by the fact that there is no further sanction for applicants with priority need who continuously fail to cooperate with local authorities as they try to find them six month tenancies.

In Wales, any applicant who ‘unreasonably fails to cooperate’ with prevention or relief assistance cannot progress to the main homelessness duty. We would like to explore whether or not the same approach should be adopted in England. It is strategically important to treat all households equally in relation to their responsibilities to co-operate, regardless of their priority need status.

Local connection of a care leaver (Clause 8) 

We welcome further discussion with councils and partners about the implications of local connection for care leavers. We want to ensure that councils can work together to best support every care leaver access safe, secure and suitable accommodation.

Further reading:
Homelessness Reduction Bill, as introduced [21 October 2016]

Homelessness Reduction Bill Explanatory Notes [24 October]