Councils asked to play major role in preventing homelessness
By Richard Johnstone | 16 August 2012
Councils have been urged to join a cross-government initiative to prevent people becoming homeless.
The ‘local challenges’ in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s homelessness strategy, published today, call on authorities to work with the voluntary sector to provide services to anyone who needs them.
Making every contact count: a joint approach to preventing homelessness also wants town halls to adopt, and annually review, a ‘proactive’ approach to reducing homelessness. They should also help prevent mortgage repossessions by liaising with central government support services, such as the Mortgage Rescue Scheme, which gives people financial help to keep their home.
Housing minister Grant Shapps said the report would give councils, charities, health services and the police a blueprint to work together to ensure help is offered early to those at risk.
He also announced that the government would provide £3.5m of funding to 21 homelessness charities to extend the No Second Night Out initiative.
First introduced in London, this project works with members of the public to quickly identify people sleeping rough and give them the support they need to get off the streets.
Shapps wants all local authorities to introduce this model.
‘We have some of the strongest protections in the world to safeguard people from homelessness, despite trying economic times, with homelessness in this country lower than for 28 of the past 30 years. But more can always be done,’ he said.
‘No single voluntary service, government agency, council or government department can prevent homelessness alone – but working together we can make a big impact. Every single contact these vulnerable people have with our public services – from council drop-ins to health care visits – should be made to count, turning prevention into the cure for anyone facing the real and frightening prospect of sleeping on the streets.’
However, the Local Government Association said the strategy 'missed the bigger picture'.
Mike Jones, chair of the LGA’s environment board, said councils were ‘working closely with partners to place people into secure, appropriate accommodation and provide the most comprehensive support they can’.
However, budget cuts were making it tougher to provide this support.
‘The future of this type of support will be dependent on the whole public sector sharing resources and working together. Government still needs to go much further in reforming the public sector and devolving responsibility for allocating public money for all public services – from social housing to the health service – down to locally elected people.’
He also urged government to free councils from limits on their Housing Revenue Account borrowing to allow them to build more homes.
‘One of the best ways to tackle homelessness is with bricks and mortar. It is in everyone's interest to remove unnecessary barriers which prevent the homes we desperately need being brought forward,’ he said.
‘Councils are keen to play their part in this and could go further and faster to support the development of badly needed new homes, while investing in existing ones, if government removed some of the obstacles that stand in their way by giving councils greater financial flexibility.’