Watchdog criticises government for ‘light touch approach’ to homelessness

13 Sep 17

The public spending watchdog has accused the government of having a ‘light touch approach’ to the growing problem of homelessness.

The National Audit Office said that, while the government required local authorities to have a homelessness strategy, it had failed to monitor these plans or progress towards meeting them.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors. 

“Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms on this issue, and there remain gaps in its approach."

He added: “It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem."

The government's recent performance in reducing homelessness could not be considered value for money, he concluded. 

The Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for tackling the issue, does not have a published cross-government strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness, the report noted. 

Homelessness costs the government £1.1bn a year with more than three quarters of this – £845m – spent on temporary accommodation. Of this £845m, the majority (£638m) goes on housing benefit, the NAO said. 

The NAO stated there are now 77,240 households in temporary accommodation in England, an increase of 60% since March 2011, this includes 120,540 children.

In addition, in autumn 2016 there were an estimated 4,134 rough sleepers – a rise of 134% since autumn 2010.

The breakdown in private sector tenancies is the single biggest driver of homelessness in England, which the NAO links to stricter welfare programmes.

Local authorities have seen the proportion of households accepted as homeless due to the end of an assured shorthold tenancy go from 11% during 2009-10 to 32% during 2016-17.

Across England, the ending of private sector tenancies accounted for 74% of the growth in households who qualify for temporary accommodation since 2009-10. 

The report stated: “Changes to local housing allowance are likely to have contributed to the affordability of tenancies for those on benefits, and are an element of the increase in homelessness.”

Since 2012 the DCLG has not carried out any assessment of the impact of its housing benefit reforms, the NAO noted.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the homelessness charity Shelter, said: "We are calling on the government to act now, in this year’s budget, to end the freeze on housing benefit and to commit to building decent homes at affordable rents.”

The report follows a study by Crisis, which warned that homelessness in Britain would surge by 76% over the next decade unless the government took urgent action.

A government spokesperson said welfare reforms “restore fairness” to the system and provided a “strong” safety net to support vulnerable people.

"Tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution, but this government is determined to help the most vulnerable in society," he said. 

The government is committing £550m until 2020 to implement its Homelessness Reduction Act, which is intended to help people before they become homeless.

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