Councils ‘likely to struggle’ with increased homelessness duties

6 Apr 18

Charities and umbrella groups have raised concerns over cash-strapped councils’ ability to fulfil their duties under homelessness legislation brought in this week.

Local authorities will be expected to do more to prevent people becoming homeless at an earlier stage under the Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force on Tuesday.

Councils will also have to ‘relieve’ homelessness by helping people find suitable accommodation, which could, for instance, include providing a rent deposit regardless of whether they are ‘priority need’ – must be housed by the council as a priority - or not.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said that councils “are already struggling to cope” with their current duties and the act would only be effective if the “root causes” of homelessness were tackled.

“Councils are already struggling to cope, and the act will only be effective if more is done to tackle the root causes of the crisis, which are welfare cuts and a lack of social housing,” she said.

“Beyond the act, the government needs to make housing benefit fit for purpose in the short-term and build a new generation of social homes in the long term.”

The latest government figures – released in January this year – showed the number of local authority owned homes in England had decreased by 0.7% to 1.60 million by 1 April 2017. On the same date, 1.16 million households were on local authority waiting lists.

Of the 41,530 affordable homes delivered in 2016-17, 5,380 were for social rent, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government stats have also shown.

At the 2015 Budget, then chancellor George Osborne froze most working-age benefits for four years – the Joseph Rowntree foundation predicted the freeze would result in 470,000 more people living in poverty in 2020-21.

Beatrice Orchard, head of policy, campaigns and research at St Mungo’s homelessness charity, said councils were “already struggling” to fund support services.

“The government now wants local authorities to become responsible for funding the housing costs in hostels,” she noted.

The government should, instead, fund housing costs through the welfare system, she added.

Martin Tett, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, said whilst councils are doing all they can to help families facing homelessness “it’s essential that the new Homelessness Reduction Act duties on councils are fully funded”.

He asked for all councils to be able to “borrow to build new homes and adapt welfare reforms to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place”.

The government has said it will give councils £72.7m over the next two years to help meet the new costs associated with the additional duties.

London Councils’ executive member for housing, mayor Sir Steve Bullock raised similar concerns in December last year.

“We fear that inadequate funding for the Homelessness Reduction Act in London, as well as the unrealistic timescale for making changes to existing services, risks leaving thousands of vulnerable people without support.”

Councils will have to act earlier to prevent homelessness, as the definition of ‘threatened’ with homelessness – likely to become homeless – has been extended from 28 to 56 days.

In their 2017 manifesto, the Conservatives committed to eliminating rough sleeping by 2027.

Government figures released in autumn 2017 showed that the number of rough sleepers in England increased 15% from autumn 2016.

CIPFA is hosting a breakfast morning to discuss how to fix the broken housing market on 24 April.

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