Councils need support in tackling rising homelessness

26 Apr 18

Government moves to reduce homelessness will put extra pressure on public services but with the proper support and partnerships they can make a difference, says Homeless Link’s Rick Henderson. 


Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every year since 2010, against a backdrop of successive funding cuts for local authorities that has led to a decline in spending on homelessness services.

This month, after 15 years of homelessness legislation status quo, the hard-won and much anticipated Homelessness Reduction Act came into effect.

This is encouraging. We were well overdue some ambitious national action that substantially improves the support available to some of society’s most vulnerable people.

The causes of homelessness are complex, but we know that a range of structural factors including poverty, the dysfunctional housing market and the impact of welfare reform are significant contributors.

The supply and affordability of housing, and the growing gap between benefit levels and rents, are all issues that need tackling urgently.

Individuals’ circumstances – factors including family breakdown and mental and physical health issues – may also play a role, sometimes exacerbating these longer-term drivers.

While local authorities and homelessness services are doing some great work to prevent and respond to homelessness and rough sleeping, a raft of public sector funding cuts and competing pressures on resources have certainly not helped the crisis.

In particular, following the removal in 2010 of the ring fence from one of homelessness services’ key funding streams, Supporting People, we have seen a 59% real terms average decrease in investment in support for homeless people.

The new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 places duties on local authorities to act sooner to prevent all people from becoming homeless and to offer more support to those who are homeless, regardless of whether they are deemed ‘priority need’.

New duties 

Councils are also now required to provide universal free advice and information on preventing homelessness, rights, securing accommodation, and accessing support.

In order to facilitate implementation of the Act, Homeless Link has supported local authorities and homelessness services to prepare for their new responsibilities at a series of countrywide events.

While the Act is backed by £72.7m of funding from central government, councils, the Greater London Authority, the homelessness sector and other stakeholders have voiced strong concerns that this will not be adequate to cover the additional costs.

Managing staff and financial resources across a more intensive workload, given that duties have been broadened and the changes may involve adapting to new bureaucracy and IT systems, will be no easy feat.

These issues aside, we do believe that the act has the potential to prevent the homelessness of more people, and may even reduce the overall levels.

Legislation will not in itself be enough to end homelessness, and we are urging the government to support it with a well-resourced, cross-departmental homelessness strategy, that addresses the structural causes of homelessness and achieves noticeable progress for the vulnerable people it affects.

It will certainly necessitate culture change and a more person-centred approach; councils will no longer need to assess whether someone is entitled to support, so in theory they will be able to focus more on taking action and finding innovative and individual solutions.

With everyone entitled to receive support if they ask for it, councils are likely to encounter support needs they have not experienced working with before, such as multiple and complex disadvantage.

We expect this to encourage partnership working with homelessness services and public sector agencies, introducing a range of new good practice in coordinated support.

We also hope that councils will draw on the expertise of people with lived experience of homelessness, to enable them to provide the best possible support. For example, Southwark council has taken on apprentices with experience of homelessness and is holding focus groups with their homeless customers to review their practices.

However, the legislation will not in itself be enough to end homelessness, and we are urging the government to support it with a well-resourced, cross-departmental homelessness strategy, that addresses the structural causes of homelessness and achieves noticeable progress for the vulnerable people it affects.

Rough sleeping goal 

Another part of the puzzle is already receiving such attention.

The government has committed to eliminating rough sleeping by 2027, and has set up a task force to develop a national strategy.

As a member of the advisory group for this initiative, we will be working with government and others to ensure a coordinated, effective response is put in place, involving strong partnerships with voluntary and statutory organisations.

Amidst all of this activity, it is important to remember that homelessness and supported housing services are working hard to offer vital support to thousands of vulnerable people, and are a key part of the solution to tackling homelessness.

With the need for such services unlikely to wane, sustainable investment in these crucial services is imperative if we are to ensure that everyone in our country has a place to call home.

The country clearly has a long way to go in its ambition to end homelessness for good.

However, the foundations and the will to do so appear to be in place now more than ever.

While the public sector will inevitably carry some of the burden, we are confident that progress can be made.

This will be achieved if we all embrace innovation and partnership working, and are backed by appropriate funding, resources and national strategies that prioritise tackling the structural causes of the problem. 

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