Legislation alone will not eliminate homelessness

18 Jun 18

Local authorities need government funding to help them make a success of the act recently brought in to prevent and reduce homelessness, says the LGiU’s Andrew Walker. 

Homeless man

 

The Homelessness Reduction Act has been in force since the beginning of April.

There is widespread support throughout the sector for the preventative approach to homelessness and the broadened scope of support that the act is intended to foster.

However, there is a profound concern that these important aims will be unachievable without significant resources.

Central government does not seem to have acknowledged this, despite the calls made by council leaders from across the political spectrum.

Ahead of the launch of LGIU’s Homelessness Commission, led by our local government members, it is worth looking again at some of the key issues at play in making good on the aims of this legislation.

London Councils has estimated that £77m would be required in for London boroughs alone, but just £24.2m has been allocated so far.

Southwark, where the act was piloted, topped up the funding with £750,000 from elsewhere in its budget, while councils in other parts of the country are experiencing a similar shortfall.

Leeds City Council, for example, will receive £561,000 until the end of 2020.

While this funding will enable the council to employ more senior housing advisors, as well as an additional four housing advisors and to develop extra preventative measures, it is less than half of the estimated £1.6m extra cost that implementing the act will entail. 

A recent Centrepoint report (PDF document) found that 37% of local authorities felt they had an inadequate range of tools to prevent youth homelessness. The FOI data in the report suggests that three times as many assessments would need to be made if all young people presenting are now required to be assessed.

Evidence from Wales, on which the English legislation is based, and the pilot undertaken in London Borough of Southwark, suggests that the new duties will demand an additional twenty six per cent in terms of work-load. 

Housing authorities should not use too rigid a template when setting out reasonable steps, and plans should be tailored to include specific, personalised housing advice and support, but this of course requires different kinds of skills and training.

At an LGiU roundtable last year we were told that councils should anticipate “one hundred per cent culture change”.

That will not be cheap.

Meanwhile, the success of a joined-up, smart and preventative homelessness strategy will depend on the kinds of data that are gathered and how they are shared or understood.

Councils like Southwark and Newcastle City Council have been working closely with other public sector agencies and have made impressive strides in using data to understand the routes, pathways and factors that can lead to someone becoming homeless.

It is not entirely an issue of resources, however.

At LGiU we are launching a Homelessness Commission, led by local government, which will look at how councils can make good on the promises of the act, what they need from central government and what they need to do themselves.

The government’s stated aim is to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and to eliminate it entirely by 2027.

Under the HRA councils now have expanded duties to implement housing plans for anyone at risk of becoming homeless within 56 days.

There are several crucial factors outside councils’ control that only help to increase the routes by which people become homeless, not least changes to the welfare regime and the inflated housing market.

There are many routes into homelessness that require different types of preventative work that bring together different areas of the public sector, including health, mental health, education and the criminal justice system.

Making good on those aims and making the duties stick will require a much broader effort to address the underlying causes of homelessness, as well as proper funding.

Building more houses, particularly for social housing and temporary accommodation is crucial.

A social housing green paper was due in the Spring, though it has yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, in the autumn Budget, Philip Hammond announced £15bn of new financial support for house building, taking the total amount to be spent from 2017 to 2022 to at least £44bn.

Legislation alone will not eliminate homelessness.

As councils embed new ways of working under the act, we at LGiU, through the work of our local government-led Homelessness Commission (launching this month) will continue to monitor progress and to build up an understanding of the resources and support required.  

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