Councils ‘forced to leave people on streets’ because of home shortage

Crisis’ assessment of the Homelessness Reduction Act after two years in force finds that the legislation is being held back by a lack of homes and funding for councils

Local authorities can’t find homeless people a place to stay under the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) because of the lack of affordable housing.

Councils were “forced to leave people on the streets” with nearly four in 10 people who approached their local authority for help under the act either remaining homeless or becoming homeless.

The HRA turns two next month and was brought in to to stop people becoming homeless in the first place, requiring councils to find people who approached them as homeless or threatened with homelessness a place to stay within 56 days.

But a report released today by Crisis found that councils’ efforts were being hamstrung with a dwindling housing supply and rising rents outstripping wages and benefits meaning that housing options are limited for more and more people.

The Crisis research, based on 984 surveys and 89 in-depth interviews with people experiencing homelessness, found that 45 per cent of those struggling to access safe and stable housing were single men. The key drivers of homelessness were a loss of employment and mental health problems for more than third of those surveyed while over half of people renting privately said that mounting financial pressures and tenancy insecurities pushed them into homelessness.

And with councils having few options to respond, some respondents reported being given information on how to rent privately or a list of landlords to contact, some of whom were inaccessible because their housing benefit did not cover rent.

Crisis did find that HRA had a positive impact on the way local authorities take care of people with 75 per cent of respondents praising local housing teams for treating them with respect.

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But the answer to meaningful change to the situation for people facing homelessness is ensuring housing benefit covers the cheapest third of rents and building 90,000 social homes each year for the next 15 years, says Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes.

“It’s deeply distressing that, across England, councils are being forced to leave the people they are trying to help on the streets or drifting from sofa to sofa – all because they cannot find somewhere safe and affordable for them to live,” he said.

“The HRA has made some good progress in preventing people from becoming homeless, but it’s worrying to see that it’s being constrained by a chronic lack of housing and cuts to housing benefit.

“It’s vital that the Government gets to grips with the root causes pushing people into homelessness in the first place, this means ensuring more social homes are built across the country and that housing benefit is restored to truly cover the cost of rent. Only when these measures are in place will we be able to unleash the full potential of the HRA.”

Councils want to work with government to be able to prevent homelessness before it happens, but as a result of unprecedented funding pressures, they are becoming increasingly limited in what they can do

Responding to the report, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, Cllr David Renard said: “Homelessness services, which face a funding gap of more than £400 million by 2025, are under extreme pressure as a result of rising demand driven by a severe shortage of social housing.

“Councils want to work with government to be able to prevent homelessness before it happens, but as a result of unprecedented funding pressures, they are becoming increasingly limited in what they can do.”

With the Budget due tomorrow and council stills waiting on a Spending Review, future funding is unclear.

But a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said “Everyone should have somewhere safe to live, and to support those most in need we have removed the borrowing cap, freeing up councils to double housing delivery to around 10,000 new social homes a year by 2021/22,” a spokesman said.

“We’ve also made £9bn available through the Affordable Homes Programme to March 2022 to deliver approximately 250,000 new affordable homes of a wide range of tenures, helping more families find a place to call home.”