The Homelessness Reduction Act is a key step towards homelessness prevention

The legislation comes into force on April 3, but only if local authorities can afford it

Rough sleeping in the UK has risen by 134 per cent since 2010, while homelessness charity Crisis estimated that the core homeless population reached 236,000 in 2016. Since then, there’s been no shortage of ideas on how to bring those numbers down.

But the arrival of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which comes into force in England and Wales on April 3, brings an actual legal framework to a plan that The Big Issue has been behind since our first issue way back in 1991 – prevention.

By intervening before people face the realities of living on the streets, we’re hoping that the tide of homeless households heading into temporary accommodation – which rose by four per cent year-on-year to 78,930 households between October and December 2017, is stemmed.

To do this, the Homelessness Reduction Act will ensure that local authorities must take “all reasonable steps” to prevent homelessness on the proviso that applicants who are either homeless or threatened with the loss of their homes “co-operate” with councils.

Local authorities will have a legal duty to provide meaningful support under the Homelessness Reduction Act. This means that the onus will be on them to provide expert advice and information on how to prevent homelessness to meet the needs of groups most at risk, such as ex-prisoners, care leavers, armed forces veterans, domestic abuse survivors and people living with ill mental health.

There will also be a new duty to those already living on the streets. Authorities will work with rough sleepers for 56 days to help secure sustainable accommodation.

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Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

To meet the cost of the new measures to tackle homelessness, local authorities will be backed with £72.7m over three years in England – the trade-off being that preventative measures will hopefully herald savings over time.

The funding forms part of the £1.2 billion the government is investing to tackle homelessness through to 2020, including £215m that was announced recently to be shared among councils in the third round of the Flexible Homelessness Support Grant programme.

Homelessness Minister Heather Wheeler, who came under fire last week after admitting she did not know how to tackle rising rough sleeping figures, said: “This government is determined to help the most vulnerable in our society and to break the homelessness cycle once and for all. That why we’re investing over £1.2 billion in tackling the issue and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.”

There is already a precedent for preventative measures that are backed up with legislation – the Housing Wales Act 2014 managed to save almost two-thirds of households who were at risk of becoming homeless shortly after its introduction. However, measures, like paying rental deposits and letting agent fees, failed to stop rough sleeping rises in Wales.

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