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Housing

Lack of affordable housing leaves councils struggling to help families facing homelessness

Without 90,000 social homes every year for the next 15 years, councils can’t help people facing homelessness, charity Crisis has warned.

Nearly half the people facing homelessness who contact councils for help are being left in limbo because a shortage of affordable homes is leaving councils with no options to house them, Crisis has warned.

The homelessness charity has found the Homelessness Reduction Act is helping councils to prevent homelessness but its impact is being hampered by the housing crisis.

The legislation was introduced in 2018 to place a duty on councils to find someone a place to stay within 56 days if they are at risk of homelessness. 

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But with a shortage of homes sending house prices and rents rocketing, councils are short on options to house people, leaving them feeling as if they have been passed from ‘pillar to post’, according to the charity.

“It’s shocking that councils are being forced to leave people living in dingy B&Bs infested with mice, while others live at the mercy of being turfed off the sofa onto the streets at a moment’s notice because they do not have enough affordable housing to go around,” said Crisis CEO Matt Downie, who has called for the government to build 90,000 social homes every year for the next 15 years.

“Governments cannot keep kicking this mounting crisis down the road. To have a fighting chance at ending homelessness for good, the government must get to grips with building the social homes we desperately need and introduce new legal protections so everyone can be helped to find a safe and secure home.” 

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Crisis surveyed almost 1,500 people and carried out almost 200 interviews to track the progress of the Homelessness Reduction Act over four years since it came into law.

The charity’s experts found people experiencing the most precarious forms of homelessness, such as sofa surfing, were most likely to remain homeless due to housing pressures.

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Issues with high caseloads, remote working and staff shortages at councils also left some of the people Crisis interviewed struggling to speak to their housing officer. Over half of respondents said they couldn’t reach their housing officer when they needed them, which left them feeling ignored and hopeless about resolving their situation.   

A lack of affordable housing pushed many into expensive temporary accommodation or towards the private rented sector.

But the charity was told rising rents and discrimination against people who receive benefits meant some respondents were locked out of finding a safe home. One person even admitted to Crisis they hid the fact they had a young son to secure a property, even though they knew they could be evicted if caught.

Meanwhile, one in six people reported being turned away by their council after failing to meet eligibility criteria used by councils to determine priority for support, such as the local connection to an area, not making themselves intentionally homeless or having children.

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People sleeping rough on the streets were most likely to fail these tests with a third of respondents telling Crisis they were left with nowhere else to go.

Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “Councils work incredibly hard to prevent the tragedy of homelessness from happening, as well as supporting those who find themselves affected, but there is a clear shortage of housing across the country.

“The recent dramatic rise in the number of ‘no fault evictions’ is deeply concerning, as well as the steep rise in approaches to councils of households from the private rented sector. This is putting additional pressure on homelessness services.”

The report concluded that government initiatives brought in during the pandemic – such as banning evictions, unfreezing housing benefit and housing rough sleepers under the Everyone In scheme – had a “profound effect” on people experiencing homelessness.

But with many of those measures now scrapped and a cost of living crisis taking hold, there are fears councils will once again be left with limited tools to help people on the brink of homelessness.

Harrow East MP Bob Blackman introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act as a private member’s bill. He said it was “heartening” that legislation was helping prevent homelessness.

He added: “It remains disappointing that the act is being constrained by a severe lack of social housing stock – an issue which consecutive governments have simply not solved. The reality is, we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand on this issue.

“While it’s positive the government is acting on Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, it will remain an incomplete approach if nothing is done to build more social housing.”

A government spokesperson said:“The number of rough sleepers has fallen in every region of England, taking levels to an eight-year low.

“But we know we must go further, so we’re investing £2 billion over the next three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This builds on the success of the Homelessness Reduction Act which has secured accommodation for over 475,000 households who were homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“Our significant £11.5 billion investment in affordable housing is also supporting thousands of people into safe and secure homes.”

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