Housing

Salvation Army warns thousands of hostel bed spaces could be lost

Supported accommodation in jeopardy because of government changes to housing benefit, charity claims

The Salvation Army has warned that government changes to the housing benefit system could force it to close hostels for homeless people.

From 2019, the government plans to fund the nation’s supported accommodation system through housing benefit (or Universal Credit) only up to capped local rates.

And the charity now says the reduced sums will mean a desperate struggle ahead to keep hostels open, leaving thousands of homeless people “at risk” of having to sleep on the streets.

A new report commissioned by the charity revealed 84% of residents at The Salvation Army’s “Lifehouse” hostels would be unable to pay for bed spaces under the benefit cap, rising to 91% of residents by 2020/21.

The new system would place the financial viability of the vast majority of our supported housing services at immediate risk

Mitch Menagh, territorial director of The Salvation Army’s Homelessness Services Unit, conceded the outlook appeared grim.

“We found evidence that the new system would place the financial viability of the vast majority of our supported housing services at immediate risk, jeopardising the homes of thousands of vulnerable people,” he said.

The report by Frontier Economics estimated that the planned reforms would leave, on average, homeless residents in Lifehouses needing an average “top up” of around £78 per week.

Additional funding from local authorities has been difficult to come by because of ongoing budget cuts.

The Salvation Army has argued that the government changes are not appropriate for supported accommodation. Although new housing benefit caps vary from region to region, its services do not vary significantly based on where they are in the UK.

So in Grimsby, for instance, the Local Housing Allowance rate is £75 per week. But the cost to the Salvation Army of providing someone with accommodation costs there is £173 per week.

The charity is urging ministers to delay implementation of a new system until 2022, and use the time to help the sector develop an alternative funding mechanism.

“As part of any new funding system, we would very much like to see the Government maintain this level of stability for our residents, who will have often experienced chaotic lives prior to their stays with us,” said Menagh.

Photo: William Murphy, licensed under Creative Commons

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