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Housing

Thousands became homeless during pandemic with more feared in autumn

The Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has called for action to Stop Mass Homelessness as new statistics show councils in England dealt with soaring homelessness during Covid

Councils in England saw a 20 per cent rise in people needing support for homelessness due to unemployment during the first year of the pandemic, drawing calls for more support this autumn to prevent a mass homelessness crisis just as the furlough scheme and universal credit increase are due to end.

New government figures found English councils gave assistance to 268,560 households to prevent or relieve homelessness during the first year of the pandemic, dealing with 10,000 more cases than the year before. More than 100,000 applicants were registered unemployed when they contacted the council for help as Covid-19 battered the economy and the jobs market between April 2020 and March 2021. 

The figures come just weeks before the furlough scheme is due to end with 1.6 million people still relying on the scheme while the £20-per-week universal credit increase is also set to be axed.

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird said: “We must keep people in their homes at all costs. It’s as simple as that. We need the government to end no-fault evictions and pay off back-rent and we must give people the light at the end of the tunnel by helping them find meaningful, decently-paid jobs or access to high-quality training.

“This is the sensible solution. We know that the cost of someone slipping into homelessness doubles the cost to the Exchequer.”

These statistics make painfully clear that you cannot free people from the cycle of homelessness without a proper homeCrisis chief executive Jon Sparkes

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes

The Big Issue has launched a Stop Mass Homelessness campaign with a nine-point plan to prevent rising homelessness in the autumn as emergency support provided during the pandemic dies down.

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New statutory homelessness statistics for England show how homelessness has continued to be a pressing issue despite the Everyone In scheme which saw more than 37,000 rough sleepers protected in emergency accommodation during the pandemic.

The scheme is one of the main reasons behind an almost 40 per cent rise in the 11,580 single households who were assessed as rough sleeping when they were approached by councils when compared to 2019/20 figures.

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The UK government also introduced an eviction ban between March and September 2020 as well as further protections against bailiff enforcement to protect against evictions in later lockdowns.

This action saw the number of households requiring council support for a ‘no-fault eviction’ – when a landlord can evict a tenant without giving a reason – plunge by 50 per cent to 9,000 cases. Theresa May’s government pledged to axe the section 21 notices – as they are also known – and The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign has called on the current administration to suspend them.

Despite the fall in households facing a ‘no-fault eviction’, the loss of a private rented property home remained the most common reason for the threat of homelessness with 13,360 households requiring preventative action from councils to keep their home.

However, soaring domestic abuse during the pandemic saw the issue become the most common reason for the loss of a settled home. More than 15,000 households with children faced homelessness due to domestic abuse – up 14 per cent on 2019-20.

Lockdowns also saw a surge in households pushed into homelessness because friends or family could no longer accommodate them, up 17 per cent on the previous year to 86,810 households.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “These statistics make painfully clear that you cannot free people from the cycle of homelessness without a proper home and crucially, the support they need to keep it long term.

“Half of the households forced into or put at risk of homelessness in the last year had one or more support need, which are harder to resolve without a stable home. For many people with multiple issues relating to mental health, trauma or addiction, short-term accommodation cannot prevent them being forced back into rough sleeping. 

“We urgently need a national Housing First scheme that delivers them long-term housing, alongside tailored, unconditional support to rebuild their lives and leave homelessness behind for good. “

Meanwhile, 1.6 million people who remain on furlough in the UK before the scheme ends later this month are also at risk of homelessness. 

The latest HM Revenue and Customs figures showed fewer 340,000 jobs were being supported by the scheme on July 31 than the previous month. 

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is being made homelessevery three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how:

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