Measures brought into to prevent homelessness during the pandemic worked, according to Crisis, but councils fear that now the support has gone, homelessness may rise. Image: Brett Sayles / Pexels
The number of people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness could rise by a third compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to a new report.
There is a “substantial risk” that the number of people experiencing sofa surfing or rough sleeping could rise by 33 per cent by 2024, according to charity Crisis’s annual Homelessness Monitor snapshot.
The figures all but confirm the Westminster government’s target of bringing street homelessness in two years will be missed.
Councils in England are bracing themselves for a surge in homelessness in the months ahead as households face the cost of living crisis without protections introduced during the pandemic.
Almost all councils told Crisis the number of people being evicted from privately rented homes is expected to increase with a further 79 per cent warning more children will be made homeless in the months ahead.
Matt Downie, chief executive at Crisis, said: “The warning from these findings is clear, Without action, more people will be forced to live without a place to call home.
“Currently many people fear having the rug pulled out from underneath them as evictions start up again and financial protections are eroded.
“This is compounded by the cost of living crisis where people already under crippling financial pressure are edging closer to homelessness as they struggle to afford basic necessities like heating, eating and keeping a roof over their heads. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Around 282,000 single people, couples and families were judged by local authorities in England to be homeless or threatened with homelessness in 2020/21.
Overall, this was eight per cent down on 2019/20 but that fall was largely down to a 20 per cent reduction in the numbers assessed as threatened with homelessness because of pandemic protections. The number of households assessed as homeless actually increased by seven per cent over the year.
Now with Boris Johnson virtually confirming the end to Covid restrictions on Monday and many of the support systems put in place to prevent homelessness now removed, councils fear the worst.
In a survey of 155 local authorities across England, nearly all said the end of the eviction ban will lead to an increase in homelessness. The eviction ban was originally introduced in March 2020 to stop tenants from being thrown out of their homes as Covid disrupted livelihoods but protections were fully removed in the summer 2021.
Meanwhile 80 per cent of councils said the loss of the £20 increase to universal credit will contribute to rising homelessness. Universal credit rates are due to increase in April after the £20 uplift was removed last October but the rise is set to be below inflation.
Councils also warned other financial policies could see rising homelessness with more than 70 per cent citing the freeze on Local Housing Allowance rates and the benefit cap as key drivers.
The report found interventions such as the Everyone In scheme, which offered rough sleepers accommodation in hotels during the pandemic, and the eviction ban did reduce homelessness during the pandemic.
In total, an estimated 203,400 people experienced the worst forms of homelessness in England in 2020, down five per cent on 2019 levels. There was a fall of a third in rough sleeping and 10 per cent reduction in sofa surfing during the pandemic with many people moving into emergency accommodation instead.
But that progress is at risk of falling, according to Crisis, with households now facing a cost of living crisis driven by rising energy bills and inflation with less protections in place than during the pandemic.
One council in the south of England told the charity: “We are expecting a tidal wave, to put it mildly. It is going to be a very, very busy couple of years. The impact of the pandemic is just beginning for homelessness services.”
Introducing a package of welfare benefit policies aimed at reducing destitution and scaling up Housing First would help to combat forecasted rises in rough sleeping, according to Crisis.
“The protections put in place during the pandemic helped thousands of people off the streets and prevented many more from facing homelessness. It would be shameful for this progress to unravel before us, at a huge human cost and financial one for the local councils left to foot the bill,” added Downie.
Beth Watts, from Heriot-Watt University and lead author of the report, added: “Without improved access to appropriate and affordable housing, people will remain trapped and unable to leave homelessness behind for good.”
The campaign called for training and jobs in sustainable industries as well as support for renters who fell into arrears during the pandemic to prevent them from losing their homes. The government announced support for renters through the Household Support Fund following the campaign.
Big Issue founder Lord John Bird said: “The Stop Mass Homelessness campaign has been concerned with the tidal wave of homelessness that has been looming since the midst of the pandemic.
“These warnings do not come as a shock to me, but serve as a reminder that we are still not through the storm. With even more protections being scaled back and the cost of living crisis, we must act to protect those most at risk of losing their homes.”
A government spokesperson said: “Government interventions have prevented almost 450,000 households from becoming homeless since 2017.
“This year, councils have been given an extra £65 million to support low income households with rent arrears.
“We’re also banning no-fault evictions, and a £316 million homelessness prevention grant will help people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home to find a new one, get help with evictions or move into temporary accommodation.”
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.