COUNCILS may be feeling the pressure, but it’s people on low incomes who are paying the price, as an ongoing welfare squeeze and dire shortage of social housing serves to plunge more of them into homelessness.
And the allocations policies of some housing associations aren’t helping either, suggests the latest Homelessness Monitor: England report, published today.
The report highlights a concern among local authorities that registered providers are becoming more risk averse when it comes to offering tenancies to homeless people, which consequently makes it harder for councils to fulfil their statutory duties.
“Two thirds of local authorities – 64% – reported that social landlord ‘housing affordability’ or ‘financial capability’ checks were making it increasingly difficult for homeless households to access tenancies,” the report notes.
The report also said: “The overall number of social lets continues to decline, as a result of the long-term impact of the right to buy and inadequate levels of new build. While the proportion of this (declining number) of social lets made to homeless households has recently risen (to 23%), this is still substantially lower than the proportion a decade ago (26%). This means that some 18,000 fewer social lets were made to homeless households in 2017/18 than in 2007/08, despite statutory homelessness having risen substantially over that period.”
According to the annual report, which is commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), and led by Heriot-Watt University, councils are finding themselves under increasing pressure, with around three quarters of them reporting a rise in demand for their homelessness services in the last year alone.
Meanwhile, welfare reform has been adding its own woes to the mix. The report revealed widespread and deepening anxieties about the likely impact it will have on levels of homelessness, as more people struggle to access a rented property they can afford. This includes the freeze on housing benefit for private renters, an overall cap on benefits people can receive, and the roll-out of Universal Credit.
While the report offers some positives, overall the situation is anything but for those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
“This year’s Homelessness Monitor provides encouraging evidence that the Homelessness Reduction Act is enabling councils to help more people facing a housing crisis,” said the report’s lead author, Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick from Heriot-Watt University.
“However, the combination of cumulative welfare reforms and increasing housing market pressures are making it even harder for low income households to find a place to live. The research shows that councils are seeing more demand for their services yet are faced with an ever-diminishing social housing supply and very few options in the private rented sector.”
The Homelessness Monitor: England has been published every year since 2011. It includes a national survey of councils, statistical analysis, and in-depth interviews with council and national government representatives and charities working with homeless people.
On the back of its latest findings, Crisis and JRF are calling for the Government to urgently address the issues underpinning homelessness by restoring Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates in Universal Credit to ensure they “truly cover” the cost of rent.
In the long term, this needs to be followed by a “major investment” in social housing, they add. Nearly 90% of local authorities surveyed for the report said there is not enough in their area for those who need it – including for those on the brink of homelessness.
“Everybody deserves a safe and stable home to build their lives in, but it’s clear from councils that the growing gap between private rents and local housing allowance is leaving far too many people at risk of becoming homeless, and keeping those already experiencing it trapped in a cycle of destitution,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis.
“This can’t go on. No one should have to face impossible choices like buying food and essentials or paying their rent, or worse still, live in fear that they might never escape the devastation of homelessness.
“The good news is this can be fixed. In the long term, the Government must build the social housing our country needs, but in the short term, it must urgently invest in Local Housing Allowance so that people who rely on it can actually afford their rents and have the stability of a place to call home.”
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, added: “A home should be the anchor that keeps you from being swept into homelessness, poverty and destitution in hard times. For too many people, the prospect of such a stable home is a distant dream due to high rents, unstable tenancies and an income that doesn’t allow you to build a better life.
“We know there is action we can take to fix the problem, starting by ensuring housing, social security and work offer reliable routes out of poverty. Local Housing Allowances need urgent investment, but the government must also take action for the long term by investing in the low cost rented homes the country badly needs.”