THE chronic lack of social housing is forcing many councils to abandon people to homelessness despite their legal requirement to help, the charity Crisis has claimed.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into effect in April 2018, placing new duties on councils in England to assist people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming so. But in a new report, Crisis claims local authorities are struggling to meet these commitments because of a lack of suitable housing.
It claims that 38% of people who approached their local authority for assistance since the HRA came into effect either remained homeless, or became homeless, because of a lack of genuinely affordable housing.
“It’s deeply distressing that, across England, councils are being forced to leave the people they are trying to help on the streets or drifting from sofa to sofa – all because they cannot find somewhere safe and affordable for them to live,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. “The HRA has made some good progress in preventing people from becoming homeless, but it’s worrying to see that it’s being constrained by a chronic lack of housing and cuts to housing benefit.”
The report, releases today, is based on 984 surveys and 89 in-depth interviews with people experiencing homelessness. It is said to provide the first real insight into how HRA is working in practice since it was introduced two years ago.
The HRA was designed to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place, with the research revealing that more people are now getting access to the help they need. But despite many councils’ best efforts, dwindling housing supply and rising rents outstripping wages and benefits means they have little to no housing available for more and more people.
Furthermore, the worst affected are people experiencing the most devastating forms of homelessness, with people sleeping on the streets or on friends’ or family’s sofas, most likely to remain trapped in this situation after seeking help. Of these, 45% were single men showing that they are still struggling to access safe and stable housing.
With their ability to house people stifled, many respondents reported that the only support councils were able to offer them was information on how to rent privately. Several of those surveyed stated that this simply consisted of a list of potential landlords for them to contact, only to find they were unable to access these properties because their housing benefit would not cover the rent.
Crisis says more must be done to ensure the HRA can reach its full potential of preventing and ending homelessness across England.
The charity has called on the Government to urgently invest in housing benefit so that it covers the cheapest third of rents and commit to building 90,000 social homes each year for the next 15 years.
Despite the many challenges facing councils, Crisis says the HRA has clearly had a “resoundingly positive” effect on the way local authorities take care of people when they seek help.
The overwhelming majority (75%) stated that they felt their local housing teams had treated them with respect and handled their situation sensitively.
What’s more, this research has also exposed the root causes forcing people into homelessness in the first place. The key drivers for over a third of people sleeping rough was loss of employment and mental health problems, while over half of people renting privately said that mounting financial pressures and insecurities with their tenancy had pushed them into homelessness.
“The HRA can be at the heart of ending homelessness for good, as this report shows, but this is only possible if councils are properly resourced and have the tools, they need to help people leave homelessness behind for good,” Sparkes added.
“It’s vital that the Government gets to grips with the root causes pushing people into homelessness in the first place, this means ensuring more social homes are built across the country and that housing benefit is restored to truly cover the cost of rent. Only when these measures are in place will we be able to unleash the full potential of the HRA.”
Councils are doing what they can but need extra support and resources to fulfil their obligations, according to the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities in England and Wales.
“Councils are doing what they can to support all people who face the tragedy of being homeless, and we fully support this report’s call for more affordable housing,” said Councillor David Renard, the organisation’s housing spokesperson.
“Homelessness services, which face a funding gap of more than £400 million by 2025, are under extreme pressure as a result of rising demand driven by a severe shortage of social housing.
“Councils want to work with government to be able to prevent homelessness before it happens, but as a result of unprecedented funding pressures, they are becoming increasingly limited in what they can do. More than two thirds of council homelessness services are now being forced to spend more than they budgeted for on homelessness.
“In this week’s Budget we want the Government to give councils the power to set their own Right to Buy discounts and to keep sales receipts in full, as well as restoring Local Housing Allowance rates to cover at least the lowest third of market rents.
“It is also important that government invests in homelessness prevention and gives councils the funding and powers they need to prevent homelessness and get back to building the affordable homes the country needs.”