90.On the strength of what we have learned throughout our inquiry, we have concluded that the scale of homelessness in this country is such that a renewed, cross-Departmental Government strategy is needed. We support the view expressed by Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s that “Homelessness is everyone’s issue and it is not inevitable”. All Departments need to contribute to the ending of homelessness by subscribing to a common approach. We heard much evidence that this is not the case currently. Jon Sparkes from Crisis told us that “there is very little evidence that the influence of DCLG is spreading to the other Departments”. We agree.
91.Crisis argued that tackling homelessness requires a cross-government approach but that current practice is “at best not joined up, and at worst contradictory.” The charity cites an example:
the Department of Health has recently committed £40 million, via DCLG, to improve hostel accommodation for homeless people. At the same time, DWP plan to cap the amount of housing benefit people living in homelessness hostels can receive, leaving some of the same accommodation providers unable to provide a viable service. This is a clear instance of policy across government departments not working towards a shared objective.
92.We received a significant amount of evidence that emphasised the vital role that supported accommodation plays in supporting homeless people, and how the Government’s welfare reforms are putting this work at risk (see paragraphs 30–36). In the Summer Budget 2015, the Government announced that all social housing rents would be reduced by 1 per cent a year for four years from 2016. The Government also announced in the Autumn Budget 2015 that there would be a cap on LHA levels for social housing tenants which would apply to new tenancies entered into after April 2016, with Housing Benefit recipients affected from April 2018. Supported housing secured a one-year delay on both of these measures while a review of the funding of supported housing is carried out, but there remains significant uncertainty over future income levels.
93.In 2014–15 Derventio Housing Trust supported over 1,000 people, 99 per cent of whom were single homeless people. With most of their rents paid via housing benefit, the Government’s reforms are expected to affect their income very significantly. Their annual turnover in 2014/15 was £3,838,883, and they estimate that the welfare reforms would cost them £3,359,376 per annum, and cause them to close all of their supported housing. SHORE also told us that the proposed cap has “effectively blighted existing supporting housing projects in the meantime, and put on-hold any plans to develop more in the future”, as the ongoing uncertainty discourages investment. We are currently awaiting the outcome of the Government’s review of welfare reforms and the impact on supported accommodation and urge the Government to give certainty to the sector as a matter of urgency. The Government should exempt all supported accommodation schemes from the proposed rent cut so that those with multiple complex needs can continue to receive the help they need from these vital services. The outcomes of the current review of supported accommodation should be announced as soon as possible in order to give providers the certainty they need to plan ahead and deliver services.
94.When we met the three young people who had worked with The Children’s Society, we were told how they were all advised against seeking employment whilst living in a hostel, as they would become liable to cover their rent costs which would be more than their income. Similarly Mateasa Grant told us:
I got a job within my first month of being in the hostel. Again, I was oblivious to the whole idea of housing benefit, how much you get paid, et cetera, until I was in that hostel and I realised that the rent that I was paying per week for the room that was being covered by the housing benefit was double the normal amount you would pay … I could not believe it… When I did get the job the housing benefit was taken away, and then I would have had to pay the full amount … Currently the average amount that I pay in the area I live is around about £115 a week. Where that hostel was was two hundred and something pounds a week.
95.Ross Symonds had a similar experience and described to us the advice he was given:
There was talk about me going into secure accommodation at one point … But he said, “If you go into somewhere like that and you get a job, you will not be able to afford to live there because the rent is just too high. You are better off waiting for somewhere private to come up.” … That was the subtext. He was saying, “If you move in now you will not be able to work”.
96.It is of fundamental importance that any homeless person that wants to seek employment should not be deterred in any way. Hostels charge higher rents to reflect the additional support they offer their tenants. Lord Freud, Minister of State for Welfare Reform, explained that:
It is almost certain that a hostel for homeless people will be designated as “specified accommodation”. Specified accommodation is that where the landlord provides or commissions care, support or supervision for their tenants. The needs of the tenants can often lead to higher housing costs and these are recognised in Housing Benefit.
97.Housing Benefit can only meet the housing costs and not those of providing the additional support that it so important for homeless tenants. Lord Freud explained that if a resident in a homeless hostel gained employment, the amount they received in benefit will taper out at 65 pence for each pound above the ‘applicable amount’ (the amount for basic living expenses). We accept that the Government is making efforts to tackle the problem of disincentives, but the evidence we have received shows that these are not working. It cannot be right that someone must choose between the support they need and employment. To encourage homeless people to view employment as their route into independence and stability, support and rent costs should be separated and the Government should consider allowing housing benefit to be used for support costs for a short period of time or make available additional funding to facilitate the transition from homelessness to employment and independent living.
118 Q21 [Howard Sinclair]
119 Q21 [Jon Sparkes]
120 Crisis () paras 4.1-4.2
121 Derventio Housing Trust () paras 9-10
122 SHORE ()
123 Qq202-203 [Mateasa Grant]
125 regarding homelessness, dated 30 June 2016
3 August 2016