Homelessness Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Official statistics

1.The Government must take steps to improve data collection and implement the recommendations of the UK Statistics Authority as a matter of urgency. The aim should be to ensure that figures capture trends more accurately to reflect more than just the total number of homeless people, and the approach taken by CHAIN should be rolled out further across the country. The scale of hidden homelessness must also be appreciated: people who are homeless but have not approached local authorities for help and those who do seek help but are turned away before a formal application is made (discussed further in Chapter 4) are still homeless and should be taken into account in national statistics. The DCLG should give consideration to how this group can be captured effectively in the data it collects. We will monitor the Department’s progress improving their statistics, and will return to the issue in twelve months’ time. (Paragraph 12)

Factors in the increase in homelessness

2.In light of the shortage of social housing (discussed further below), the private rented sector is an essential means to help people escape and avoid homelessness. However for many the financial barriers and instability of tenancies are too great. The Government should explore measures to give greater confidence both to tenants and to landlords to encourage them to let to homeless people. Local Housing Allowances levels should also be reviewed so that they more closely reflect market rents. Landlords should be encouraged to offer longer Assured Shorthold Tenancies which allow tenants to leave early without penalty. (Paragraph 21)

3.We note that there is a clear demand for low cost home ownership which is answered in part by Starter Homes but not all people are in a position to afford this step. There is therefore a case for the development of homes for affordable rent which we encourage the Government to act on by working with local authorities to deliver the homes that are needed at a local level. (Paragraph 24)

4.We recognise the need to develop Starter Homes to meet the demand for low cost home ownership but recognise the need for appropriate new homes for affordable rent. The Government should therefore review the definition of affordable housing to reflect local needs. (Paragraph 29)

5.We urge the Government to recognise that many 18–21 year olds are at significant risk of homelessness, and to make provision for those who have been in work but have lost their job to have a ‘grace period’ of, say, one to two months before the housing element of Universal Credit is withdrawn. (Paragraph 30)

6.The Government’s position is that claimants should receive the benefits they are due, and then take responsibility for their own arrangements to meet the costs of their outgoings. However we are concerned that this policy is having a direct impact on levels of homelessness. All recipients of housing support should have the option of having their housing benefits paid directly to their landlord, reducing the likelihood of them falling into arrears and increasing landlord confidence and willingness to let to tenants at risk of homelessness. (Paragraph 34)

7.The impact of the welfare reforms of recent years have increased pressure on levels of homelessness. (Paragraph 36)

The role of local authorities

8.The Government should consider setting a statutory duty to provide meaningful support to single homeless people who can prove a local connection. (Paragraph 44)

9.We acknowledge that the task facing local authorities is significant and that under the current legislation, sorting and prioritising some applicants over others is required. However it is not acceptable that the level of support offered to vulnerable people can vary significantly across the country. We welcome and applaud initiatives such as those at Newham and Camden, but remain concerned that some other local authorities have not been so proactive. As we have heard from witnesses who have been homeless: at a time when they are most vulnerable, people deserve to be treated with compassion and understanding rather than as if they were at fault. We therefore call on the Government to monitor local authorities in order to promote best practice, to identify authorities which are not meeting their statutory duties and implement a code of practice to which local authorities should adhere. We will continue to monitor the work of local authorities and will return to the issue in twelve months and may consider commissioning independent research of local authority practises. (Paragraph 50)

10.Housing people away from their homes and support networks should be an action of last resort, but we appreciate the pressures that councils are under and do not oppose out of area placements in principle. Nonetheless we are concerned that some authorities do not always follow the statutory guidance and fully consider the needs of the family being placed, or whether there might be a nearer available home. (Paragraph 53)

11.Local authorities seeking to house homeless families face a significant challenge, especially in high value areas such as London. However the needs of the individuals must be fully considered. When this has not happened, it is entirely appropriate that they should be able to challenge the decisions taken by their local council. The Secretary of State should write to all local housing authorities to reiterate councils’ duties as outlined in the Code of Guidance and emphasise the duty of care that local authorities owe to some of their most vulnerable residents. (Paragraph 54)

12.The impact on the areas receiving homeless households from other parts of the country should be recognised, and the Government should monitor local authorities to ensure that such placements only occur as a last resort. The practice and process of housing homeless families in areas away from their support networks, employment and schooling should be monitored. Local authorities should be required to demonstrate that the families are supported to make the moves successful, the receiving authority has been notified, the placement is as close to the family’s former home as possible and all the family’s needs have been fully considered. The Government should also consider what guidance should be given to local authorities where families move from low cost areas of the country to higher cost areas and subsequently present themselves as homeless after short periods of time in privately rented accommodation. We recognise that this might need new secondary legislation. (Paragraph 56)

The service-user’s perspective

13.The Government should take steps to encourage and facilitate the development of Positive Pathway schemes across the country. (Paragraph 66)

14.As a Committee we are supportive of local authorities and the work they do. We understand the financial pressures they are under and the difficult choices they have to make. But treating someone as a human does not cost money. We have received too much evidence of councils and their staff treating homeless people in ways that are dismissive and at times discriminatory. This is unacceptable. The Government should review and reinforce the statutory Code of Practice to ensure it outlines clearly the levels of service that local authorities must provide and encourages regular training of staff to ensure a sympathetic and sensitive service. Services should put users first with a compassionate approach that gives individuals an element of choice and autonomy. (Paragraph 67)

Vulnerable groups and multiple complex needs

15.Given the prevalence of mental ill health among homeless people, especially those sleeping rough, it is essential that mental health support services maintain the flexibility needed to deliver effective treatment and that the sum of multiple needs is considered. We recognise that resources for many services are stretched and call on the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health to review the funding of mental health services for homeless people with a view to maximising their effectiveness at helping people out of homelessness as early as possible. We therefore call on the Government to produce a detailed action plan on how it intends to address the mental health needs of homeless people, including the delivery of outreach support to rough sleepers and assessing the vulnerability of applicants for homeless support. We see this as a priority for the cross-Departmental Ministerial Working Group and will be seeking an update in twelve months’ time. (Paragraph 76)

16.Women who have been victims of domestic violence are particularly at risk of becoming homeless, and there is currently insufficient support to help them escape homelessness. We therefore call on Government to ensure that sufficient resources are available to meet the very real need. We also recommend that the Government review the level of refuges and hostel accommodation for single people and consider providing additional resources for further provision in areas of highest need. (Paragraph 80)

17.Consideration should therefore be given by the Government to review the transition to independence [for children in care]. To help reduce the risk of homelessness for children leaving care, the Government should consider a policy whereby they should not be required to pay council tax until they are 21. (Paragraph 81)

Cross-Government working

18.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. (Paragraph 90)

19.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. (Paragraph 93)

20.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. (Paragraph 97)

Homelessness legislation

21.We agree with the Minister’s assessment of the abolition of the priority need categories in Scotland. The Scottish housing market is significantly different to that in England, with, for example, a more stable private rental sector. For this reason, we do not advocate abolishing the priority need criterion. (Paragraph 101)

22.We look forward to hearing from the Department on its assessment of the Welsh legislation in twelve months, including both on strengthening the duty to prevent homelessness and on measures to address applicants who are deemed to have behaved unreasonably. (Paragraph 106)

23.A vital component in addressing homelessness is making sure that the support given to those at risk of homelessness and to those who are not in priority need, is meaningful. We heard regularly that many councils are doing their best to house those in priority need, while those not in priority need receive unacceptably variable levels of assistance. We therefore support the Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016–17 sponsored by Mr Blackman and urge Government to support the legislation. The Government should introduce statutory monitoring of local authority housing departments to ensure they meet the requirements of a revised Code of Guidance that outlines service levels to ensure that every homeless person receives the support they need. (Paragraph 107)

24.In this report, we have called on Government to ensure that there is effective oversight and monitoring of local authorities. We recognise the pressures that councils are under and applaud the positive work that is taking place. However all homeless people deserve to receive the best possible support. In particular we would like to see monitoring of the quality of customer service in housing teams, the frequency of out of area placements and the process followed when housing families away from their home. This would most effectively be done by the Government, but we do not rule out the Committee seeking assurances directly from local authorities that our concerns are being met. (Paragraph 108)

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3 August 2016