1.The Department for Communities and Local Government (the Department) has not shown enough urgency in addressing the growing crisis of homelessness. Since 2010, all measures of homelessness in England have risen. The number of children living in temporary accommodation has increased by 73% to 120,170, and the number of people counted as sleeping rough has more than doubled to 4,134. Those who work with homeless people estimate that the true extent of homelessness is much higher. Crisis has estimated that 9,100 people were sleeping rough at any one time in 2016. The rise in homelessness was clear over five years ago, yet it is only now that the Department has acknowledged that its light touch approach has not worked and is actively starting to work more closely with local authorities. However, local councils cannot solve this alone and working more closely with local authorities is no substitute for emphatic government action. Homelessness can have a devastating impact on those who suffer it, and the Department needs to act now to bring together the stakeholders who can make a difference quickly.
Recommendation: The Department should, by the end of June 2018, publish a cross-government strategy for reducing homelessness that sets out clear targets and specific actions for all stakeholders to reduce all measures of homelessness.
2.Government departments are not working together effectively enough to address the national problem of homelessness. Organisations working with homeless people told us repeatedly that the government needs to tackle homelessness in a joined-up way and not ignore the impact of the decisions it makes, including freezing and capping local housing allowance as part of welfare reforms, on the numbers of people made homeless. While the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions told us that they work together to assess the impact of welfare reforms, they have yet to assess the impact of recent changes to Local Housing Allowance have had on homelessness. The government has made a commitment to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027, but this will address only the tip of the iceberg. Only 9,100 of the 160,000 households that will experience the most acute forms of homelessness in any year will sleep rough.
Recommendation: The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions should work together to ensure that clear progress is made against the targets and measures in the strategy.
The Department for Communities and Local Government should, by the end of 2018, write to the Committee to explain what reductions have been made across all measures of homelessness.
The Department for Work and Pensions should, by the end of 2018, write to the Committee to set out what work it has undertaken to identify any elements of welfare reform that are having an impact on homelessness and what steps it has taken to mitigate them.
3.There is an unacceptable shortage of realistic housing options for households that are either homeless or are at immediate risk of homelessness. The decreasing number of homes available for social rent means that many local authorities use private accommodation providers to meet this need. This accommodation is often of a poor standard and does not offer value for money. Some of the most vulnerable households at risk of homelessness can also find that they only have limited options for rehousing in the private rented sector. Shelter told us that six out of ten landlords nationwide will not let to people in receipt of benefits due to concerns that their income is unstable and will not rise in line with the cost of renting.
Recommendation: The Department should take steps to eliminate the use of non-decent temporary accommodation and to enable local authorities to replace this supply with local alternatives that offer better value for money.
4.The supply of genuinely affordable housing does not match the needs of families and vulnerable groups and has exacerbated the increase in homelessness. The Department has a strategic objective of increasing the supply of new homes across the country. Yet it acknowledged that in many areas the housing market is failing to supply enough homes to match housing need. Local authorities are responsible for planning to increase housing supply, but even where targets for social housing are ambitious, across the country too few of the homes we need for social rent are being built. The Department has recognised this and announced additional funding in the Autumn Budget 2017 to enable local authorities to increase the supply of new housing. The Department plans to target funding at local authorities that are ready to spend it quickly rather than those areas with the most acute shortage of housing. This could mean that local authorities with housing need but not at the same position of readiness will not receive this funding.
Recommendation: The Department should write to the Committee by the end of January 2018 to set out:
5.The Department lacks the proper understanding of those who are homeless and it needs to ensure that they are being helped effectively. The Department accepted that its previous system for collecting data on homeless households was seriously limited. It does not seem either to understand or measure the extent of hidden homelessness, and has not modelled the costs and causes of homelessness recently. The Department is developing a new data system that it hopes will allow it to track individuals’ experiences of homelessness and the impact this has on them. The Department is putting great faith in this data system and the accompanying duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act on local authorities and expects the Act to be a turning point in reducing the level of homelessness. It also expects to use the data the new data system will hold to allow it to understand and make links between administrative information on homeless households and their income, health and wellbeing, and interactions with other public services. We are sceptical that the Department will really achieve all that it told us is possible with its new data system.
Recommendation: The Department, supported by data from the Department for Work and Pensions, should ensure that its new homelessness data system:
18 December 2017