Protecting the homeless and the private rented sector: MHCLG’s response to Covid-19 Contents

Protecting the homeless

The first stage of Everyone In

8.On 26 March 2020, Dame Louise Casey (now Baroness Casey of Blackstock), who had just been appointed to spearhead the Government’s response to rough sleeping, emailed local authorities and homeless charities calling on them to ensure all rough sleepers were “inside and safe” by the weekend:

These are unusual times so I’m asking for an unusual effort […] Many areas of the country have already been able to ‘safe harbour’ their people, which is incredible. What we need to do now is work out how we can get ‘everyone in’.15

9.This kickstarted what is now known as the ‘Everyone In’ initiative. Local authorities and voluntary organisations had already begun providing emergency accommodation before this instructionindeed, on 17 March, the Government provided £3.2 million of emergency funding to all councils to help rough sleepers to self-isolate—but by 23 March England was in national lockdown and the urgency was greater. The crucial change was that the Department instructed local authorities to accommodate everyone, regardless of whether individuals were legally entitled to homelessness assistance or public benefits. In his letter to local leaders, the then Minister for Local Government and Homelessness, Luke Hall MP, asked them to utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds who require shelter and other forms of support due to the covid-19 pandemic”.16

10.By April, following incredible efforts by local authorities in partnership with the voluntary sector and homelessness services to triage, helped and supported by the Department, 90% of identified rough sleepers were removed from the streets and received offers of temporary accommodation.17 The Government also ensured, under its emergency coronavirus measures, that hotels, B&Bs and more could remain open when providing rooms to support vulnerable people.18 Researchers from University College London estimated that without the prevention methods of Everyone In, 266 people experiencing homelessness would have died, compared to an estimated 24 deaths under Everyone In.19 By November, the Government reported that 33,000 people overall had been helped into emergency accommodation.20

11.Those involved in helping rough sleepers off the streets were unanimously effusive in their praise for the first stage of Everyone In. Liz Davies, representing the Housing Law Practitioners’ Association, said it was “amazing” that the Government had ensured no-one would be sleeping rough on our streets at the time of a global health pandemic.21 Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, told us:

I have to say that the efforts of the Department, local authorities and charities throughout the country have been nothing short of phenomenal […] it has been an amazing and unprecedented effort. To have that many people now safely in self-contained accommodation, so quickly, has been quite remarkable.22

T, one of the experts by experience who spoke to us on 17 December, said that Everyone In had helped her into accommodation, when before she had only experienced obstacles.23 We recognise the enormous success of the early stages of the Everyone In programme, made possible through cross-sector collaboration, substantial funding and joint working towards a clear goal.

The next stage of Everyone In

12.On 28 May, the then Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, Luke Hall MP, wrote to all local authority chief executives in England to set out the “next phase of accommodating rough sleepers”.24 One of the main purposes of the letter was to ask local authorities to put in place a plan of support for all rough sleepers accommodated in hotels and other accommodation as part of Everyone In. However, the letter also shifted the emphasis on whom councils should be helping:

You should carry out individual assessments and take decisions on who you can provide support to, which would include providing accommodation to vulnerable people sleeping rough.

[…] I do recognise that these are challenging times and that you may have accommodated people who would normally and otherwise be ineligible for support, making judgements based on risk to life. I wanted to take this opportunity to restate the government’s position on eligibility relating to immigration status, including for those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). The law regarding that status remains in place. Local authorities must use their judgment in assessing what support they may lawfully give to each person on an individual basis, considering that person’s specific circumstances and support needs. You will already be used to making such judgements on accommodating individuals who might otherwise be ineligible, during extreme weather for example, where there is a risk to life.25

Prior to this, the Government had not asked local authorities to carry out individual assessments before offering emergency accommodation, and it had previously asked local authorities to house everybody, regardless of eligibility for public funds.

13.Our witnesses told us this was a clear shift from the Government. Steve Douglas, Chief Executive of St. Mungo’s, said:

We have this conversation: “Everyone In was great. Everyone In has now finished. Nobody is quite clear on the guidance”. We managed 30 hotels during the pandemic. We are still managing hotels now as well. We get a little bit confused around the principles. If we go back to what the principles of Everyone In were, how they apply now and how they are being applied, the principles we saw in Everyone In were that it was what it said on the tin. There was no prior assessment before you were brought into accommodation. There was no expectation of whether you could pay or whether you had settled status.26

Henry St Clair Miller, representing the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Network, which provides advice to local authorities on NRPF issues, said that the Government had introduced confusion by first undertaking a “universal approach” on a humanitarian basis, before pushing back on NRPF.27

14.In its investigation into the housing of rough sleepers during the covid-19 pandemic, the National Audit Office (NAO) reported that some local authorities considered the Department’s messaging to have changed, and responded by taking a tougher line on or ceasing to take in new rough sleepers who were ineligible for benefits, and moving on those already present in emergency accommodation.28 Our evidence supports this conclusion. Following the letter of 28 May, many councils believed Everyone In to have finished, because the Government was no longer asking ‘everyone’ to be brought in. The Local Government Association (LGA) told us the letter caused councils to be unclear about central Government expectations and whether Everyone In had finished.29

How many people in emergency accommodation are subject to no recourse to public funds?

15.The most recent data on the Everyone In scheme is from January 2021, which found that around 37,430 people had been helped into some form of accommodation, with 26,167 moved on into more settled accommodation and 11,263 remaining in emergency accommodation, an increase from 9,809 in November 2020.30 Data on how many of these 11,263 are ineligible for benefits is more difficult to pin down. The NAO estimates that in September 2020 those ineligible for benefits numbered around 2,000 (approximately 50% of the total) of those staying in hotels and other emergency accommodation in London under Everyone In.31 In our interim report in April 2020, only a month into the pandemic, we recommended that the Government needed to improve its support to councils for people with no recourse to public funds during the crisis, or hundreds would return to the streets with potentially disastrous consequences.32 At that point, there was an estimated 900 people in London housed with NRPF, and likely double that across England. That cohort has now grown significantly.

16.Baroness Casey explained to us how important it was to have certainty on the numbers of people who are “legally here but have no recourse to public funds”:

How big is that figure? I reckon—the Department should be able to tell you this properly—that there are 10,000 people who are still in emergency hotels and other forms of accommodation. If the figures are 2,000 to 3,000, is it honestly worth it? The administration involved with all of that—part of me thinks that if the numbers are that low, we should just declare an amnesty and move on.

But if the numbers are huge, that is a different thing. That is a million people here with no recourse to public funds that somebody like me is asking for an amnesty for […] The size of that group is really important for us to understand.33

17.The Director for Rough Sleeping and Homelessness, Penny Hobman, told us that the Government did not collect data on how many of the thousands of individuals in emergency accommodation were subject to NRPF.34 The Minister added that “sometimes, the data is not absolutely necessary”.35 We pressed the Minister on the importance on the issue and asked him to write to us with a further explanation. The Minister wrote to us that the focus of the government “is on the response to the pandemic and supporting councils to protect vulnerable people”, and that an unspecified data source mentioned by the NAO was very new and required further work before it could be published.36 The Minister stated that the department does not currently collect data on the number of individuals with NRPF in emergency accommodation or in move on accommodation, but that data collected at the end of May 2020 suggested that around 2,500 of the 14,610 people in emergency accommodation were people who would not normally be eligible for statutory homelessness assistance. This 2,500 includes, but is not limited to, those with NRPF.37

18.We are not the first committee to come up against this Government point of view on NRPF data. The Work and Pensions Committee concluded in its report on the DWP’s response to the pandemic that it could not “understand why the Government does not appear to hold any reliable data on the number of people with NRPF”.38 The Minister for Future Borders and Immigration explained in a Parliamentary Question on 2 June 2020 that the data was “not assured to the standard required by ONS for publication” and the Home Office had determined it would be “too costly” to provide it.39 When this issue was further pursued by the UK Statistics Authority, the Head of Profession for Statistics at the Home Office, Daniel Shaw, wrote to Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation at the Office for Statistics Regulation, explaining that at the moment “no complete figures of visas subject to NRPF conditions can be produced” because of the limitations of Home Office administrative data.40 He went on to note that it was not of “practical application” for the Home Office to produce an estimate, because it would not help determine whether such a condition was detrimental to those individuals.41

19.We do not accept the Government’s reasoning for why it cannot produce figures on the number of people subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. The cost and administrative burden of doing so are not sufficient arguments, given how useful the data would be. Without transparent data, it is impossible to know how many people are subject to the condition, what support they need and how much it would cost to fund policy proposals. We recommend that the Government collect and publish data on how many people have no recourse to public funds, including how many of these people are estimated to be homeless, and the reasons for NRPF being imposed.

What assistance are local authorities allowed to offer people suffering from homelessness and subject to no recourse to public funds?

20.Non-UK nationals may have conditions imposed on their leave to enter or remain, including relating to employment and access to public funds. A range of different conditions can apply depending on the type of leave granted. No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is imposed on individuals with limited leave to enter to visit, study, work, or join family in the UK; it is also imposed on a person who does not have any leave to enter or remain but are present in the UK. The definition of public funds includes homelessness assistance under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, as well as benefits such as welfare and social housing. Liz Davies, Joint Head of Chamber at Garden Court Chambers, explained the legal confusion caused by Everyone In:

The guidance issued by the Government in March, which is what we call Everyone In, was about accommodating rough sleepers who would not be accommodated under part 7, usually either because they do not have a priority need or, as you say, because they have no recourse to public funds.

[…] The extent to which councils are currently under any sort of guidance to be accommodating rough sleepers who do not fall within part 7 of the Housing Act is very, very unclear. The most recent pronouncement from MHCLG was on 5 November, where it said, “We want to move forward with our goal of eliminating rough sleeping.” It is not at all clear that there is current guidance that all rough sleepers should be accommodated.

The NRPF cohort is even more complicated. While the March guidance said it included people who were not eligible because of NRPF, their immigration status, in May and June the Government said, confusingly, “That is not the case unless there is a risk to life.” Analysing that from a legal point of view, it suggests that, if you are a rough sleeper with NRPF and your human right to your life being protected is at risk, you should be accommodated, but otherwise you should not.

[…] Half the councils in the country are prepared to offer accommodation to [NRPF individuals] and roughly half are not. Both of them believe they are acting lawfully.42

21.People with the NRPF condition can be supported by a local authority when duties are engaged under the Children Act 1989 or the Care Act 2014, but many adults accommodated through Everyone In would not qualify for such assistance.43 Non-UK nationals face additional restrictions for eligibility under the Care Act 2014 based on immigration status. While section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 (known as the ‘general power of competence’) confers a general power on local authorities to benefit the persons resident or present in its area, they are precluded from giving assistance under this power where other legislation prohibits it.44

22.We also received evidence that this general power of competence to help individuals with NRPF was limited under case law: Henry St Clair Miller said “under current case law”, it was “excluded through the exclusions that already exist in relation to the Housing Act”.45 On the other hand, Garden Court Chambers argued that, in their view, the powers under section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 must be exercised by local authorities to accommodate rough sleepers where it is necessary to avoid a breach of their human or EU rights, noting that in such circumstances it was not a barrier to support if they were ineligible under the Housing Act.46 Shelter have noted that the High Court held in 2018 that a local authority could not provide an EEA national with no right to reside accommodation because of section 185 of the Housing Act 1996, which casts doubt on a prior judgment that a local authority must provide accommodation to avoid a breach of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.47

23.In our interim report, following early evidence in our inquiry that councils were unsure of their legal position regarding individuals with no recourse to public funds, we recommended the following:

While the Government believes the legal position is clear, local authorities do not. In addition, we ask the Government to urgently publish guidance on councils’ use of discretion in these circumstances and clarify what people can or cannot claim when they have no recourse to public funds.

In response, the Government said that local authorities had powers “to use their judgment in assessing what support they may lawfully give to each person on an individual basis,” and that they would be used to making such decisions on accommodating individuals who might otherwise be ineligible, during extreme weather for example, where there is a risk to life.48

24.In our first evidence session, the then Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing told us that the task force, led by Dame Louise Casey (now Baroness Casey), would be working on how to help the individuals in this cohort.49 When we took evidence from Baroness Casey, we asked her what progress she had made before she stepped down. Baroness Casey told us that she expected it to be more straightforward and did not realise “how complicated and how just angst-ridden this whole issue is … Everyone just climbs into their bunker and stays there. There is not a lot of problem solving”.50 She concluded that there was an inherent clash between immigration policy and homelessness, which only people in homelessness were trying to problem-solve, and that no recourse to public funds was a “mismanaged policy”.51

25.The Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing told us “it feels like a surprising position” for councils and lawyers to say they were unclear what the current law was.52 The consistent Government position since the start of our inquiry has been that local authorities can use their general powers of competence where necessary, similar to how they use it during cold weather via the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). On 4 May, the Secretary of State told us that local authorities could use this discretion to support those with NRPF, calling it a well-established practice of “limited intervention” where there is risk to life.53 Similarly, Jeremy Pocklington, the Permanent Secretary, told the Public Accounts Committee in January that “local authorities can offer support where there is risk to life during the pandemic, as they do in periods of extreme weather”.54

26.Our inquiry found that this comparison was flawed. Westminster City Council pointed out that the expectations of Everyone In led to it establishing “health protocols for rough sleepers, addressing their wider medical needs such as clinical nursing support, temperature checks, medication management and drug and alcohol support”.55 Henry St Clair Miller, representing the NRPF Network, explained:

I would start with this by disagreeing, from the perspective of the NRPF network, with the Minister for Rough Sleeping’s statement to the Committee that the response that local authorities were doing during Everyone In was somehow the same as what we might do in relation to cold weather shelters, and that therefore there was really no difference in this area of work. That was not chiming with the amount of effort and support that was taking place on the frontline. We were doing long-term interventions with wraparound support. We were dealing with self-contained units with subsistence payments. I know there might be some authorities that did not do that, but I cannot answer for that. We were going beyond the statutory safety net that we were familiar with in relation to families and adults with care needs. We were doing all that above and beyond.56

27.Of course, this wraparound work was beneficial, and rightly praised. For example, the LGA noted in their lessons learnt from Everyone In that councils “were able to carry out comprehensive needs assessments, with multiple agencies encouraging engagement and providing holistic services”.57 Baroness Casey praised the work by the NHS in partnership with homelessness charities who helped councils take a health-led approach in how Everyone In “cohorted and triaged people” which lifted pressure off the NHS; she pointed out that Médecins Sans Frontières was present in one of the hotels to ensure the best medical care.58 The British Medical Association praised the “improved collaboration at a local level between Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), public health, local authorities and housing departments in England”.59

28.When we questioned him, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing agreed to write to us to clarify which Government funding streams to help homeless people and rough sleepers during the pandemic could be spent on individuals with NRPF. The Minister wrote to us setting out the funding streams that the Government put in place to help rough sleepers in England from March 2020, but simply reiterated the position that it was up to local authorities to judge for themselves whom they should spend it on.60 In comparison, the Cold Weather Fund, which the Government has provided over the last few years to support local authorities’ SWEP plans, is explicitly allowed to be spent on “people who are not usually eligible for services, such as those with no recourse to public funds and non-UK nationals”.61

29.There are substantial differences between a well-established severe weather emergency protocol, which provides short-term accommodation, often in night shelters or other communal spaces, and providing long-term accommodation in self-contained en-suite units with significant wraparound support. While there can be some similarities—especially the principle of ‘In for Good’—this is undermined by the different way the Government stipulates how funding can be used for Severe Weather Emergency Protocol versus Everyone In. The Everyone In funding since May 2020 cannot be spent on individuals with no recourse to public funds, in comparison to the Cold Weather Fund, which can be spent on everyone. Limiting spending in such a manner undermines a broad discretionary power and prevents local authorities from helping whomever they like, unless they spend out of their own pocket.

The impact of individual discretion on the local government response

30.Our witnesses told us that the advice by the Government that local authorities can use their discretion in individual cases has led to a variety of responses across the country. While it was clear whom councils should help in March 2020, we heard it is now less clear whether the Government expects councils to be taking in new rough sleepers subject to NRPF, and whether it considers it acceptable for councils to evict currently accommodated rough sleepers with NRPF if it determines it has no legal duty to house them. We heard evidence that some people in this cohort are already being asked to leave accommodation, due to councils believing Everyone In to have finished. Fiona Colley of Homeless Link told us that that was the case in most of London and likely other places.62 Crisis wrote in its written evidence that:

While we recognise the Government has highlighted the continuation of the Everyone In scheme alongside the recently announced Protect Programme, our research shows that some local authorities have already started putting in place restrictions on who they help.63

31.Herefordshire Council said that the Government’s change from asking local authorities to bring Everyone In to only helping new rough sleepers who met the normal threshold test led to a ‘two tier’ system locally.64 Fiona Colley of Homeless Link and Steve Douglas of St. Mungo’s agreed that practice was variable across different parts of the country.65 Councillor Rachel Blake, representing the LGA, said:

Yes, sadly, it is fair to say that there is [confusion among local authorities about whether Everyone In has finished]. The level of pressure on local authorities, in terms of identifying property to move people on to and the support that is needed, means that local authorities are having to make really difficult decisions. I would not call them choices, to be honest; they are not real choices about who to help, but it is fair to say that there is real confusion about what approach should be taken.66

32.It is difficult to ascertain precisely how this changed councils’ response on the ground, but we heard from many different witnesses that overall, it caused wide variation in local authority responses from May onwards. For example, Crisis said their research revealed that “some local authorities have already started putting in place restrictions on who they help”.67 Shelter told us that, as a result of the shift in direction from the Department, “people were increasingly turned away from councils, and many of those who had initially been accommodated were asked to leave because there was no legal duty to accommodate”.68

Falling through the gaps

33.On 17 December we heard from Abeo, who moved to the UK when he was 18. He subsequently went to prison and upon his release, his indefinite leave to remain was revoked:

A deportation order has been signed against me. Because of political reasons, I could not be deported back to my country. I got released from the detention centre and immigration put a restriction on me, saying that I am not allowed to work, claim benefits, study or travel. That made me become destitute and homeless. I have been homeless for two years.69

Abeo slept rough and stayed in friends’ houses occasionally, but stated that since the start of the pandemic “no one wants to let me stay in their house”.70 Via a charity organisation, he was put in touch with his local council once Everyone In started, but his council refused because he had no recourse to public funds and he continued sleeping on the streets.71

34.Subsequently, a nearby council offered Abeo a place in a B&B for three days without food and money, but that council then put him back on the streets because his last address was in a different borough. When he refused to leave due to his underlying health condition putting him at risk of covid-19 on the streets, the police physically removed him. Abeo was only eventually accommodated once the Public Interest Law Centre took legal action against the council: a month and a half later, the council accommodated him again—with zero financial support—but in December the council got in touch again to tell him that unless he started receiving housing benefit, he would be evicted soon. Abeo is unable to access housing benefit due to NRPF. He is being chased by debt collectors for two months’ rent the council is charging him for.

35.We do not believe Abeo’s story to be an isolated one. Steve Douglas of St. Mungo’s said “those are the stories we hear every day”.72 When we put Abeo’s experience to the Minister, he said it was “dreadfully sad” and that in such circumstances, charities are able to step in.73 Indeed, Abeo was only helped into emergency accommodation when a charity helped him mount a legal challenge to the council’s decision. The Minister added that preventing people falling through the gaps was “not just the responsibility of the Government”.74

36.The Permanent Secretary admitted to the Public Accounts Committee that while “it really was a very broad intervention in the first wave of the crisis”, the Government is preferring now to emphasise the importance of individual assessments, suggesting the Department understands that it has changed the framework of Everyone In.75 However, a recent High Court ruling found that local councils do have legal powers to provide accommodation, during a public health emergency, to those who are otherwise ineligible for support. In Ncube v Brighton and Hove City Council, the High Court ruled that the council could have used its powers under section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972 and Section 2B of the NHS Act 2006 to find accommodation for Timon Ncube, whose claim for asylum had been refused and whom the council refused to help while he was sleeping rough during the pandemic.76

37.Everyone In by definition has finished. The Government believes Everyone In continues to exist, but by its own admission it is no longer helping everyone. The principle of Everyone In was that everyone, no matter what their normal eligibility for homelessness assistance, would be provided with accommodation to self-isolate by their local authority. The Government made a clear decision to change this from May 2020 onwards. The Permanent Secretary admitted that what at the beginning was a very broad intervention is now focused on individual assessments. This backtracking by the Government led to councils deeming individuals ineligible for support when they in fact have legal powers to support such individuals under the Local Government Act 1972 and NHS Act 2006, as shown by the Ncube v Brighton and Hove City Council case. The Government is trapped between its exemplary humanitarian efforts to accommodate these individuals, and its insistence that its immigration policies have no flexibility, even during a pandemic. We do not think it is sufficient, as the Minister told us, to pass this responsibility on to charities and turn a blind eye to their predicament.

38.We call on the Government to return to the spirit of the early pandemic and re-commit to Everyone In. This requires providing legal clarity for local authorities. We recommend the Government immediately issues clear guidance to local authorities stating that they can and should use their legal powers under the Local Government Act 1972 and NHS Act 2006 to find accommodation for those otherwise ineligible for support during a public health emergency. The guidance should clearly state that this applies whenever there is a lockdown or other strict national restrictions due to a public health emergency, whether for any current or further covid-19 measures, or any other future pandemic. The Government should ensure that this guidance includes clear instructions on which funding streams can be used to support people with NRPF who are homeless or at risk of homelessness during the crisis.

Ending rough sleeping by 2024: the manifesto commitment

39.The Government was elected in December 2019 with a manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by May 2024, three years earlier than the previous government’s target of the end of 2027.77 During our inquiry, we sought to understand whether the Government had a clear plan for how to meet this commitment yet and how the experience of Everyone In and the difficulties with NRPF might provide important lessons to take forward.

Lessons from Everyone In

40.Our witnesses told us there were important lessons to learn from the successes of Everyone In, as well as some of the difficulties. The National Housing Federation wrote that “‘Everyone In’ showed what can be achieved with resources, coordination and commitment.”78 One of the NAO’s key conclusions from its investigation into the housing of rough sleepers during the pandemic was that, for the first time, Everyone In had provided data on the “potential scale of the population which either sleeps rough or is at risk of doing so”.79

41.In November, the LGA published its report on lessons learnt from the Everyone In response to covid-19 and how this can inform future policy and practice.80 The LGA highlighted the following successes:

The LGA also highlighted two main outstanding issues:

42.When we asked the Minister what lessons the Government had learned so far, he told us that “under extreme pressure, councils, charities, the Government and other organisations working together can achieve incredible things”.81 He added that the new dataset from councils on whom they had been housing during the pandemic would be “invaluable” to identifying their needs in the future.82

No recourse to public funds

43.We heard evidence that no recourse to public funds and ending rough sleeping were irreconcilable long-term. Joe Lane, Principal Policy Manager, Citizens Advice, said a “very simple thing” the Government could take away from Everyone In is that it is not logically possible to end rough sleeping while housing was considered a public fund and the no recourse to public funds condition remained in place.83 Baroness Casey was appointed pre-pandemic in late February 2020 to undertake a review into rough sleeping to provide the Government with advice on what additional action would be required to end rough sleeping.84 She told us that she was appointed because the Government knew it was “a very tall order”.85 The Baroness explained that the review had not happened due to the pandemic, but she explained her thoughts on how immigration policies influenced rough sleeping:

When I was the homelessness tsar under the Labour Administration, economic migrants were not a feature that I ever worried about. We worried about long-term homeless people and women who had been out on the street for years. We had a vulnerable cohort in 1999, which I will come to, as I think that is an issue now, but we didn’t have one of the causes of homelessness being migration.

Being utterly direct and cutting straight to it, I think that one of the causes of rough sleeping is an inability to manage immigration properly. Sorry; that is really brutal. As you are probably aware, over the years I have worked in different Departments. Under Labour and then under David Cameron, I had to run interdepartmental programmes and policy. The Home Office is a pretty tough Department to get through the door, open up and say, “Hey, we need help here.” That is something they are going have to turn to, because there is no way out of this. If you want to end rough sleeping, or get the numbers back down to the hundreds, then somewhere along the line somebody has to bite off this issue with people.86

44.The difficulties with rough sleepers with NRPF were not created by the pandemic. Jon Sparkes of Crisis told us in our first evidence session back in May 2020 that covid-19 had shone a light on the importance of challenges caused by no recourse to public funds, but that long-term it was “huge and difficult issue that needs to be resolved”.87 Non-UK nationals are known to be a significant proportion of both the rough sleeping population, as well as recorded deaths. Analysis of CHAIN data by St. Mungo’s in 2018 found that, of the 158 homeless people who died in London since 2010, 46% were non-UK nationals.88

45.No recourse to public funds has been an obstacle to reducing rough sleeping for a long time: the pandemic has just shone a spotlight on its impact. If the Government is serious about meeting its manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024, it must reform the no recourse to public funds policy. It is not sufficient for Ministers to say it is a long-standing immigration policy when it is in their power to change it, especially when it will prevent the Government from meeting its goal to end rough sleeping. Where two Government policies internally conflict, Ministers must work together to find a way forward.

46.We recommend that the Government creates a cross-Government task force to resolve the conflict between the commitment to end rough sleeping and the current policy on the no recourse to public funds condition. This will require collecting data on the number of people affected and their specific circumstances. It must involve both Ministers and officials from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office with the goal of presenting a policy proposal which will help individuals with no recourse to public funds to be supported off the streets and prevented from returning. We suggest that policy options to be explored could include: abeyance while individuals in hardship are helped into the private rented sector and employment; placing a duty on local authorities to actively intervene and find solutions; or helping people return to their country of origin where that is their preferred option. The task force must be more than a talking shop; we would expect given the urgency of the Government’s 2024 deadline that the task force should report by the end of 2021, with its policy proposal in force by 2022.

47.No formal review of the Government’s manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping has yet happened, due to the pandemic. We recommend the Government appoints a successor to Baroness Casey within the coming months to lead the review. This important work should not be delayed any further. The review must focus on learning lessons from the successes of Everyone In, most important of which is that, given a clear mandate and funding, we have the means to end most rough sleeping in this country. The Government must also reflect on its new data which shows for the first time that the scale of the problem of those rough sleeping or at risk of doing so is much higher than previously estimated.

Increasing affordable housing

48.Even before the coronavirus crisis, demand for housing for the homeless outstripped supply. Government statistics show that 92,000 homeless families were living in temporary accommodation prior to the coronavirus crisis,89 and the Children’s Commissioner for England estimated that around 90,000 further families were considered to be ‘hidden homeless’ as they were sofa-surfing between family and friends.90 In our report Building more social housing, published in July 2020, we called on the Government to invest £10 billion a year to deliver 90,000 social rented homes a year, based on clear evidence of housing need.91 We heard throughout that inquiry that a social housebuilding programme of that scale would significantly reduce the number of people suffering from homelessness. In response, the Government said it recognised the desire for social rented homes, but said that it preferred to maximise taxpayers’ money by focusing on affordable rent, shared ownership, rent to buy and first homes.92

49.Knowing that social housing was a long-term problem for this country, we concluded in our interim report that:

The Government must ensure that rough sleepers do not end up back on the streets due to a lack of suitable housing. We recommend the Government act to boost the immediate availability of appropriate supported housing, by providing targeted grant funding for councils and housing associations to acquire properties.

We were happy to see the Government agreeing with our approach through its Next Steps Accommodation Programme when it brought forward £161 million to support the accelerated delivery of 3,300 units by March 2021.93 Of that £161 million, £130 million was capital funding for the acquisition or renovation of homes.94 According to the NAO, as of September 2020, the Government remained “reasonably confident” that the 3,300 units would be delivered in time.95 We ask the Government to update us on whether it has achieved its target of delivering 3,300 housing units by March 2021 through its Next Steps Accommodation Programme.

50.Most homeless people in England spend time in short-term supported accommodation, such as hostels, before moving into long-term independent accommodation (which can include supported housing). In this short-term supported accommodation—called move-on accommodation—individuals are expected to engage in treatment to address their needs. Once ready to “move on”, people then look to secure an affordable option to live independently. The system overall needs a pipeline of suitable accommodation throughout each stage to enable it to work.

51.Throughout our inquiry, we heard concerns that the ongoing shortage of social housing and affordable rents in the private rented sector were causing difficulties finding settled accommodation for rough sleepers housed during Everyone In. The Salvation Army told us there was a shortage of accommodation options available, especially in areas where the rough sleeping count is high, giving an example in Manchester where rough sleepers continue to be housed in a night club.96 The National Federation of ALMOs explained that:

Without the necessary affordable accommodation for people to move into, it is extremely challenging to keep a flow of people moving through the system and prevent them getting stuck in emergency or temporary accommodation. While there are general affordability problems across the country, there is also an acute shortage of one-bed properties in many places. Since ‘Everyone In’ is targeted at rough sleepers, it is one-bed properties which are urgently needed. While local authorities can try to mobilise private rented landlords and housing associations to provide move-on accommodation for this wave of people, all the evidence shows that we need a massive investment in new genuinely affordable homes—at least 90,000 to 100,000 a year—in order to clear waiting lists and prevent people falling into homelessness. The Government’s current ambition through the Affordable Homes Programme is just not sufficient to deliver this.97

Temporary accommodation

52.One of the most obvious symptoms of a lack of affordable housing is the growing numbers of families in temporary accommodation. A recent Shelter analysis concluded that around 253,000 people were homeless and living in temporary accommodation, the highest for 14 years.98 Temporary accommodation is a broad term which covers various types of living arrangements, including units with shared bathrooms and kitchens, as well as fully self-contained units. Councils use the private sector, short-term lets in social housing, hostel/refuge accommodation, B&Bs, modular housing, and even mobile homes.99 Government guidance is clear that B&Bs are considered a last resort because of the detrimental impact on the health and development on children from living in one room with the whole family.100 The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 provides that homeless families with children should not be placed in B&Bs except in an emergency and only for a maximum of six weeks.

53.There is emerging evidence that poor quality and overcrowded housing might contribute to worse covid-19 outcomes. A study by Inside Housing in May 2020 found a link between local areas which used the most temporary accommodation and higher covid-19 mortality rates.101 Similarly, a link was found between areas with the highest social housing shortages and higher covid-19 deaths. University College London recently announced a new, nationwide study on the impact that covid-19 has had on children under-five living in temporary accommodation, highlighting the fact that families in temporary accommodation are “at greater risk from covid-19 as they often cannot follow the basic guidelines that have been promoted throughout the pandemic—namely social distancing, self-isolating and handwashing—due to overcrowded housing, shared facilities or other issues”.102

54.The London School of Economics held a roundtable in July 2020 to discuss temporary housing in London. It concluded that “almost nothing has been said about [households already in temporary accommodation] and no additional funding has been made available to try to help them into settled accommodation”.103 Baroness Casey told us that “we have extraordinary levels of people in temporary accommodation”.104 She added that while it was understandable the Government had focused on street homelessness during the pandemic so far, “such a high-profile concentration on [visible homelessness] is that it takes the attention from other aspects of homelessness”,105 and called on the Government to set out a clear housing strategy around low-income and very low-income people.106

55.There has been a lack of recent focus from the Government on wider homelessness, including those suffering in cramped, poor quality temporary accommodation for long periods of time during the pandemic. The Government must ensure its increased homelessness funding does not only benefit those suffering from visible homelessness.

56.The Government will fail in its homelessness objectives if it continues to oversee the delivery of just a few thousand social rent homes a year. The ongoing shortage of social housing is a clear, long-term obstacle to finding suitable accommodation for people suffering homelessness, as well as forcing local authorities to spend hundreds of million pounds to house families in temporary accommodation with no end in sight. Similarly, there are insufficient affordable options in the private rented sector. The Government continues to believe—without evidence—that its tenure-blind target of 300,000 is sufficient to meet its homelessness goals. We reiterate our recommendation from our report into social housing that the Government must invest in a social housebuilding programme that will deliver 90,000 social rented homes a year for at least the next ten years.

19 Lewer et al, Covid-19 among people experiencing homelessness in England: a modelling study, Respiratory Medicine, Volume 8 Issue 12, p1181–1191, 1 December 2020

20 HC Deb, 11 January 2021, col 7WS [Commons written ministerial statement]

22 Q1

28 NAO, Investigation into the housing of rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic, January 2021, HC 1075, 2019–21, para 2.11

29 Local Government Association (IOC 323), para 3.8

32 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, Protecting rough sleepers and renters: Interim Report, HC 309, para 13

38 Work and Pensions Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, DWP’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, HC 178, para 82

39 PQ 49575

43 NRPF Network (IOC 346), para 21

44 s2, Localism Act 2011

46 Garden Court Chamber (IOC 355), para 9

47 The cases are respectively: R (on the application of AR) v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2018] EWHC 3453 (Admin); R (on the application of GS) v Camden LBC [2016] EWHC 1762 (Admin). Source: Shelter, Help for adults from abroad who are ineligible for homelessness assistance, accessed 10 February 2021.

48 MHCLG, Government Response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee report on protecting rough sleepers and renters, CP 248

53 Oral evidence taken before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 4 May 2020, Session 2019–21, HC 302, Q113

54 Oral evidence taken before the Public Accounts Committee, 25 January 2021, Session 2019–21, HC 934, Q33

55 Westminster City Council (IOC 330)

57 Local Government Association (IOC 323)

59 British Medical Association (IOC 353)

63 Crisis (IOC 345)

64 Herefordshire Council (IOC 335)

67 Crisis (IOC 345)

68 Shelter (IOC 348)

75 Oral evidence taken before the Public Accounts Committee, 25 January 2021, Session 2019–21, HC 934, Q36

77 The Conservative and Unionist Party, Get Brexit done, unleash Britain’s potential: Manifesto 2019, December 2019, p30

78 National Housing Federation (IOC 325)

90 Children’s Commissioner for England (IOC 270)

91 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Third Report of Session 2019–21, Building more social housing, HC 173, para 91

94 MHCLG, Next Steps Accommodation Programme, 18 July 2020

96 Salvation Army (IOC 329)

97 National Federation of ALMOs (IOC 318)

99 Households in temporary accommodation (England), SN 02110, House of Commons Library, 26 November 2020, section 2.2

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