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

Conclusions and recommendations

Summary

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. We call on the Government to publish an exit plan for the private rented sector from national and local restrictions. Now the Government has published its roadmap for how to exit national restrictions, hopefully for the final time, it should set out how it intends for the sector to transition out of the pandemic.

5. The Government will eventually have to come up with a policy response, because it cannot keep extending the evictions ban forever more.

6. We call on the Government to deliver a specific financial package—we prefer discretionary housing payments—to support tenants to repay rent arrears caused by covid-19, in consultation with the Local Government Association and appropriate bodies representing renters and landlords. We received an estimate that this package will likely cost between £200 and £300 million. Given the number of potential evictions this would prevent, it would likely save the Exchequer a substantial amount in homelessness assistance.

Protecting the homeless

7. 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.

8. 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. (Paragraph 19)

9. 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. (Paragraph 29)

10. 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. (Paragraph 37)

11. 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. (Paragraph 38)

12. 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. (Paragraph 45)

13. 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. (Paragraph 46)

14. 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. (Paragraph 47)

15. 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.

16. 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. (Paragraph 55)

17. 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. (Paragraph 56)

Protecting the private rented sector

18. The Government is in danger of breaking its pledge that no one should lose their home as a result of the pandemic. We have seen no satisfactory evidence for why the Government changed the definition of substantial rent arrears to permit tenants who have built up arrears only during the pandemic to be evicted. It is also worrying that this significant change was not debated in the House until two weeks after the Regulations came into force. (Paragraph 65)

19. We call on the Government to publish a proper exit plan for the private rented sector from national and local restrictions. The Government has tinkered regularly with the eviction framework, usually at the very last minute. Now the Government has published its roadmap for how to exit national restrictions, hopefully for the final time, it should set out how it intends for the sector to transition out of the pandemic. (Paragraph 66)

20. We are concerned by the lack of robust data available to the Government on the value of rent arrears and how it equates to months of arrears, and by the impact this lack of data may have on policy-making. (Paragraph 71)

21. The Government appears to lack a clear strategy to deal with rising rent arrears. We are very concerned that the Government is waiting until there is a clear crisis emerging before intervening, rather than heading off a growing rent arrears crisis by taking proactive action to protect people in this country. The Minister relied on arrears statistics from a survey in August to defend the Government’s response, even though he accepted that the economic circumstances would get worse over time for many households. Once arrears begin, they are likely to grow and will be exacerbated by rising unemployment throughout 2021 and as Government support schemes taper off. The Government will eventually have to come up with a policy response, because it cannot keep extending the evictions ban forever more. (Paragraph 85)

22. We call on the Government to deliver a specific financial package to support tenants to repay rent arrears caused by covid-19, having considered the examples in Scotland and Wales as well as many other international examples. This should be one of the Department’s top priorities. Several options have been proposed—we prefer modified discretionary housing payments—but what is important is that the Department delivers a package soon. Helping tenants pay their rent arrears, including consideration of paying direct to landlords, is the simplest and most straightforward way to avoid evictions and help landlords receive income. We received an estimate that such a rent arrears relief package will likely cost between £200 and £300 million. Given the number of potential evictions this would prevent, it would likely save the Exchequer a substantial amount in homelessness assistance. (Paragraph 86)

23. The Government should review its decision to freeze Local Housing Allowance rates by maintaining the 30th percentile in cash terms only, and instead keep rates indexed at the 30th percentile long-term. This will help households across England to afford their rent. (Paragraph 94)

24. We also call on the Government to temporarily boost funding to discretionary housing payments to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of households who are receiving no extra income from welfare increases due to the benefit cap. This will further protect households from falling into rent arrears because of the pandemic. (Paragraph 95)

25. The Government must introduce the Renters’ Reform Bill urgently. The Government does not want to introduce the Renters’ Reform Bill until the pandemic has finished, but this is at odds with the approach the Government has taken with NHS reforms. The Health Secretary told the House that the pandemic made the reforms “more not less urgent”. The same logic applies to the Renters’ Reform Bill and the urgent need to remove section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. If the Government does not abolish section 21 before we come out of the pandemic, there will be serious consequences for renters. (Paragraph 98)

26. We reiterate our offer to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the Renters’ Reform Bill, should the Government choose to publish the Bill in draft. (Paragraph 99)




Published: 31 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement