6.Working with local authorities, charities, and national hotel chains, the Government ensured around 90% of identified rough sleepers were removed from the streets and received offers of temporary accommodation. This was supported by a £3.2m fund to reimburse local authorities for emergency accommodation and support for rough sleepers. This action undoubtedly saved lives and has been celebrated across the sector. It showed that with co-ordinated action, a shared will, and funding, rough sleepers can be taken off the streets and given a chance to turn their lives around. Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, the homelessness charity, was effusive in his praise for what had been achieved:
I have to say that the efforts of the Department, local authorities and charities throughout the country have been nothing short of phenomenal. The fact that 5,500, or possibly even 6,000, people who are most exposed to the virus, because of underlying health conditions, inability to access sanitation facilities and inability to self-isolate—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.
7.Despite this positive move, there is not yet an exit plan from what is a temporary measure. On 2 May, the Government appointed Dame Louise Casey to lead a Rough Sleeping Taskforce, whose “key overriding goal” will be “to ensure that as few people as possible return to the streets”. Hotels may begin reopening in early July, according to the Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy. St Mungo’s, the homelessness charity, told us the importance of taking further action:
The efforts that we are seeing now represent a unique opportunity to bring us much closer to ending rough sleeping once and for all. Many of the people who are now being supported in hotels had been living on the streets for months or years.
St. Mungo’s concluded that Government action could ensure “everyone gets the housing and support they need to rebuild their lives away from the streets for good”, and called on the Government to commit to preventing anyone accommodated as part of the emergency response returning to the streets by urgently providing the additional funding local authorities need.
Box 1: Greater Manchester Combined Authority leaked report, 14 May
On 14 May, the Manchester Evening News published an article claiming that the Government would stop funding the accommodation of rough sleepers and withdrawing its guidance to local authorities, based on an internal report by the Greater Manchester combined authority. In a blog post, MHCLG said the article was wrong and the Government was not reneging on its commitments. In a letter for the Secretary of State, Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said that Manchester councils were concerned the level of funding was insufficient to meet costs, calling for significant funding and a change in policy. Our recommendation below calls for a further dedicated funding stream for the next step beyond the ‘Everyone In’ initiative.
8.We do not find the Government’s goal ambitious enough. It would be extraordinary, if, after taking this courageous action, the Government does not do everything in its power to ensure every single person taken from the streets does not return to rough sleeping. Both the Secretary of State and the Minister for Rough Sleeping emphasised how complex and difficult the next stage would be, with the Secretary of State stating that the Government would “try and move as many people as possible into [the right kind] of accommodation. Notwithstanding the difficulty of the challenge, the Taskforce will likely fall short without the same backing of political will, co-ordination, and funding. Now is the occasion and opportunity to make a difference and begin to fulfil the promise to end rough sleeping. Based on work conducted by Crisis, we estimate it may cost around £100m a year initially to fund a housing-led solution with appropriate wrap-around support for this rough sleeping cohort; as a comparison, MHCLG spent £100m on its Rough Sleeping Strategy in summer 2018, which achieved a 2% reduction in rough sleeping. This money would go much further.
9.This is a golden opportunity to end rough sleeping in England once and for all. The Government’s taskforce must estimate the cost of a housing-led solution with appropriate wrap-around support, using the expertise of charitable organisations and local councils. We received evidence that this is likely to be £100 million a year at a minimum. The Government must provide this as a dedicated funding stream to councils to ensure these people are accommodated safely and securely. As part of this, the Government should publish the results of the Housing First pilots and accelerate delivery of Housing First across the country, to help increase the availability of wrap-around support services alongside good-quality accommodation.
10.Individuals suffering from homelessness who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF)—which means they may be prevented from claiming welfare benefits, homelessness assistance, housing allocation and access to emergency accommodation—continue to be at risk during the coronavirus crisis. These are individuals who are subject to immigration control, either because their leave to enter or remain in the UK is conditional, or they do not have leave to enter or remain. The Government waived any normal legal barriers to ensure rough sleepers could be temporarily housed by local authorities and charities, but has otherwise kept a firm line that no recourse to public funds will continue. Crisis has previously summarised the issues faced by migrant homeless people:
The difficulties migrant homeless people face, as well as homelessness itself, mostly centre upon the numerous ways statutory services are restricted or denied to them.
11.Jamie Carswell, Director of Housing and Safer Communities for the Royal Borough of Greenwich, representing London Councils, estimated that 900 of the 3,600 rough sleepers accommodated in London had no recourse to public funds. When asked about the prospect of move-on accommodation for these 900, Mr Carswell said:
[…] it is quite low in the current circumstances. As we move further from a public health emergency, there is still a lack of clarity in the system on what is legal for local authorities to do. Even if it is legal, it means financial pressure at a time of extreme financial stress to local authorities. Just to pick up the strain of that in the system would feel very unrealistic.
We challenged the Minister on what would happen to those in the rough sleeping cohort who had no recourse to public funds. He told us that “the basic legal position is not going to change” and decisions should be made at a local level, “working within the law”. The Secretary of State said that “local councils do have a degree of discretion”, which they often use during cold weather in winter, and appeared to indicate councils would not receive additional funding if they chose to help these people.
12.While the legal position might be clear and unlikely to change, councils need clarity on how and when they can support these people. The Local Government Association summarised the problem:
[…] vital work is made difficult by the NRPF conditions as councils must respond within the parameters of the law and avoid use of prohibited public funds. Support from local welfare funds is also legally unavailable to people with NRPF. Government guidance on public funds or information has not been updated to set out what government assistance schemes can or cannot be accessed by a person with no recourse to public funds, leading to a variance in provision […] There has been limited and conflicting information available to councils on whether the £3.2 million emergency fund to support rough sleeping can be used to support people with NRPF. It is also unclear to what extent the Government’s Covid-19 emergency funding will adequately meet additional costs.
The LGA estimated that in 2018–19, before the crisis, unfunded NRPF provision cost 59 councils £47.5m a year, and recommended that if the Government was not minded to relax NRPF conditions, it must provide accessible and clear guidance and adequate funding for councils to support people with no recourse to public funds.
13.We appeal on humanitarian grounds for the Government to improve its support to councils for people with no recourse to public funds during this crisis, or hundreds will return to the streets with potentially disastrous consequences. We recommend that the Government should guarantee it will compensate councils for provision offered to rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds as a result of the current crisis. 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.
14.Even before the coronavirus crisis, demand for housing for the homeless outstripped supply. The most recent MHCLG statistics reveal that 87,000 homeless families were living in temporary accommodation prior to the coronavirus crisis, 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. As Jamie Carswell, representing London Councils, told us, “there is no secret supply of additional council housing or social rented housing”. The lack of social housing is a long-term problem for this country and there is no conceivable way of producing enough in a short time. But there are short-term alternatives.
15.In July 2008, in response to the global financial crisis and its impact on the housing market, the then Department for Communities and Local Government set up a National Clearing House to enable house builders with proposals to sell their unsold stock for affordable housing. The scheme was funded by grant funding from the existing Affordable Housing Programme at the time. Our predecessor Committee reported that “developers and lenders welcomed the initiative”, and recommended that it should be extended to include homes not sold on the open market for a period of a year or more. On 6 May, the latest Purchasing Managers Index—which shows economic trends in the manufacturing and service sectors—found that construction activity suffered its sharpest ever decline in activity since records began, beyond the previous record low in February 2009 following the global financial crash. Though we note the Government’s actions on restarting house building, including allowing extended working hours on construction sites, the future of the economy and the housing market remain uncertain.
16.We believe a similar scheme could work in these circumstances. Councils and housing associations could focus on acquisitions of existing properties, or properties close to completion, using grant funding from Government and Right to Buy receipts. At the moment, councils are limited in their use of Right to Buy receipts. In written evidence submitted to our inquiry into the long-term delivery of social and affordable housing, councils and organisations reported that restrictions around the use of Right to Buy receipts were a major constraint on delivery. Local authorities are unable to combine receipts with other forms of public subsidy (such as grant) and can only use receipts to fund 30% of a replacement home (whether through acquisition or new build), with the remaining 70% requiring additional funding. Furthermore, the Local Government Association told us that councils had raised concerns about the requirement to return Right to Buy receipts to the Treasury if unspent in three years, given that many development sites closed during the crisis. The Government consulted on changes to Right to Buy receipts in 2018 but has never published its response.
17.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. The Department should work with the Local Government Association and the National Housing Federation and others on the design of this scheme, including how to target it at both existing properties and those close to completion which may no longer be in demand, using the National Clearing House Scheme from 2008 as a starting point. We also ask the Government to remove restrictions on Right to Buy receipts, so councils can use different pots of funding together and use 100% of sales to fund these acquisitions, as well as extending the deadline for their use from three years to five years.
15 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, , 23 April 2020
16 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, , 17 March 2020
19 Cabinet Office, , 12 May 2020, para 4.3
20 St. Mungo’s (IOC258), paras 56–57
21 St. Mungo’s (IOC258), paras 61–62
22 , Manchester Evening News, 14 May 2020
23 MHCLG in the Media, , 15 May 2020
24 , 15 May 2020
25 ; Oral evidence taken on 4 May 2020, HC (2019–21) 302,
27 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (IOC308)
28 Crisis, ,, 11 June 2018, Chapter 12
30 Oral evidence taken on 4 May 2020, HC (2019–21) 302,
31 Local Government Association (IOC165), paras 3.6.2–3.6.4
32 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Q3 2019
33 Children’s Commissioner for England (IOC270)
35 See Chapter 4 for more information on our inquiry into the long-term delivery of social and affordable housing and our next steps.
36 Communities and Local Government Committee, , 3rd Report of Session 2008–09, paras 38–41
37 Ibid, para 39
38 , ’, Construction News, 6 May 2020
39 See, for example: London Borough of Hackney (SAH073), Royal Borough of Greenwich (SAH071), Cambridge City Council (SAH066), London Borough of Camden (SAH063), Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (SAH036)
40 Local Government Association (IOC165), para 2.9
Published: 22 May 2020