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Renewed government strategy for tackling homelessness ‘a must’

Words: Laura Edgar
Homelessness / iStock_49937818

Councils offer “ineffectual and meaningless” advice to vulnerable people, with the scale of homelessness such that a renewed government strategy is “a must”, say MPs.

It has been driven, according to the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee, by the cost and availability of housing.

In its report, the CLG Committee says many people are badly treated by council staff and those who are judged not to be in priority need are often “poorly served and sent away without any meaningful support or guidance”.

Clive Betts, chair of the CLG Committee, said: "No one should be homeless in Britain today, but the reality is that more and more people find themselves on the streets, in night shelters or going from sofa to sofa to keep a roof over their heads. They are often driven there by the availability and cost of housing and have been failed by frontline support services along the way.”

The scale of homelessness is now such that a “renewed government strategy is a must”. Betts said it should not only to help those who are homeless, but also prevent those vulnerable families and individuals at risk of becoming homeless. All departments, he emphasised, would need to subscribe to this approach and contribute to ending homelessness.

Local authorities also have a big part to play, said Betts, and the committee recognises that they face a “significant task with funding pressures and legal obligations”, but vulnerable people are “being made to feel they are at fault” and are offered advice that is “ineffectual and meaningless”.

The report urges ministers to produce a detailed action plan to address the needs of people with mental health issues. The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Health should review the funding of mental health services for homeless people to maximise effectiveness, says the report.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The government should review the level of refuge and hostel accommodation and consider providing additional resources for further provisions with regard to victims of domestic abuse
  • Housing benefit recipients should have the option of having their benefit paid directly to the landlord to reduce likelihood of arrears and increase landlord confidence
  • The government should consider allowing housing benefit to be used for costs in supported housing for a short period of time to facilitate the transition from homelessness to employment

The committee expects some issues identified in the report to be address by the Homeless Reduction Bill, a private member’s bill presented by committee member Bob Blackman.

The bill aims to improve the support and advice offered to all homeless people, once it is published.  It also seeks to prevent people becoming homeless by giving housing authorities the power to intervene earlier.

The committee hopes to take evidence on this in September.

Responding to the report, Nick Forbes, senior vice-chair of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils want to end homelessness and work hard to support those who become homeless to get into accommodation and, where they can, to prevent it happened in the first place. This includes helping people develop the skills needed to find work, improve their health and well-being or gain access to family or relationship support.”

With increasing demand, decreasing budgets, a falling number of social housing and wide-ranging welfare reforms, “it is clear that councils cannot tackle this challenge alone”.

Local government could, Forbes said, succeed in reducing homelessness if given the funding and powers to bring together local housing, health, justice and employment partners, to address the gaps between household incomes and spiralling rents as well as to resume their role as a major builder of affordable homes.

The full report can be found here.