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Welfare reforms drive homelessness increase

Words: Laura Edgar
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The number of families that are homeless in the UK has risen by more than 60 per cent, says the National Audit Office.

This means there were 77,240 households in temporary accommodation in England in March 2017, with the 60 per cent increase taking place since March 2011.

According to the National Audit Office, these households included 120,540 children.

Homelessness costs the public sector more than £1 billion a year, £845 million of which pays for temporary accommodation, says the public spending watchdog. Housing benefit funded £638 million.

Homelessness, by the National Audit Office, states that the ending of private sector tenancies “has overtaken all other causes to become the biggest single driver of statutory homelessness in England”. It accounts for 74 per cent of the growth in households who qualify for temporary accommodation since 2009-2010.

“Changes to Local Housing Allowance are likely to have contributed to the affordability of tenancies for those on benefits, and are an element of the increase in homelessness,” it says.

It also suggests that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) does not have a published, cross-government strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness, although it has acknowledged the scale of the challenge.

It took a “light-touch” approach to working with local authorities despite being responsible for tackling homelessness, which the National Audit Office says contrasts with the more interventionist approach that it has taken in the past during periods of high homelessness. Although the DCLG requires local authorities to have a strategy for tackling homelessness, it does not monitor progress.

The recently approved Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 aims to give local authorities more responsibility in preventing homelessness, with the DCLG expecting a fall in the number of households qualifying for temporary accommodation.

However, the National Audit Office report says the ability of local authorities to tackle homelessness is constrained by limited options to house families. Spending by local authorities on services like temporary accommodation has steadily increased since 2010, while spending on overall housing services has fallen by 21 per cent in real terms over the same period.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors. Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms on this issue, and there remain gaps in its approach. It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money.”


Martin Tett, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, said rising homelessness is a huge challenge for councils, with them “having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of homeless children in temporary accommodation every month”.

“The net cost to councils of doing this has tripled in the last three years, as they plug the gap between rising rents and frozen housing benefit.

“Councils are working hard to tackle homelessness and are focusing on preventing it happening. We now need the government to support this local effort by allowing councils to invest in building genuinely affordable homes and providing the support and resources they need to help prevent people becoming homeless in the first place,” Tett concluded.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “The National Audit Office has found what Shelter sees every day – that for many families our housing market is a daily nightmare of rising costs and falling benefits which is leading to nothing less than a national crisis.

“That’s why we are calling on the government to act now, in this year’s *Budget, to end the freeze on housing benefit and to commit to building decent homes at affordable rents. Without this action this is a crisis which will only get worse.”

Homelessness can be found on the National Audit Office website (pdf).

* The government has announced that the Autumn Budget will take place on Wednesday 22 November.

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