Homelessness Reduction Act – Making it stick

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) has been in force since the beginning of April. At LGiU we are launching a commission, led by local government, which will look at how councils can make good on the promises of the Act, what they need from central government and what they need to do themselves.

The Act is part of the government’s professed goal of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it entirely by 2027 and the aims of the Act have wide support throughout local government. Councils now have expanded duties to implement housing plans for anyone at risk of becoming homeless within 56 days. But making good on those aims and making the duties stick will require proper funding, and a much broader effort to address the underlying causes of homelessness.

The problem is growing. As we discussed in a recent briefing for LGiU members, just a few days before the HRA came into force MHCLG released figures showing that the number of households in temporary accommodation in England rose by four per cent during 2017 to 78,930. Sixty nine per cent of these households are in London and 5,710 households were in bed and breakfast accommodation. The fact that, as the Guardian reports, some local authorities are still using Public Space Protection Orders to remove, fine or even convict homeless people for begging in town centres, reveals something of the challenge involved in embedding a joined-up, preventative and compassionate approach to homelessness throughout local government.

There seem to be three points that it is worth emphasising, once again, if the aims of the Act are to be met and made to stick:

  • there are wider and more long-term determinants of homelessness, which go far beyond the new 56 day timescale
  • prevention work requires decent funding
  • better and more consistent data is essential

While the Act will indeed encourage a sea change in the way councils approach homelessness, there are several crucial factors outside their control that only help to increase the routes by which people become homeless, not least changes to the welfare regime and the inflated housing market. There are many routes into homelessness that require different types of preventative work that bring together different areas of the public sector, including health, mental health, education and the criminal justice system.

Building more houses, particular for social housing and temporary accommodation is crucial. In the autumn budget, Philip Hammond announced £15bn of new financial support for housebuilding, taking the total amount to be spent from 2017 to 2022 to at least £44bn. A Social Housing Green Paper was due in the Spring. Though it has yet to emerge, there is potential to address some of the widespread challenges in the market depending on the approach taken by the new Minister for Housing Communities and Local Government. The government is also funding three ‘Housing First’ pilots, in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the Wets Midlands, with £28m of additional money.

Meanwhile, a recent Centrepoint report found that 37% of local authorities felt they had an inadequate range of tools to prevent youth homelessness. The FOI data in the report suggests that three times as many assessments would need to be made if all young people presenting are now required to be assessed.

Evidence from Wales, on which the English legislation is based, and the pilot undertaken in London Borough of Southwark, suggests that the new duties will demand an additional twenty six per cent in terms of work load. Housing authorities should not use too rigid a template when setting out reasonable steps. Plans should be tailored to include specific, personalised housing advice and support, but this of course requires different kinds of skills and training. At an LGiU roundtable last year we were told that councils should anticipate “one hundred per cent culture change”

London Councils estimated £77m would be required in London alone, but just £24.2m has been allocated so far. Southwark, where the Act was piloted, topped up the funding with £750,000 from elsewhere in its budget, while councils in other parts of the country are experiencing a similar shortfall. Leeds City Council, for example, will receive £561,000 until the end of 2020. While this funding will enable the council to employ more senior housing advisors, as well as an additional four housing advisors and to develop extra preventative measures, it is less than half of the estimated £1.6m extra cost that implementing the Act will entail. 

Meanwhile, the success of a joined-up, smart and preventative homelessness strategy will depend on the kinds of data that are gathered and how they are shared or understood. Councils like Southwark and Newcastle City Council have been working closely with other public sector agencies and have made impressive strides in using data to understand the routes, pathways and factors that can lead to someone becoming homeless.

Legislation alone will not eliminate homelessness. As councils embed new ways of working under the Act, we at LGiU will continue to monitor progress and to build up an understanding of the resources and support required. We will launch our local government-led Homelessness Commission soon and we would love to have your input, so please do get in touch!