On Monday 9th July, the Local Government APPG (for which LGiU provide the secretariat) hosted a meeting in Parliament to discuss homelessness, in particular the impact of the recent Homelessness Reduction Act. We were joined by Nigel Adams MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who has been involved in delivering the Government’s housing and homelessness strategy. He was accompanied by Fiona Darby, Deputy Director for Homelessness at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, who also took questions.
Nigel Adams MP began by stating the Government’s commitment to tackling homelessness and confirming that it is one of their top priorities at the moment. They have committed to halving rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. Some of the measures the Government has taken include committing new funds to prevention and setting up the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel and the Ministerial Homelessness Reduction Taskforce. The Government is planning to tackle rough sleeping first, and introduce a more broad homelessness strategy in the coming weeks with a focus on prevention, intervention and recovery. MHCLG is also working with local authorities on the implementation of the new Homelessness Reduction Act earlier this year and are working with some councils piloting the ‘trailblazer’ approach, eg Southwark and Brent.
Q: What is MHCLG doing to improve the collection of homelessness data?
NA: The Government is rolling out a national database of individual cases to ensure people don’t slip through the cracks if they move around the country. It will also provide a national level view of the provision and will hopefully give us more insight into what is working well in order to improve outcomes. The first statistics from this database will be published later this year.
Q: How can we capture sofa surfing / hidden homelessness properly?
NA: We fully accept that the true figure is difficult to know and we have set up a group to look into this.
Q: What is the Government doing to prevent those living in the private rented sector falling into homelessness?
NA: The Government is very aware of this issue and we are aiming to make the system fairer and to give tenants more security. The Homelessness Reduction Act should help with prevention, as it doubles the time that people are considered to be ‘threatened with homelessness’ to 56 days.
Q: Can the council borrowing cap for housing be lifted?
NA: We will review progress in this area and decide on allocations. We are doing a full review of the costs associated with the new legislation and local authorities are welcome to share their experiences.
Q: Does the Government recognise the importance of other agencies/partnerships in tackling the wider issues associated with homelessness?
NA: MHCLG is launching its new homelessness strategy in the coming weeks and it will include commitments from other departments including the Department of Health and Department for Work and Pensions. We are also trialling Housing First schemes, which have worked well in other countries. The Government is committed to providing a wraparound service for homelessness.
Q: In our local authority, we are using lots of our discretionary housing funding to pay rent arrears for residents in private rented accommodation, and Universal Credit has also been fully rolled out which has had a big impact. Are there any plans to review welfare reform?
NA: Your authority has done a good job in nearly eradicating B&B stays but of course that’s only part of the picture.
Q: What is the Government doing about the impact of insecure ‘gig economy’ employment?
NA: We are working with the team at the Department for Work and Pensions to prevent seasonal and insecure employment from leading to homelessness.
Q: In our authority, we have large numbers of homeless people being sent to us from London boroughs and we are struggling to cope. What can councils like ours do about this?
NA: We can discuss offline.
Q: Are there any plans to extend the London Training Academy to other regions to support overstretched staff?
NA: London approached the Government to help with their shortage of experienced homelessness workers and we provided the London Training Academy in response. Other councils are able to access any spare places but if there is appetite for a similar programme elsewhere we can consider rolling it out further.
Comment: From our council’s perspective, the information and support from MHCLG has been very good over the past year.
FD: That’s good to hear. Do let the team know your thoughts and how they can help. Homelessness is a key priority so it is a very good time to ask for what your council needs. We have heard from some councils that they would like the Homelessness Reduction Act to go further but we wanted to allow time to for councils to embed such a huge piece of new legislation before taking it further.
Comment: In our authority we haven’t had any legal challenges to the new legislation yet, although this could be because lawyers are still getting to grips with the new legislation.
FD: That’s useful feedback, thank you.
Q: As it stands, our council is having to pay the top-up for tenants in private rented accommodation because the Local Housing Allowance doesn’t cover the full amount. When can we expect an update on how the Government is addressing this issue?
FD: We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions on the benefits system and Local Housing Allowance will be a part of that work. The Government recognises that we need a take a holistic approach to ending homelessness hence they have set up the ministerial taskforce to look across departments.
LGiU provides the secretariat for the Local Government APPG, chaired by Martin Vickers MP. For more information about future meetings, contact email@example.com
Nigel Adams firstname.lastname@example.org
Fiona Darby Fiona.Darby@communities.gsi.gov.uk