LGA - Homelessness: Councils call for more homes, not more duties

14 Sep 2016 12:06 PM

Proposed new legislation to tackle homelessness will not work – and councils say what they really need is to be able to build more homes.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the Government needs to address the increasing gap between household incomes and rising rents, allowing councils to build more affordable homes.

If passed, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons next month (October), would impose on councils a raft of new duties, such as providing emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days for households not in priority need. It would divert resources away from other essential homelessness work leaving councils less able to support vulnerable people.

Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and support those who are homeless into housing as soon as possible but are struggling to deliver due to rising demand, reducing budgets, and falling levels of social housing. The Government needs to fully fund existing commitments - and any additional commitments new legislation would incur.

LGA Chairman Lord Porter said:

"Simply adding more duties to councils is not the answer to tackling homelessness. The only viable long-term solutions are increasing the availability of suitable affordable housing and addressing other underlying causes of homelessness.

"Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and to support those who are homeless into accommodation as soon as possible. However, legislation alone will not resolve homelessness - the causes are complex and range from the economic and social to the personal.

"The Government's commitment to more mental health spending is a step in the right direction but it must ensure it reaches the people it is designed to reach.

"There is no silver bullet – homelessness is a historical problem which has been inherited by successive governments. 

"Housebuilding is well below the levels needed to meet current demand. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and has caused an increase in rents that can make independent living more difficult. 

"Social housing is critical if we are to house people who are homeless or at risk.  But the availability of social rented council housing has halved since 1994. We've got 69,000 people already currently living in temporary accommodation and more than a million extra on council waiting lists. If we are to succeed then we need to address the gaps between household incomes and spiralling rents, and resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes." 

Notes 

  • Housebuilding is well below the levels required. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and causing an increase in rents and prices that can make independent living more difficult.
  • Stable social housing is therefore increasingly important for housing people who are homeless or at risk. However, the availability of social rented council housing has nearly halved since 1994, dropping from 3.6 million properties to 1.6 million properties in 2016.
  • Councils have developed five year strategies for dealing with homelessness and spend £330 million a year tackling homelessness. In 2009/10, councils were successful in preventing homelessness in 85 per cent of cases (165,200 in total). In 2014/15, councils were successful in 93 per cent of cases (220,800 in total)

Background

The Bill proposes:

A new duty for local authorities to take action to prevent the homelessness of anyone eligible for assistance (e.g. ‘habitually resident' in the UK) and threatened with homelessness within 56 days, without regard to their priority need status.

A new duty for local authorities to take steps to relieve the homelessness of anyone who is currently homeless, eligible for assistance and has a local connection to the area. 

For households who are not in priority need but have nowhere to stay, the local authority must provide emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days.

The full homelessness duty of settled accommodation will remain in place for households who are eligible for assistance, homeless through no fault of their own, have a local connection, are in priority need and where the prevention and relief duties have failed.