A DEMONSTRABLE increase in homelessness, driven by the cost and availability of housing, has pushed the problem to such a level that a renewed government-wide strategy is needed, the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee concludes in its report published on Thursday.
The House of Commons Committee found that despite some examples of great work, it is not acceptable that the level of support offered to vulnerable people varies significantly across the country.
The MPs said that 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.
Homelessness Reduction Bill.
The report is complemented by the Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Member”s Bill presented by Committee member Bob Blackman MP and supported by the other members of the Committee.
The Committee will take evidence on the Bill, which is aimed at improving the support and advice offered to all homeless people, once it has been published. It is unusual for a Select Committee to not only sponsor a Bill on the back of an inquiry in this way but also conduct pre-legislative scrutiny on it.
The Committee calls on the government to monitor councils, identify those not meeting their duties and review and reinforce the statutory Code of Practice to ensure the levels of service that local authorities must provide are clear.
The government should also consider setting a statutory duty for local authorities to provide meaningful support to single homeless people with a local connection after the inquiry found that many people receive little more than a list of local letting agents, the MPs say.
The report explains that a shortage of social housing means many people rely on the private rented sector to avoid or escape homelessness, but often the financial barriers or instability of tenancies are too great.
It urges the government to work with local authorities to deliver homes for affordable rent and says local housing benefit levels should be reviewed to more closely reflect market rents. Labour MP Clive Betts Chair of the Communities and Local Government Select 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 front line support services along the way. The scale of homelessness is now such that a renewed government strategy is a must.
‘It needs to not only help those who are homeless but also prevent those vulnerable families and individuals who are at risk of becoming homeless from joining them. All Departments will need to subscribe to this common approach and contribute to ending homelessness.
‘Local authorities also have a big part to play. The Committee recognises they face a significant task with funding pressures and legal obligations, but vulnerable people are too often badly treated, being made to feel like they are at fault, and offered ineffectual and meaningless advice.
‘We want the government to monitor local authorities and help them achieve best practice. The Committee has made a number of recommendations and we plan to follow up many of these issues in a year’s time to see what progress is being made.
‘We also hope that some of the issues can be addressed by our Committee colleague Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, which the Committee will help take forward following its publication.’
Mental health issues
The prevalence of mental health issues among homeless people, in particular rough sleepers, is also highlighted, with Ministers urged to produce a detailed action plan to address their needs.
The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Health should review funding of mental health services for homeless people to maximise effectiveness, the report adds.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Other recommendations, conclusions and findings include:
• The impact of welfare reforms of recent years has increased pressure on the levels of homelessness.
• The Secretary of State should write to all local authorities to reiterate their duties when placing families outside their areas.
• The government should review the level of refuge and hostel accommodation and consider providing additional resources for further provision with regard to victims of domestic abuse.
• The government must take steps as a matter of urgency to improve data collection on homelessness and implement the recommendations of the UK Statistics Authority.
• The Committee does not advocate the abolition of the priority need criterion in England.
• Housing benefit recipients should have the option of their benefit being paid directly to the landlord to reduce likelihood of arrears and increase landlord confidence.
• Landlords should be encouraged to offer longer Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements, in which the tenants are allowed to break tenancy early without penalty.
• 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.
Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996 and is expected to be published shortly. Its focus will be on preventing people becoming homeless by giving housing authorities the power to intervene earlier.
It introduces new duties to ensure proper advisory services are offered to applicants and look at creating statutory guidance on homelessness and at tightening up local connection definitions. The Committee hopes to take evidence on the Bill in September.
Responding, single homeless charity Crisis Chief Executive, Jon Sparkes, said: ‘Today’s Select Committee report should be a clarion call for action, while the “Homelessness Reduction Bill” proposed by Bob Blackman MP could be the start of one of the most important developments for tackling homelessness in nearly 40 years.
‘In an almost unprecedented move, the committee has agreed to endorse and scrutinise this much-needed bill. Homelessness is one of the great social injustices of our time, and there is now a clear cross-party consensus that if we’re to put an end to it once and for all then we need a change in the law so that all homeless people can get the help they need.’
Sparkes added: ‘We cannot sit back and watch as the homelessness crisis deepens. We can and must take action. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home, I hope that with enough determination, the next fifty years will see homelessness finally becoming a thing of the past.’
The MPs urging government to make reforms and berating councils who have been starved of funds is not the answer to homelessness. This requires a revolutionary socialist solution – expropriating the large number of empty properties built as speculatory investments and housing homeless families in them; nationalising the land, banks and construction industry under workers management, plus a mass house-building programme to provide jobs and homes at minimal rents. This means immediately a general strike to bring down the Tories and install a workers government.