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14.10.16

CLG Committee endorses Homelessness Reduction Bill

The Homelessness Reduction Bill has been formally endorsed by the Communities and Local Government Committee (CLGC), with cautions that it should not increase the financial burden on councils.

After it published a recent report exposing the severity of the problem, the CLGC took the unusual step of sponsoring the bill, introduced as a private members’ bill by committee member Bob Blackman.

In its report on the bill, the CLGC said that while the bill’s requirements would “undoubtedly make a significant call on the resources of local authorities”, it was “not acceptable” to refuse vulnerable people service on cost grounds.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the CLGC, said: “The committee strongly supports the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which seeks to address many of the issues we found during our earlier inquiry into homelessness. These included unacceptable levels of service at some local authorities, where people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless often face a hostile process.”

“But we are also mindful that the Bill will increase pressure on local authority resources. Comments by Ministers suggesting that the Government will help meet these financial burdens are welcome and we urge the Department of Communities and Local Government to work with councils to develop a funding model that reflects local demand.”

He also said the committee’s approach to the Homelessness Reduction Bill was “a model” which other select committees and sponsors of private members’ bills could draw from.

The committee called for the DCLG to work with local authorities to develop a funding model to support the bill, and take the increased costs into account in future funding settlements and plans for 100% business rates retention.

In addition, it said that a mandatory code of practice for local authorities, also recommended in the bill, “need not be overly prescriptive” but should ensure that “non-compliance has consequences”. It said the DCLG should consult with local authorities about the code.

The CLGC also proposed a number of amendments to the bill. These include measures to protect victims of domestic violence and to take into account applicants’ preferred locations when allocating new housing, after research found that growing numbers of homeless families are being placed outside their local area.

Furthermore, it said that, given the scale of the problem, a new cross-departmental strategy is needed to tackle homelessness.

Cllr Martin Tett, housing spokesperson for the LGA, which has opposed introducing new homelessness duties for councils, said: “The Communities and Local Government Committee report acknowledges that councils cannot do this alone and that there is no silver bullet. It is important that any new duties on councils proposed in the Homelessness Reduction Bill are deliverable and fully funded, and focus on addressing the causes of homelessness.

“This needs to include a collective effort from all public services, enabling councils to join up local services – such as housing, welfare, health, justice and skills - to prevent homelessness, address the widening gap between incomes and rents, and to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

(Image c. Jonathan Brady from PA Archive)

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