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12.04.16

Rough budgets for rough sleepers

Source: PSE - April/ May 16

Following new homeless accommodation measures in the spring Budget, PSE’s Luana Salles assesses if the money is enough – and what can realistically be done to tackle rough sleeping.

In his spring Budget, chancellor George Osborne promised another £115m for measures designed to tackle homelessness, with the lion’s share of this used to deliver low-cost ‘second stage’ accommodation for rough sleepers. 

Just two days before that announcement, charities were warning MPs on the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee that the current system to prevent and tackle homelessness was failing altogether. 

Leaders of major housing charities told MPs that a stark lack of affordable and stable homes is the reason why people are becoming homeless in the first place. Kate Webb, head of homelessness policy at Shelter, added that those trying to apply for a status of being homeless face an “undoubtedly hostile environment” due to pressures brought about by councils feeling “hugely under the cosh”. 

Jon Sparkes, CEO at Crisis, highlighted the opportunities of devolution if councils make early interventions, which can then save money in other parts of the system, such as in health and prisons. But cuts to early intervention services have been steep, and with areas with “seriously pressured” social housing stock, and with the ending of a private rented sector tenancy, these opportunities are not always realistic. 

The roots of the crisis 

These issues are nothing councils haven’t emphasised before. After Osborne’s launch of what he stated was a “major new package of support”, local authorities came together to warn the funds came short of tackling the true roots of rough sleeping: the housing crisis.

Cllr Peter Box, the LGA’s housing spokesman, warned that building supported housing for the vulnerable will be made “far more difficult” with new government policies, including rent ceilings and housing stock sell-offs. 

“With 68,000 people already currently living in temporary accommodation, more than a million more on council waiting lists and annual homelessness spending of £330m – there is a real fear that this lack of homes will increase homelessness and its associated costs,” he added. 

In a separate statement, Sparkes argued that Osborne’s ‘major’ package would do little to tackle the underlying problems, both in the law and with conditions in the housing market. 

Out-of-borough placements 

The latest statistics from the DCLG, covering data between October and December last year, underlined a stark rise – 17% – in the number of out-of-borough temporary accommodation placements. 

As Webb pointed out during the CLG  Committee inquiry, all councils are struggling with temporary accommodation at the moment, and social services are having to provide accommodation under their own Children’s Act responsibilities – a phenomenon she said is “further pressurising a system that is heading towards the breaking point”. 

Giles Peaker, chair of Housing Law Practitioners Association, also highlighted councils’ continued failure to fully consider housing options before making out-of-town placements. He referenced a Supreme Court case made against Westminster City Council last year, which revealed people were being told by the council they were going to be “shipped out” to different boroughs the next day. 

“There was no consideration of their circumstances or whether there might be any closer accommodation in borough, nearby borough, or even within London,” he said. 

“The Supreme Court was very clear that that must not happen and that simply breaking someone’s entire family support and employment position to ship them out to somewhere that the local authority thinks they can afford was not acceptable.” 

Being humane is free 

But is there anything councils can realistically do within the confines of their budgets and housing stock? Asked this during the inquiry, Sparkes said: “We can see the position that they are in.  We can see that they have an understanding of the housing market in their area, and they can see how difficult it is to deal with the situation.  That said, when we did our mystery shopping, it was not simply that the law was wrong.  There were many cases in the mystery shopping where the treatment of that individual was simply unprofessional or even inhumane.  

“Being professional as opposed to unprofessional, or humane as opposed to inhumane, does not cost anything more.  There is a role in this for best practice and making sure that local authorities are assessed and monitored in terms of their best practice on this.”

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