The Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed that the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act has led to more people being placed in temporary and emergency accommodation, and councils are struggling to cope with the demand for homes.
The Homelessness Reduction Act has a focus on homelessness prevention and has been active for just under a year. The Act introduced new duties for the councils.
Local authorities have been offering refuge to more than 200,000 people in temporary accommodation since 2017, half of whom are children. The accommodation comes in a range of guises, from B&Bs and hostels to privately rented homes. Latest figures show that, since 2010, the number of people in temporary accommodation has risen by 70% so it is no wonder that councils are feeling the strain.
A survey of councils by the Local Government Association in November 2018 revealed that over three quarters said the Act was directly responsible for an increase in homelessness. The survey showed:
- 80% of councils noticed an increase in homeless cases since the Act began.
- 60% of councils said that more people are staying in temporary and emergency accommodation.
- 60% of councils said people are staying in these types of accommodation for longer than before.
- 91% of councils were seriously concerned about limited affordable housing, suitable places for people to stay and rough sleepers on the streets.
Councils complained of too much paperwork as a result of the Act and the associated cost of administration, saying they would rather tackle the problem head on and prevent the homelessness happening from the start.
The LGA has said that councils across the board must keep records of the homes they sell with the aim of replacing them by reinvesting the money towards affordable homes for the people who really need them. It is also calling for welfare reform to help prevent people from losing their homes in the first place. If these actions were put into place then people would be less likely to find themselves homeless and in need of emergency accommodation.
Spokesman for the LGA, Councillor Martin Tett, said: “Behind every instance of homelessness lies an individual tragedy and councils are determined to prevent it from happening, and support homeless people in their communities into accommodation as quickly and as effectively as possible. Most councils have updated their homelessness prevention strategies since the Act was introduced last year. But a lack of affordable housing has left many struggling to cope with the rising number of people coming to them for help and having to place more families and households into temporary and emergency accommodation as a result.
“This is bad for families and communities, expensive for councils and not the aim of the Act. Factors that are increasing homelessness also need to be addressed if the Act is to be a success. Councils need to keep 100% of Right to Buy sales receipts to replace homes sold and to adapt welfare reforms to protect families at risk of homelessness and prevent homelessness from happening in the first place.”
One particular case in north Wales, which illustrates the plight of many in temporary accommodation, is the story of one family which spent nearly two years waiting to find somewhere permanent to live. For the first six months after their landlord sold their home, the family moved between hotels, B&BS and caravans. They currently have a non-secure tenancy agreement which means they can be asked to move with only a month’s notice, so their living arrangements could change at any time. The family say they are grateful to have a home now but are worried about how long they can remain and don’t feel they can settle.
Welsh data shows that 4,000 people were placed in temporary homes between 2017 and 2018, for an average 74 days. But, in places such as Gwynedd, Cardiff and Denbighshire, some were in temporary accommodation for 1,000 days.
Local authorities do have a duty to try to find housing for people who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless and the Welsh Government has said it aims to build 20,000 homes that are more affordable by 2021. An independent review carried out by the government has recently been published which suggests that a five year rental policy would be in the best interests of tenants and would offer more stability.
Katie Dalton, director of the umbrella body for providers of homelessness, housing related support and social care services in Wales, Cymorth Cymru, believes that many people are simply priced out of the market and their inability to afford high rents has caused the rise in temporary accommodation. She says: “We need to build more social housing so that there’s more affordable accommodation out there, and we need to look again at welfare reforms.”
The Welsh Government has said it is “committed to reducing the use of temporary accommodation by focusing on homelessness prevention and a rapid approach to re-housing through a variety of means”.
A government spokesman has said that the Housing First programme and an investment of £1.7 billion will help to ease the strain and would help to deliver 20,000 more affordable homes.