The Homelessness Reduction Act may be a vital step towards ending homelessness.
The number of people sleeping rough in England has increased by 73% over the last three years and is predicted to rise by 76% in the next decade. This is related to who is becoming homeless and how, which has changed rapidly over the past few years, while the criteria for who gets help has not. As the first port of call for most people facing homelessness, councils and local authorities have received criticism for ‘gate keeping’ and operating under strict parameters of who they can actually help.
Since 3 April, under the Homelessness Reduction Act, local housing authorities are required to provide additional support to all people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. The bill has been piloted in a few regions and has already shown a positive effect on levels of rough sleeping.
The Act expands housing authority duties with a view to helping more people. Essential aspects of it include:
1) The council has a duty to prevent and relieve homelessness regardless of ‘priority need’, and instead help all applicants threatened with homelessness. This will support the people we currently see ‘slipping through the net’ because they do not have dependents or a disability.
2) The period of being deemed ‘threatened with homelessness’ is extended from 28 to 56 days. This extra amount of time may support people to potentially prevent their own homelessness.
3) The council must provide free advice and information on preventing homelessness, securing accommodation, rights, available support, and how to access it. Often people are simply unaware of the resources available and what they need to do.
4) Public services will now need to notify a local authority if they encounter someone at risk of becoming homeless, for instance leaving a hospital, prison, or a situation of domestic violence. A joined-up approach between services has always shown to be more effective.
5) Finally, people will be assessed on the circumstances that caused them to become homeless, or threatened with homelessness, and given personalised plans in order to get or keep accommodation.
The issue raised by councils and other organisations is that services have faced sustained cuts over the past five years, and the money granted towards homeless prevention by the government is not enough to sustain these new measures. While prevention is always less costly than cure, their resources will be further stretched; it remains to be seen how staff will cope.