Councils back change in law to tackle rising homelessness

28 January 2016

Councils across England are struggling to cope with rising numbers of single homeless people, with the majority backing a change in the law to expand homelessness prevention, according to a report published today by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

The report warns that nine out of ten English councils often (54%) or sometimes (34%) find it difficult to help single homeless people aged 25-34, while 87% find it difficult to help people aged 18-24.

With 275,000 cases of homelessness recorded in the past year, the report also reveals how a majority of councils support an approach similar to that introduced in Wales, where help must be provided to anyone faced with the loss of their home and not just those deemed a ‘priority’, such as families with children. This follows a recent government pledge to consider legislation to expand homelessness prevention. 

The findings are from state-of-the nation report The Homelessness Monitor: England – an annual independent study funded by Crisis and the JRF. Drawing on a survey of councils, statistical analysis and in-depth interviews, the report analyses the impact of economic and policy developments on homelessness.

Jon Sparkes,Chief Executive of Crisis,said: “It’s a critical time for homelessness in England. Councils up and down the country are struggling to help single homeless people and fear that recent welfare reforms are likely to make the problem worse. On top of the desperate human tragedy, this will be incredibly expensive for the public purse as local services are forced to pick up the pieces.

“Yet the Government has a unique opportunity to act. We strongly welcome its willingness to consider new ways of preventing homelessness, including options for new legislation; and as this report shows, such a move would be backed by a majority of English councils. This could represent one of the most radical changes in help for homeless people in nearly 40 years.”

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the JRF said: “A chronic lack of security in the private rented sector is putting more and more families at risk of homelessness. In 2014 there were 16,000 households in England who were accepted as homeless after a private tenancy ended, four times more than in 2010. The Government’s commitment to building more homes will help some to get on the housing ladder, but these figures show that the housing crisis cannot be solved unless much more is done to improve the number of safe, secure rented tenancies. Local Authorities and housing providers must work closely with central Government to increase the number of homes available across all tenures.”

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, lead author, said: "The loss of a private tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness in England, while recent housing and welfare changes could make it even harder for low income households to find a place to live. Faced with these developments, we have to ask, ‘who will house the poorest?’

“As this report shows, councils across England are already struggling to help single homeless people and report that welfare cuts are fueling the problem. The majority agree that we need a change in the law to expand homelessness prevention, and such a move could represent a major step forwards. Nevertheless, without action to ease access to housing for those supported by benefits, it’s hard to see how councils will cope if homelessness continues to rise.”

The report reveals the scale of rising homelessness across England and the growing insecurity of the housing market. It warns that soaring numbers of people are becoming homeless after the loss of a private tenancy, while the number of people placed into temporary accommodation continues to rise sharply – with a 12% increase last year.

It also sounds an alarm over the future of low-income housing, warning that a combination of housing and welfare changes has the potential to leave both social and private housing out of reach for thousands of the poorest people in England.

Key findings

  • 88% of English councils say they often (54%) or sometimes (34%) find it difficult to help single homeless people aged 25-34. 87% find it difficult to help people aged 18-24, and 78% find it difficult to help people aged 35 or over.

  • 56% of English councils and 47% of London councils think a change in the law similar to that in Wales would be beneficial for homeless people in England. Overall, just 25% think it would not be beneficial.

  • Two thirds of local authorities in England reported that the 2010-2015 welfare reforms had increased homelessness in their area. Negative effects of welfare reform on homelessness levels were much more widely reported by local authorities in London (93%) than in the North of England (49%).
  • 54,000 people were accepted as homeless by their council in 2014/15 – 14,000 higher than 2009/10.

  • Including informal 'homelessness prevention' and 'homelessness relief' activity, as well as statutory homelessness acceptances, there were some 275,000 ‘local authority homelessness case actions’ in 2014/15.

  • Loss of a private tenancy made up 29% of those accepted as homeless in England and 39% of those in London in 2014/15.

  • Placements in temporary accommodation have risen sharply, with the national total up by 12% in the year to 30 June 2015 – a rise of 40% compared to 2010/11.

  • So-called ‘out of district placements’ - where homeless people are placed outside of their home area - now account for 26% of the national total - up from 11% in 2010/11 

  • More than 80% of councils surveyed considered that a combination of statutory homelessness figures along with those for prevention and relief were a better guide to trends in their area than statutory figures alone. 


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Notes to editors

  1. Changes in council management of homelessness mean that some applicants are being encouraged to choose informal 'housing options' assistance instead of making a statutory homelessness application. Including such informal 'homelessness prevention' and 'homelessness relief' activity, as well as statutory homelessness acceptances, there were 275,000 ‘local authority homelessness case actions’ in 2014/15

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