Falling through the cracks: New Crisis report reveals England’s forgotten homeless people being denied access to housing
On any given night in England, 26,000 single people[i] are facing homelessness across the country. Most of them have very few support needs and just can’t find a home, according to Crisis, the national charity for homeless people.
The charity’s new research shows that this group of homeless people – some of whom are excluded from council housing registers due to reasons such as past rent arrears – are ending up trapped in a cycle of homelessness or stuck in temporary shelter[ii] for months, or even years on end, as the social housing shortage and sky-high renting costs leave them with no place to call home.
The report Moving On: Improving access for single homeless people in England, looks at the barriers to housing encountered by adults who typically fall outside the protection of the current homelessness legislation because they are deemed low priority. It finds that this group’s access to social housing has been declining each year, and while many have no acute support needs, those living on the lowest incomes face significant challenges getting access to housing of any sort.
Crisis is calling on the Government to end councils’ use of blanket bans that stop people in housing need for registering for housing. Reasons for these exclusions include having insufficient local connection to an area[iii], a history of rent arrears or antisocial behaviour.[iv]
The charity says new social housing funding announced by the Government this week will help, but that rules on housing eligibility must be changed to stop some homeless people being prevented from joining housing registers.
As the size of the social rented sector continues to shrink, social lettings to single homeless people in England have dropped by a third from 19,000 a year in 2007-08 to just 13,000 in 2015-16, according to the report. At the same time, single homeless people face a range of exclusions from social housing registers in some council areas.
Unable to access social housing, private renting often becomes the only option available to this group of people, however, according to the report many landlords are reluctant to let properties to this group. Added to this, as the bite of recent welfare reforms take hold, such as reduced availability of Housing Benefit,[v] many are unable to afford the up-front costs and rent demands of the few available options in the private rented sector, leaving many ‘trapped with no way out of homelessness’, the report says.
Crisis is now urging the Government to adopt a joined-up approach to reform of policy on access to housing, rent setting, housing supply and the role of Housing Benefit, as well as ensuring all local authorities and housing providers play a role in providing a supply of homes for those on the lowest incomes.
Crisis is calling on the Government to:
- Scrap blanket housing register exclusions which mean some people in housing need can’t even register for housing
- Boost housing supply by enabling councils or other social housing providers to build new homes at social rent level
- Require the Homelessness Reduction Taskforce to set targets for the adequate supply of housing for single homeless people
- Fund Help to Rent projects to support single homeless tenants and assure landlords[vi]
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive at Crisis, said:
“As the supply of social housing in England has shrunk, and fewer new tenants get access to social rented housing, the effect on single homeless people has been devastating. To make matter worse, restricted eligibility for social housing is trapping more and more people in a cycle of homelessness that they have no route out of, and this just isn’t right.
“We know that homelessness is not inevitable. With the right assistance, single homeless people can successfully secure a home to help them rebuild their lives. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to end the use of blanket restrictions that mean people who desperately need a home aren’t denied the help they need.
“We’re glad to see that the Government has announced an initiative to build more social housing – after a long-term lack of investment 4 – this announcement couldn’t have come soon enough. But we must make sure that enough of these homes are built to truly address our homelessness crisis, and to ensure people in the most vulnerable circumstances have access to them. We’re ready to work with the Government to make this work for everyone who needs it most.”
- The number of single people who experience homelessness in England each year is around 200,000, with the average number of single people experiencing some form of homelessness on any one night estimated to be 77,000.
- Around two-thirds of single homeless people have support needs that mean their immediate destination should be some form of housing with tailored support such as supported housing or a Housing First solution. The rest have no acute support needs and the primary barrier to ending their homelessness is housing.
- 75,000 single people with low or no support needs experience homelessness each year while the average number of single people with low or no support needs who are homeless on any one night is 26,000.
- Social lettings to single homeless people in England fell from 19,000 a year in 2007-08 to just 13,000 in 2015-16.
- As the social rented sector shrinks, the private rented sector has doubled its share of households[vii] from 10 to 20% in less than 20 years – but homeless people face barriers trying to access private housing.
- This drop is due to changes in policy on the allocation of social housing, alongside problems caused by the reducing affordability of social housing, restrictions on Housing Benefit entitlement, and housing providers’ response to these.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
[i]Single homelessness refers to homelessness experienced by households of working age, with no dependent children. In contrast to homeless families, most single homeless households are unlikely to be regarded as priority need by their local authority. The report calculated low, mid and high range estimates, and in all cases, the mid-range figures have been used. There are significant uncertainties about the coverage of some of the data sources and some of the assumptions used in making the estimates, and in some cases we have several different sources which may give somewhat differing numbers. The researchers applied judgement in interpreting this data and have mainly focused on the estimates which lie in the middle of the range.
[ii] The research defines the terms used for different types of homelessness in the following way:
- Sofa surfing refers to households staying with others on a short term/insecure basis who want to move and are overcrowded; such people typically have little choice other than to live in that situation.
- Unsuitable temporary accommodation refers to households applying to local authorities as homeless or at risk, and placed in bed and breakfast accommodation, houses of multiple occupation, or in accommodation away from their home locality.
[iii] Crisis services report that local connection restrictions are sometimes a barrier to accessing social housing for single homeless people. Even in areas where choice based lettings schemes are administered on a cross-boundary basis, local connection restrictions may still limit access to housing to those with a borough or district connection; this has caused confusion amongst some Crisis members who do not realise that they are unlikely to access social housing outside their home borough
[iv] Councils are encouraged by national guidance to restrict access to social housing to those with a local connection, and some councils and housing providers are using powers granted by the Localism Act (2011) to exclude applicants with a history of rent arrears, antisocial behaviour or criminal convictions (though such practices are not universal).
[v] Deficiencies in the Local Housing Allowance regime mean that rent levels are increasingly out of step with the amount of housing benefit that can be paid. Once the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) is introduced to social housing tenants many more single people under 35 will face shortfalls between their Housing Benefit and their rent. While more social housing providers are considering or piloting shared housing schemes to keep rents at a level low income single people can afford, the introduction of the SAR risks exacerbating the already significant difficulties faced by single homeless people seeking housing.
[vi] Providing a funding stream to support the delivery of “Help to Rent” projects (providing pre- and in-tenancy support) and a nationally funded tenancy deposit scheme to increase access to private renting for homeless people.
[vii] A household is one person who lives alone or a group of people who live together at one address, who either share meals regularly (e.g. 4 times a week cooked by the same person) or who share a living room, which may be a kitchen-diner if large enough. Individuals who share accommodation but not meals and/or a living room are treated as separate households and the study did everything possible to distinguish these concealed households from families and true sharing households. In the context of this study, the definition of 'one person who lives alone' has been extended to include people who are staying in hostels and B&B/hotels, sofa surfers as well as rough sleepers, who would not be counted as 'private households' but rather as part of the 'institutional population', or not at all, in the Census and household surveys.