Housing crisis is forcing councils to leave people homeless

Despite homelessness legislation ensuring more people can seek help Crisis also warns that inbuilt barriers to support are causing one in six people to be turned away 

Nearly half (46%) of people facing homelessness, who approached their local authority for help, have remained trapped in this situation including rough sleeping, moving from sofa to sofa or in insecure accommodation like nightly paid B&Bs, because the dire shortage of genuinely affordable homes is crippling councils from being able to end their homelessness long-term, new analysis by Crisis reveals today.   

The charity’s new report, I Hoped There’d be more Options, is based on 1,434 surveys and 193 in-depth interviews with people experiencing homelessness and brings together a three-year study to assess the impact the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) is having on preventing and relieving people’s homelessness, since its introduction nearly four years ago.  

The worst affected by the severe housing shortage, and most likely to remain homeless, were people in the most precarious forms of homelessness, such as people sofa surfing, with the majority in this group stating that they did not feel their situation was secure after asking the council for help. 

Despite nearly three quarters (73%) of respondents stating their housing officer treated them with respect when they first approached their council, issues with staff shortages, high caseloads and remote working left many respondents feeling like they were ‘being passed from pillar to post’ as they struggled to speak to their assigned housing officer as their case progressed. Over half of respondents stated they couldn’t reach their housing officer when they needed them, which left them feeling ignored and hopeless about resolving their situation.   

With little to no housing available, the research reveals how councils are increasingly having to rely on expensive temporary accommodation or push people towards the private rented sector, but rising rents and evidence of rampant indirect discrimination means that people are being continually locked out of finding a safe home. Many respondents stated that they had been refused a property because they were receiving benefits and, in some cases, because they had children - with one respondent admitting hiding the fact they had a young son to secure a property, even though they knew they could be evicted if caught. This highlights that while ‘No DSS’ discrimination has been deemed unlawful this practice is still being applied by agents and landlords to stop people from finding a secure home. 

Crisis says more needs to be done to ensure the HRA can be at the heart of ending homelessness across England. The charity is seeking an urgent commitment from the government to build the 90,000 social homes that are needed each year for the next 15 years to address the escalating housing crisis. Alongside this, the organisation says, steps must be taken to introduce new legal protections, that build on those already offered by the HRA, to ensure that everyone facing homelessness or at risk of it is helped to find a secure home. 

While the HRA has been instrumental in ensuring more people can get help to end their homelessness or stop them from losing their homes, disturbingly one in six people (17%) still reported being turned away by their council. This is because they failed to meet one of the eligibility tests that councils use to determine if someone is a ‘priority’ for support, which include having a connection to the local area, not making themselves homeless or having children. Shockingly, it was people rough sleeping who were most likely to fail one of these tests and be turned away with no help, with a third of respondents saying they were left with nowhere else to go.

The research also exposes the root causes that are pushing people into homelessness in the first place. Over a third of people renting privately said that an issue with their landlord or eviction was the reason they became homeless, while over half of those rough sleeping said challenges with issues such as their mental health and a relationship breakdown had led to them being on the streets. Other key findings include: 

  • The economic shutdown brought on by the pandemic pushed many to the brink of homelessness – with nearly a third saying changes such as a loss of income and problems with their mental health and wellbeing put them at risk of losing their home.​
  • However, the support and initiatives brought in by the Government to protect people experiencing homelessness and those at risk such as the ban on evictions, unfreezing housing benefit and the Everyone In scheme had a profound effect on improving people’s situations and prevented a surge in homelessness. With these protections now gone and the cost-of-living crisis squeezing budgets from all sides, there is concern that councils will once again be under increasing pressure but with limited tools to help people.  

Matt Downie, Crisis Chief Executive, said: “It’s shocking that councils are being forced to leave people living in dingy B&Bs infested with mice, while others live at the mercy of being turfed off the sofa onto the streets at a moment's notice because they do not have enough affordable housing to go around.   

“The Homelessness Reduction Act has made huge inroads on our mission to tackle homelessness but it’s incredibly disappointing to see it being constrained by a problem that is completely within our control to fix.   

“Governments cannot keep kicking this mounting crisis down the road. To have a fighting chance at ending homelessness for good, the government must get to grips with building the social homes we desperately need and introduce new legal protections so everyone can be helped to find a safe and secure home.”   

Bob Blackman MP said: “I introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act because too many people facing homelessness were being turned away without any form of help whatsoever from local authorities – especially single people. I wanted to make sure that everyone would receive the right information and the right support based on their individual circumstances, and to make sure the system was set up to try and prevent homelessness from happening in the first place. It’s heartening to see from this study that the Act has indeed resulted in greater prevention of homelessness, access to support, and a shift in the type of help offered including from agencies like Jobcentre Plus. 

“However, it remains disappointing that the Act is being constrained by a severe lack of social housing stock – an issue which consecutive governments have simply not solved. The reality is, we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand on this issue. While its positive the government is acting on section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, it will remain an incomplete approach if nothing is done to build more social housing, whilst also ensuring that the changes to ending section 21 don’t take away key responsibilities from local authorities to prevent homelessness in the long run”.