Lack of affordable housing is forcing councils to leave people homeless

Homelessness charity calls for more affordable housing as councils struggle to find homes for over a third of people despite change in legislation offering help to more people 

Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) people who approached their local authority for help since the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) was introduced either remained homeless or became homeless because councils do not have enough genuinely affordable housing available, a new report from Crisis reveals today.

The report, based on 984 surveys and 89 in-depth interviews with people experiencing homelessness, provides the first real insight into how HRA is working in practice since it was introduced two years ago. The HRA was designed to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place, with the research revealing that more people are now getting access to the help they need. But despite many councils' best efforts, dwindling housing supply and rising rents outstripping wages and benefits means they have little to no housing available for more and more people.

Sadly, the worst affected are people experiencing the most devastating forms of homelessness, with people sleeping on the streets or on friends or family’s sofas, most likely to remain trapped in this situation after seeking help. Of these, 45% were single men showing that they are still struggling to access safe and stable housing.

With their ability to house people stifled, many respondents reported that the only support councils were able to offer them was information on how to rent privately. Shockingly, several of those surveyed stated that this simply consisted of a list of potential landlords for them to contact, only to find they were unable to access these properties because their housing benefit would not cover the rent.

Crisis says more must be done to ensure the HRA can reach its full potential of preventing and ending homelessness across England. The charity has called on the government to urgently invest in housing benefit so that it covers the cheapest third of rents and commit to building 90,000 social homes each year for the next 15 years.

Despite the many challenges facing councils, it’s clear that the HRA has had a resoundingly positive effect on the way local authorities take care of people when they seek help. The overwhelming majority (75%) stated that they felt their local housing teams had treated them with respect and handled their situation sensitively.

This research has also exposed the root causes forcing people into homelessness in the first place. The key drivers for over a third of people sleeping rough was loss of employment and mental health problems, while over half of people renting privately said that mounting financial pressures and insecurities with their tenancy had pushed them into homelessness.  

Commenting on the research Jon Sparkes, Crisis Chief Executive, said: “It's deeply distressing that, across England, councils are being forced to leave the people they are trying to help on the streets or drifting from sofa to sofa - all because they cannot find somewhere safe and affordable for them to live. The HRA has made some good progress in preventing people from becoming homeless, but it’s worrying to see that it’s being constrained by a chronic lack of housing and cuts to housing benefit.

“The HRA can be at the heart of ending homelessness for good, as this report shows, but this is only possible if councils are properly resourced and have the tools, they need to help people leave homelessness behind for good.

“It’s vital that the Government gets to grips with the root causes pushing people into homelessness in the first place, this means ensuring more social homes are built across the country and that housing benefit is restored to truly cover the cost of rent. Only when these measures are in place will we be able to unleash the full potential of the HRA.”