Nine out of 10 councils in England warn housing benefit freeze will push more people into homelessness
Nine out of 10 councils warn more and more people in their area on the lowest incomes will become homeless because the freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and other benefits means they can’t afford to pay their rents, according to a new report published today.
With cuts to LHA over the past eight years – and a freeze to the benefit from 2016 – those who need it the most simply aren’t able to cover their housing costs, leaving them living on a knife edge.
Councils are finding themselves under increasing pressure, with seven out of 10 reporting a rise in demand for their homelessness services in the last year alone. More than three quarters of councils in the North and the Midlands reported a rise in the need for their services, as well as 80% across London.
Crisis and JRF are calling for the government to urgently address the issues underpinning homelessness by restoring LHA rates in Universal Credit to ensure they truly cover the cost of rent.
In the long term, this needs to be followed by a major investment in social housing. Nearly 90% of local authorities surveyed for the report said there is not enough in their area for those who need it – including for those on the brink of homelessness.
The Homelessness Monitor: England is commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and led by Heriot-Watt University. Published every year since 2011, it includes a national survey of councils, statistical analysis, and in-depth interviews with council and national government representatives and charities working with homeless people.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “Everybody deserves a safe and stable home to build their lives in, but it’s clear from councils that the growing gap between private rents and local housing allowance is leaving far too many people at risk of becoming homeless, and keeping those already experiencing it trapped in a cycle of destitution.
"This can’t go on. No one should have to face impossible choices like buying food and essentials or paying their rent, or worse still, live in fear that they might never escape the devastation of homelessness.
"The good news is this can be fixed. In the long term, the Government must build the social housing our country needs, but in the short term, it must urgently invest in Local Housing Allowance so that people who rely on it can actually afford their rents and have the stability of a place to call home.”
Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “A home should be the anchor that keeps you from being swept into homelessness, poverty and destitution in hard times. For too many people, the prospect of such a stable home is a distant dream due to high rents, unstable tenancies and an income that doesn’t allow you to build a better life.
“We know there is action we can take to fix the problem, starting by ensuring housing, social security and work offer reliable routes out of poverty. Local Housing Allowances need urgent investment but the government must also take action for the long term by investing in the low cost rented homes the country badly needs”.
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Heriot-Watt University, the report’s lead author, said: “This year’s Homelessness Monitor provides encouraging evidence that the Homelessness Reduction Act is enabling councils to help more people facing a housing crisis.
“However, the combination of cumulative welfare reforms and increasing housing market pressures are making it even harder for low income households to find a place to live. The research shows that Councils are seeing more demand for their services yet are faced with an ever diminishing social housing supply and very few options in the private rented sector.”
What some local councils had to say
One council in the South said of LHA:
“…the LHA freeze has been a huge factor in the increase in homelessness, pushing families into a position where they cannot afford the private sector.”
Whist another in the South commented:
“LHA rates mis-match to market rates are massive (and growing) and present the biggest challenge [on homelessness] by far locally.”
And a further local authority in London added:
“We have been a Universal Credit Area for the last 24 months and we can testify that homelessness increased due to the introduction of the Welfare Reforms and the introduction of Universal Credit.”
The Homelessness Monitor reports
The Homelessness Monitor: England, which has been published every year since 2011, is an annual report that uses a national survey of councils, statistical analysis, and in-depth interviews to analyse how economic and policy developments impact homelessness. Crisis, JRF, and Heriot-Watt also produce Homelessness Monitor reports for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Homelessness Monitor: England for 2019 can be downloaded here on the 15th May: www.crisis.org.uk/englandmonitor2019
About national council survey
As part of the report, we conducted an online survey of England local authorities, undertaken between October and November 2018, of which 167 local authorities participated.
Crisis is the national charity for homeless people. We help people directly out of homelessness, and campaign for the social changes needed to solve it altogether. We know that together we can end homelessness.
People’s Postcode Lottery has partnered with Crisis since August 2018. The charity and the people it supports have so far benefitted from over £3m raised by players since the first draw in November 2018.
About Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent social change organisation working to solve UK poverty. For more information visit www.jrf.org.uk
About Heriot-Watt University
Heriot-Watt is a specialist, pioneering university with a reputation for innovative research and highly employable graduates. We have approximately 29,000 students at our five main campuses based in Scotland, the UAE and Malaysia, and in over 160 other countries through our distance learning programmes.