Can the Homelessness Reduction Act help stem the tide of homelessness?
The introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) was one of the most important changes to homelessness legislation in England in the past 40 years. Last week, the UK Government published its review into the first two years of the HRAs implementation, made up of the findings of an open call to evidence and an independent evaluation – Evaluation of the Implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act: Final Report, carried out by ICF. So what does the government’s response to the evidence tell us about how successful the early years of the HRA has been?
What has worked well?
The HRA has opened up access to homelessness assistance to more and more people. This is very good news. One of the key issues with the way the system worked before the HRA was that many people, particularly single people facing homelessness, were turned away before they were able to get any support at all. Opening up access to Housing Options was an important part of the HRA and that so many more people are able to get housing advice shows its potential.
Ensuring everyone has safe, stable housing creates a stronger society where homelessness has no place. The HRA has been designed to ensure councils provide people help at an earlier point and the review shows that this shift is stopping more people experiencing homelessness in the first place. Crisis’ own research into the implementation of the HRA shows that people seeking help with preventing their homelessness are more likely to secure a permanent, stable home than those already experiencing homelessness. But the findings from the review show that prevention activity isn’t universal and there are inconsistencies across local authorities, meaning not everyone who needs it is receiving early help to avoid homelessness.
What is stopping the HRA from being successful?
The success of the HRA is being constrained by the challenges different areas face, in particular the supply of affordable housing. This is no surprise. A lack of truly affordable housing, high rents, and insufficient financial support from the welfare system are creating a constant pressure that pushes people into homelessness and restricts local authorities in their options. The HRA is a crucial part of the framework we need to end homelessness for good, but we can only do this if we tackle the root causes of homelessness by building more social homes across the country and making sure that the welfare system covers the cost of people’s rent.
For the first three years of the HRA local authorities were provided with additional funding to help them with the delivery of their new duties. The New Burdens Fund was calculated on the premise that over time the HRA would result in a reduction of temporary accommodation use, which in turn would reduce the overall cost to local authorities.
As the review sets out, rather than reducing temporary accommodation use has increased since the HRA. This may well be because more people are accessing support but housing market pressures have also got worse in England and more people are trapped in temporary accommodation, for longer periods of time and at increasing cost to the local authorities.
After three years of implementation, it was anticipated that local authorities wouldn’t need any additional budget. Councils have raised concerns over the last few years that this funding has not been sufficient to deliver on the HRA and when the funding runs out they will be tightly squeezed.
How are councils responding to rising need during the pandemic?
Since March 2020 local authorities have also supported thousands of people into hotels or other emergency accommodation, people who would otherwise be sleeping on our streets or in overcrowded, unsafe accommodation. The Everyone In scheme has undoubtedly saved lives and protected people from being exposed to the worst of coronavirus. But this comes at a cost and councils are under increasing financial pressure to ensure that they can continue to accommodate those already staying in hotels, and are able to support those newly experiencing rough sleeping.
With local authorities already experiencing financial pressure to successfully deliver on the Act we welcome the government’s commitment to reviewing the new burdens funding over the coming months, but this can’t come soon enough. For councils to have the chance to build on the success of Everyone In and move people from hotel rooms to safe, secure housing they must have the funding to not only continue to accommodate people sleeping rough or in unsafe housing into self-contained accommodation over the winter months, but also to provide the Housing Options support needed to move people in permanent homes.
With coronavirus cases rising and winter fast approaching, we face a desperate situation for people experiencing and at risk of homelessness. Crisis is calling on the government to see local authorities are given the legal duty and right level of funding to make sure that they truly can get everyone in over the next few months, and are able to provide support through the HRA to help people move on from homelessness for good once the worst of the pandemic is over.
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