Preventing homelessness: It’s everybody’s business

Ruth Jacob, Senior Policy Officer

Homelessness is not inevitable. We know that in most cases it is preventable, and in every case it can be ended.

Crisis’ new report, ‘Preventing homelessness: It’s everybody’s business’, helps demonstrate how this can be achieved. But this will only be possible if every part of government, from the Department for Work and Pensions to the Home Office, takes responsibility for preventing homelessness.

As well as being the right thing to do, it makes financial sense too.

Failing to take action early can lead to people experiencing repeated and entrenched periods of homelessness. This has a knock-on cost for health services, drug and alcohol services and the criminal justice system.

Research has shown that for every person who was not effectively helped to avoid homelessness, the taxpayer incurred additional costs of between £3,000 and £18,000 in the first year alone. There are currently 236,000 people across Britain experiencing the most acute forms of homelessness; if 40,000 people were prevented from experiencing one year of homelessness, then public spending is estimated to fall by £370 million.

The government’s Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce must now lead on developing a strong cross-government strategy to prevent homelessness, which recognises the critical role of every department in ending homelessness.

So why aren’t we doing it already?

In the last year, we have seen significant changes to homelessness legislation that have made prevention a clear priority. The Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) introduced new legal duties for local authorities to step in earlier to prevent homelessness and to do so for more people. It also introduced a new requirement for some public authorities to refer people to the local authority if they are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

However, it doesn’t go far enough. The primary responsibility for preventing homelessness remains with local authorities, even though in many cases they won’t be the first organisation that is aware when someone is at risk of homelessness.

Too many opportunities to prevent homelessness are currently being missed. This is especially true for people leaving the care of the state, including those leaving prison and the care system. Recent reports show that:

  • 15% of male and 13% of female prisoners serving short sentences were released without a home to go to. This was also the case for one in seven long-term prisoners.
  • 26% of care leavers had sofa-surfed since leaving care and 14% had slept rough.

This doesn’t need to happen. Public services working with prisoners, young people in care and other groups who have an increased risk of homelessness can take action to make sure that no one becomes homeless when they leave the care of the state.

What needs to change?

Ahead of yesterday’s Autumn Budget, we called on the government to invest in one of the report’s recommendations in particular: that the Department for Work and Pensions should have dedicated housing and homelessness specialists in Jobcentres to help people transitioning onto Universal Credit. These specialists would help identify people at risk of homelessness and support them, both to find suitable housing and to move towards employment.

Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday announced a £1bn package of measures to help people transitioning to Universal Credit, the details of which will be disclosed at a later date. This was a step in the right direction, but the government must ensure that these specialists are part of the package announced.

Yesterday’s budget must not become a missed opportunity to put in place measures to prevent homelessness.

The ‘Preventing homelessness’ report sets out the changes that departments should be making now to prevent homelessness further upstream for more people. These changes must be underpinned by legal duties to ensure that homelessness is consistently and effectively prevented whenever it can be.

The examples of good practice highlighted in the report show what can be achieved when public authorities start working collaboratively with councils’ Housing Options teams. For example, in Newcastle, Jobcentres have been working in partnership with the city council and the local Crisis service to embed a housing and homelessness approach that is enabling work coaches to identify and support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

We need Everybody In to end homelessness, and this includes every government department and public authority.


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