To tackle homelessness Government must end the use of blanket housing register exclusions as well as increasing social housing supply
This week’s announcement that national government might “allow” subsidy to be spent providing social rented homes in England – with the potential to deliver 5,000 social rent homes a year - is a step in the right direction to tackle the chronic shortage of housing available to homeless people.
However our report Moving on, published today, demonstrates that the Government needs to go much further to increase the availability of housing for homeless people in England. It finds that single homeless people’s access to social housing has been declining each year, and while many have no acute support needs, those living on the lowest incomes face significant challenges getting access to housing of any sort.
Analysis for Moving on shows that as many as 75,000 single people in any year experience homelessness simply because there is no housing available to them within reach of their low incomes. The historic shortage of genuinely affordable housing, compounded by the decision of successive Governments between 2010-2017 to invest only in “affordable rent” homes (with rents set at 80% of market levels), means that the supply of council and housing association lettings available to those on the lowest incomes has been in decline.
As the availability of new social housing has declined, so too have the number of lettings to single homeless people. Each year fewer and fewer single homeless people are getting access to social housing; there were 19,000 lettings to this group in 2007-8 but only 13,000 in 2015-16. While the long term downward trend in social lettings to homeless people seems to have stabilised recently, the proportion of lettings to single homeless people has continued to fall.
In Moving on we examine the possible reasons for this. Evidence from Crisis services suggests that a range of restrictions on access to social housing are having a particular impact on some groups of homeless people. These include restrictions that limit who is eligible to join council housing registers as well as income-related restrictions that shut out people deemed to be too poor for affordable housing.
With the introduction of the Localism Act in 2011 councils were given back the power to stop some groups of people from registering for social housing. This was justified at the time as a positive step for councils, who could stop accepting applications from people who were adequately housed already, or who had enough money to meet their own housing requirements. But the evidence of Moving on is that some homeless people and others in housing need are also routinely being excluded from council housing registers. Where used, the grounds for exclusion vary from area to area, but typically include stopping people from registering if they haven’t lived in an area for long enough, if they have had rent arrears in a previous tenancy or if they have a previous criminal conviction.
Rent arrears exclusions often affect people using Crisis services. It is not unusual for someone's homelessness to be linked to past financial problems - and not unusual for unpaid rent to be part of this. For those on low or fluctuating earnings this might be connected to delays getting Housing Benefit in place. It might be linked to a relationship breakdown or other personal crisis when those just about managing are no longer able to make the sums add up. The result is that many people who have experienced the trauma of homelessness find themselves unable to get access to social housing.
We are calling on government to end the use of so-called “blanket” restrictions that shut out people in housing need. As councils begin preparations for the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) it is essential that Government revises national policy on social housing allocations to ensure single homeless people and others in housing need are not prevented from joining housing registers.
Increasing the supply of homes at rent levels within reach of those on the lowest incomes and, critically, within Local Housing Allowance rates is essential to enable councils to begin to reverse recent increases in homelessness. But Government must also address the barriers that prevent many homeless people – and others on the lowest incomes - from getting access to social housing.
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