People become homeless for a whole range of complex and overlapping reasons. Helping someone out of homelessness is often about more than putting a roof over their head. However, ensuring there is a supply of accessible and affordable housing is critical to prevent and resolve homelessness.
A range of models of housing are needed to meet different types of housing need. These models include specialist supported housing and Housing First for those who have support needs. Temporary accommodation (such as hostels and B&Bs) is typically available to homeless people who are judged to have a priority for assistance by local authorities. Permanent rented housing is provided by local authorities and housing associations (known as social housing) and by private landlords (known as private rented housing). Many homeless people do not have support needs and simply need access to affordable homes in the social or private rented sectors.
What needs to change
In Scotland we are calling on the government to change the law so that single homeless people who are homeless are not housed in unsuitable temporary accommodation such as Bed & Breakfast for more than 14 days. Read more about temporary accommodation
In England we are calling on the government to allocate an increased share of the funding for new housing provision. Specifically on the provision of more homes affordable to those on the lowest incomes, including those in low paid work. Read more about social housing
Supported housing is accommodation for people who need support with everyday tasks to help them live in their own home. For homeless people this might mean a hostel or other short-term shared housing. People who have multiple or complex needs it might mean longer-term housing.
People stay in homelessness hostels until they are ready to look for permanent housing. In most cases people stay for less than six months. However, hostels are finding it more difficult to help their residents find permanent housing (source: Annual review of single homelessness support in England 2016 (Homeless Link). The biggest reason for this is because there is a shortage of housing supply which homeless people can move on to.
There have been big reductions in funding for hostels for single homeless people in recent years. Hostels charge residents rent which is usually covered by Housing Benefit. Many hostels also receive grants to pay for support services but funding for this is also reducing. For example, between 2010/11 and 2015/16 English councils reduced grant funding for housing related support by 56% in real terms [see Homelessness Monitor]. This has made it more difficult for housing providers to continue to support homeless people.
In England, the government is now planning to change the way supported housing is funded. We have concerns with the impact of these funding changes. See our submission on Supporting Housing Funding Reform (Word).
Housing First is a relatively new approach to providing housing for homeless people, particularly those with complex support needs (such as managing drug and alcohol addiction or mental health issues) or who have been sleeping rough for some time.
Housing First is based on the following principles:
- housing is a human right
- choice and control for service users as to the location and type of housing they live in
- separation of housing and treatment, so housing is never conditional on engaging with treatment
- recovery orientation
- harm reduction, through managed use of drugs and alcohol rather than a requirement for abstinence
- active engagement without coercion to encourage individuals to take steps towards recovery
- person-centred planning
- flexible support for as long as is required.
Housing First places vulnerable homeless people directly form the street or emergency shelter into permanent independent tenancies, which come with comprehensive but not compulsory support. This works on the assumption that the best place to prepare for independent living is in independent accommodation rather than placing someone in a hostel and then supported housing.
Adoption of Housing First
The approach has been used in many other countries and is now being tested in the UK. Secure housing is provided to someone who has been homeless without attaching conditions. A long term offer of support is provided but people do not have to take up the support to retain their housing. Evidence from abroad suggests that this can be an effective way to support people with a long history of rough sleeping and high levels of support need. (See Staircases, Elevators and Cycles of Change report.)
In the 2016 budget, the Chancellor announced funding for Housing First. We believe that Housing First offers a real opportunity to end homelessness for some of the most vulnerable people. Housing First prevents people getting stuck in hostels. Studies have shown that people are also more likely to engage in support services.
In the UK there has been a series of pilots but there needs to be a shift to widespread adoption of the Housing First model. We have commissioned a feasibility study of implementing Housing First in the Liverpool City Region. The study will evaluate the viability of implementing a Housing First model as part of the housing pathway for single homeless people. It will work with the local authorities, accommodation providers and commissioners in the area. Once completed, the study will support the creation of a toolkit for other city regions to sue to undertake similar studies to support the implementation of Housing First to scale across the UK and Europe.
Read more about Housing First and other housing models in our knowledge hub.
Under homelessness legislation councils have a duty to find housing for people who are judged to have a priority need. In many cases they are housed in temporary accommodation which can mean staying in bed and breakfast (B&B) or a hostel. The use of temporary accommodation has been rising since 2011, with 53,000 households housed this way at the end of 2016. (See Homeless Monitor)
Since 2004, councils in England have had to change how they use B&B accommodation. For example, families with children or where a member of the household is pregnant should only be housed in a B&B in an emergency and then for a maximum of six weeks. Despite this, the number of households in B&B style housing has increased in recent years, to 3,390 in September 2016. Of these, 1,300 households had been in B&B accommodation for six weeks or more. (See Homeless Monitor)
The government is planning to change the way temporary housing is funded. Their intention is that this will encourage councils to do more to prevent homelessness arising in the first place. We welcome these proposals for change and want to see councils improve their practice to avoid placing families and vulnerable people in unsuitable temporary housing.
Families who are homeless in Scotland can only stay in “unsuitable temporary accommodation”, including B&Bs for a maximum of 14 days.
We believe that no one should have to stay in unsuitable accommodation except in an emergency. We are calling on the Scottish government to change the law so that this applies to all homeless people, regardless of whether they have children or not.
Social housing is provided by councils and housing associations for people with a housing need or those on low incomes. Councils and housing associations normally offer longer tenancies than private landlords. The supply of social housing has been decreasing (see housing supply) and therefore it has become more difficult for homeless people to get access to social renting.
Social rents were originally set by councils and housing associations at levels that took account of average local earnings. At this level, people in lower paid work can typically afford to pay their rent without claiming Housing Benefit.
However, the way rents are set in housing provided by councils and housing associations was changed in 2010 in England. Since then, most new council and housing association homes have rents set at “affordable rent” levels. These are set at up to 80% of market rent levels and are typically higher than social rents. Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that some housing associations are restricting access to housing let at affordable rents so these homes aren’t available to the poorest households. (See Homeless Monitor)
We are calling on the government to provide more funding for the provision of new homes at rents that low earners can afford.
The government is planning changes to the rules on Housing Benefit for social housing tenants across Britain from 2019. Housing benefit will be capped at the rate of the local housing allowance. For single people under 35, their rate will be capped to the Shared Accommodation rate. We are calling on government to make more shared housing available or to rethink the rules. Read more about Housing Benefit.
See more about housing affordability.