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Councils warn housing shortfall and benefit cuts fuelling rising homelessness

Almost two thirds (64%) of councils across England are struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people, while half find it 'very difficult' to assist applicants into privately rented accommodation, according to a report published today by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

The report, which includes evidence from 162 of England’s 326 local authorities, reveals that councils are finding it particularly difficult to house homeless young people and large families, with 85% of responding councils having difficulties assisting single people aged 25-34 into accommodation and 88% finding it difficult to house large families1

The findings are from state-of-the nation report The Homelessness Monitor: England – an annual independent study funded by Crisis and JRF. Drawing on a national survey of councils, statistical analysis and in-depth interviews, the report analyses the impact of economic and policy developments on homelessness. 

The report raises particular concern for the future of single young people, who are identified as being at far higher risk of homelessness than older adults due to rising unemployment, spiralling rents and, especially, declining benefit protection. 94% of councils stated they anticipate greater difficulties in finding accommodation for homeless 25-34 year olds in the next 2-3 years2

The overwhelming majority of responding councils (89%) also expressed concerns that the roll out of Universal Credit will further exacerbate homelessness, mainly due to the potential impact on landlords’ willingness to let to homeless people. Meanwhile, welfare cuts and Local Housing Allowance (LHA)3 falling well short of rents in many locations were also cited as major barriers to councils’ attempts to house homeless applicants. One council respondent from the South of England said: 

"LHA is staggeringly out of step with actual market rents, to the extent that there are virtually no properties... let at LHA rates. Coupled with landlords’ increasing reluctance to accept people on benefits, and unwillingness to offer anything beyond an initial 6 month AST (Assured Shorthold Tenancy), it is now all but impossible to place people into the private sector.

Nearly 58,000 people were accepted as homeless by their council in 2015/16 – 18,000 higher than 2009/10. Meanwhile, placements in temporary accommodation have risen sharply, with the national total up by 9% in the year to 30 June 2016, a rise of 52% compared to 2009/10.  

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “The situation for the thousands who find themselves homeless in England is becoming more and more desperate each year. Until the number of truly affordable rented homes increases significantly, councils will continue to come under huge financial pressure, with dreadful consequences for the most vulnerable in our society.

“Private renting is often the only choice homeless people have. That’s why Crisis is calling on the Government to invest in schemes that support people into the private rented sector, such as establishing and underwriting a national rent deposit guarantee. The Government is already pouring billions into ‘Help to Buy’ support. What we really need is ‘Help to Rent’."

Brian Robson, policy and research manager at JRF said: “A dearth of affordable, secure rented housing is driving up homelessness in the UK. Theresa May’s Government has been clear that rented housing has a vital part to play in solving the housing crisis but, without more action, a lack of housing will mean that increasing numbers are left at risk of homelessness.

“The Government has set out welcome plans to build new homes, but these will not be within reach of families who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. We need action to make sure that new homes are available to people at all income levels, and that there is a safety net in place for those who are at risk of homelessness. The Government is considering action to increase the amount of support available, but this will only work if there is enough funding and enough homes to cope with demand. In the immediate term, lifting the freeze on working age benefits would help to stop people’s incomes falling even further behind.”

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, lead author, said: "The combination of continued welfare reform, increasing housing pressures and cuts to local government funding, are making it even harder for low income households to find a place to live. 

“The Homelessness Reduction Bill, once enacted, will enable local authorities to provide more help for all households at the prevention stage, with particular improvements for single people. But as this year's report shows more investment in affordable housing solutions are required to meet this need.”

Key findings

  • 64% of responding councils reported difficulties in accessing social tenancies for homeless applicants, while half (49%) described it as very difficult to assist applicants into the private rented sector.
  • Council spending on homelessness has increased by 13% since 2010 reflecting the priority attached to the area by central government but over the same period spending on housing has dropped by 46% in real terms, with an even larger cutback on the Supporting People programme (67%)4.
  • Nearly 58,000 people were accepted as homeless by their council in 2015/16 – 18,000 higher than 2009/10.
  • Housing provision would have to increase by a fifth on last year’s level just to keep pace with demand, let alone ease market pressure.
  • Including informal 'homelessness prevention' and 'homelessness relief' activity, as well as statutory homelessness acceptances, there were some 271,000 ‘local authority homelessness case actions’ in 2015/16, a rise of 32% since 2009/10.
  • Loss of a private tenancy accounted for 31% of those accepted as homeless in England.
  • Placements in temporary accommodation have risen sharply, with the national total up by 9% in the year to 30 June 2016 – a rise of 52% compared to 2009/10.
  • While accounting for 9% of the national total, B&B placements have been rising quickly, and now stand almost 250% higher than in 2009
  • So-called ‘out of area placements’ - where homeless people are placed outside of their home area - now account for 28% of the national total - up from 11% in 2010/11