Homelessness is increasingly affecting families from areas and professions who previously might never have expected to face problems finding somewhere to live, a new report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman says.
The report, ‘Still No Place Like Home’, shows in 2016-17 one in three complaints received about homelessness services delivered by English authorities came from outside of London.
And many of the complaints are from people who might never have anticipated being made homeless, but who have been forced to call on their local council’s help by the increasing unaffordability of private tenancies.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Our cases show many pre-conceived ideas about the people affected by homelessness simply no longer ring true.
“The increasing cost of private rents has meant we have seen a shift towards more people in professions such as nursing, and their families, becoming affected.
“Many of these families are being placed in poor quality accommodation, for periods significantly longer than the six-week legal limit.
“And we’re seeing signs the problems are growing more acute, particularly with an increase in the length of time families are having to stay in temporary accommodation.
“More worrying still, we are finding that many families are not being told of their review rights when placed in unsuitable accommodation, so they have no information on how to challenge the decision and improve their circumstances.”
In 2016-17, the Ombudsman received around 450 complaints about homelessness.
Of those it investigated in detail, it found fault in seven out of 10 cases.
The Ombudsman shared its findings on councils’ inappropriate use of bed and breakfast accommodation to house families and children in a national report in 2013.
Four years on, many of the problems identified in that report persist.
The report shows the Ombudsman still seeing too many cases where councils are acting unlawfully by placing homeless households in bed and breakfast accommodation for lengthy periods of time.
Families have been stuck for significantly longer than the six-week legal limit– some for more than two years – in conditions where damp or infestation is a problem, often affecting their physical and mental health.
The report gives councils best practice guidance to help councils get things right. It also offers councillors and scrutiny chairs a number of questions they can ask of their own authorities to ensure they challenge the number of families left in unsuitable accommodation for too long.
Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s Housing spokesman, said the research demonstrated that councils are facing immense pressures when it comes to temporary accommodation, having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of homeless children every month.
And the cost of providing temporary accommodation has trebled in the last three years.
“Local authorities do all they can to place people in the best accommodation available, but the reality is that with limited housing options, councils often find themselves having to extend stays in temporary accommodation, as the only alternative is that families and individuals find themselves out on the streets,” said Tett.
With limited housing stock and a £5.8bn overall funding shortfall by 2020, councils are doing all they can to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, but they urgently need more funding and resources from government.
Tett added: “At the root of all of this is our desperate need to supply more affordable homes in the long term, and to help people most at risk of homelessness immediately.
“That means the Government lifting the housing borrowing cap across the country, and allowing all councils to borrow to build, and adapting welfare reforms to make sure that housing remains affordable for low-income families, because the need is urgent, and new homes won’t appear overnight.
“These are both measures that could be taken in the upcoming Local Government Finance Settlement, and we would urge the Government to do so.”