Commons committee accuses DCLG of ‘lack of urgency’ on homelessness

Public Accounts Committee rounds on the government’s approach to homelessness.

Homeless (2)


In a report, PAC found government departments were not working together effectively enough to address what is now a national crisis. 

Calling the rise in homelessness as clear over five years ago, PAC cites DCLG as only now acknowledging its light touch approach has not worked.

To the committee, DCLG lacks the proper understanding of those who are homeless and it needs to ensure that they are being helped effectively.

The department accepted its previous system for collecting data on homeless households was seriously limited.

But PAC pushes further to say DCLG does not seem either to understand or measure the extent of hidden homelessness, and has not modelled the costs and causes of homelessness recently.

To PAC, DCLG puts too much faith in its developing data system to track  individuals’ experiences of homelessness and the impact this has on them.

PAC is sceptical as to what DCLG can really achieve with its new system – as opposed to what it thinks it can achieve – in the linking and understanding between administrative information on homeless households and their income, health and wellbeing, and interactions with other public services.

The DCLG, supported by data from the DWP, has been challenged to:

  • Ensure the system helps estimate the wider costs of homelessness to public services
  • Enables councils to access information on when homeless people have entered and exited the welfare system to monitor its impact on their housing situation
  • Enables a measuring of  the full extent of hidden homelessness
  • Shows where local services are, and are not, effective at helping those who are homeless.

Since 2010, all measures of homelessness in England have risen.

The number of children living in temporary accommodation has increased by 73% to 120,170, and the number of people counted as sleeping rough has more than doubled to 4,134.

Those who work with homeless people estimate that the true extent of homelessness is much higher.

The report says local councils cannot solve this alone and ‘working more closely’ with councils is no substitute for emphatic government action.

Organisations working with homeless people told PAC the government needs to tackle homelessness in a joined-up way and not ignore the impact of the decisions it makes, including freezing and capping local housing allowance as part of welfare reforms, on the numbers of people made homeless.

While the DCLG and DWP said that they work together to assess the impact of welfare reforms, PAC found they had yet to assess the impact of recent changes to Local Housing Allowance have had on homelessness.

To PAC, the government commitment to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027 addresses ‘the tip of the iceberg’, where only 9,100 of the 160,000 households that will experience the most acute forms of homelessness in any year will sleep rough. 

The report urges DCLG and DWP to work together to ensure clear progress is made against the targets and measures in the strategy, with DCLG writing to PAC by the end of next year to explain what reductions have been made across all measures of homelessness.

Also by the end year, the DWP is expected to set out to PAC what work it has undertaken to identify any elements of welfare reform that are having an impact on homelessness and what steps it has taken to mitigate them.

Where PAC identifies an ‘unacceptable shortage’ of realistic housing options for households that are either homeless or are at immediate risk of homelessness, DCLG is expected to enable councils to offer better value for money.

The decreasing number of homes available for social rent means that many councils use private accommodation providers for emergency housing – with this accommodation often of a poor standard.

Some of the most vulnerable households at risk of homelessness can also find they only have limited options for rehousing in the private rented sector.

Shelter told PAC six out of 10 landlords nationwide will not let to people in receipt of benefits due to concerns that their income is unstable and will not rise in line with the cost of renting.

Though DCLG has a strategic objective of increasing the supply of new homes across the country, it acknowledged to PAC that in many areas the housing market is failing to supply enough homes to match housing need.

Councils are responsible for planning to increase housing supply, but even where targets for social housing are ambitious, across the country too few of the homes for social rent are being built.

PAC says DCLG does recognise this, and has announced additional funding in the Autumn Budget 2017 to enable councils to increase the supply of new housing – and plans to target funding at councils ready to spend it quickly rather than those areas with the most acute shortage of housing.

To PAC, this could mean that local authorities with housing need but not at the same position of readiness will not receive this funding. 

DCLG has to come back to PAC by the end of next month setting out how it will ensure that the supply of new genuinely affordable housing will be matched to areas of housing need; and how it will monitor the impact that this has on driving down the number of households in temporary accommodation.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, who gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, said: “This report confirms the fact that some government policies are causing homelessness while others are attempting to pick up the pieces.

“The good news is that with the right changes in policy, homelessness can be ended.

“Over Christmas and throughout winter, thousands of people across the country will be sleeping out in the cold, and thousands more will be trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation, or sleeping in cars or on public transport, hidden from help.

“The mental and emotional impacts of this crisis cannot be understated: the average age of death of a homeless person is just 47 years old, and they are nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general public.

“This cannot go on.

“Last month we welcomed the government’s pledge to establish a Homelessness Reduction Taskforce.

“Now, the taskforce must quickly get to work and take forward the recommendations of this report, particularly to ensure that welfare reform tackles rather than causes homelessness, and also to join the government’s housing strategy with the need for truly affordable homes for homeless people.

“When we know that homelessness can be ended and prevented from happening in the first place, there’s no excuse not to act.”

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who sits on the committee, commented: “This damning report exposes the government’s failure to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“Soaring levels of homelessness have meant even many people in work are now finding themselves on the streets or in temporary accommodation.

“The complacency ministers are showing on this issue is totally unacceptable and must come to an end.

“Instead of passing the buck to local authorities, the government must take responsibility for ending rough sleeping and building the truly affordable homes the country needs.”

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