Homeless often face a ‘hostile process’

Vulnerable people need consistently high levels of service from local housing authorities.

Please Banerghatta National Park

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has published a report in support of legislation aimed at reducing homelessness.

The committee welcomes the Homelessness Reduction Bill’s focus on homelessness prevention. It also supports the Bill’s requirement for the government to provide a mandatory code of practice for councils and for local housing authorities (LHA) to carry out assessments of all homelessness applications they receive.

The committee has conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the Private Member’s Bill, which has been tabled by one of its members, Bob Blackman MP, to implement some of the recommendations of its report on homelessness, published in August. This process has no direct precedent in parliament.

The new report recommends changes to the Bill, which include adding domestic violence victims to the list of people for whose needs a local authority’s advice must be especially designed to meet. The committee also calls for consideration of a stronger duty for councils to accommodate certain groups within a reasonable distance of their last address, such as those with mental health conditions or with children in school.

Clive Betts MP
Clive Betts MP

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said: “The committee strongly supports the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which seeks to address many of the issues we found during our earlier inquiry into homelessness. These included unacceptable levels of service at some local authorities, where people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless often face a hostile process.

“After taking further detailed evidence on the Bill itself, we welcome its introduction of a mandatory code of good practice for councils. The committee also supports the Bill’s emphasis on homelessness prevention, provision for domestic violence victims and consideration for those with mental health conditions.

“But we are also mindful that the Bill will increase pressure on local authority resources. Comments by ministers suggesting that the government will help meet these financial burdens are welcome and we urge the Department of Communities and Local Government to work with councils to develop a funding model that reflects local demand.

“Such close co-operation is vital to the successful implementation of the Bill as is a renewed, cross-Departmental Government strategy to end homelessness.”

 “The approach taken by the Committee and our colleague Bob Blackman MP is unique and we believe our experience is a model on which other Select Committees and sponsors of Private Members’ Bills can draw.”

Other provisions in the Bill which are particularly welcomed in the report are an extension of the period someone can be considered to be threatened with homelessness from 28 to 56 days and a duty for LHA’s to provide personal housing plans.

Further changes recommended to the Bill, which is scheduled for a second reading in the Commons Chamber on Friday 28 October, include:

  • Reword Clause 8: Becoming homeless intentionally because it is too broad and should be redrafted to ensure protections for vulnerable people in priority need are not weakened
  • Revise Clause 9: Somewhere safe to stay to restrict the duty for councils to provide 56 days of emergency accommodation to those whose safety is at risk. It is not feasible for local authorities to provide accommodation to all homeless people
  • Remove Clause 12: Definition of local connection. The Committee does not believe that there is consensus for changes to the rules
  • Amend Clause 14: Reviews of decisions to restrict the scope of reviews because of the potential impact on local authority resources of a significant increase in such cases
  • Reinforce Clause 17: Co-operation between authorities and others with statutory guidance to make it clear that the diversion of funds away from a body’s primary duties is not a reason to withhold co-operation with measures to reduce homelessness.

Crisis chief executive, Jon Sparkes said: “Never before has a private member’s bill been subjected to such close, expert scrutiny, and this ringing endorsement throws yet more weight behind it. There can be little doubt that the Homelessness Reduction Bill is a credible and much needed piece of legislation.

“In light of this, we urge the government to offer its support. This bill could be the next great social reform and make a difference to the lives of homeless people up and down the country. The government has already recognised the lack of help available to many homeless people, and has pledged to consider ‘options including legislation’, but now is the time for action.

“The second reading on October 28 will be critical, but unless we get more than 100 MPs along on the day, the bill could easily be blocked. The cross-party consensus is there, and we hope to see as many MPs as possible attending the debate and backing the bill.”

John Healey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, said: “This report shows that there is strong cross-party support for strengthening the law to prevent homelessness in England, as Labour has done in Wales.

“Ministers should now commit the funding and get on and do it.

“It shames Britain that in the last six years, in one of the richest countries in the world, the number of homeless households has spiralled upwards. The number of people sleeping rough on our streets has doubled.

“Government cuts to affordable housing, to homelessness services and to support through housing benefit have left an increasing number of people with nowhere to call home. So as well as changing the law the chancellor must use this Autumn Statement to think again on fresh cuts that will hit those in need of a home hardest.”

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Housing spokesman, said: “Councils are doing everything they can to prevent and solve homelessness. 

“However, faced with rising demand, wide-ranging welfare reforms and falling social housing, councils are struggling to cope with their existing responsibilities to tackle the nation’s growing homelessness crisis.

“The Communities and Local Government Committee report acknowledges that councils cannot do this alone and that there is no silver bullet.

“It is important that any new duties on councils proposed in the Homelessness Reduction Bill are deliverable and fully funded, and focus on addressing the causes of homelessness.

“This needs to include a collective effort from all public services, enabling councils to join up local services – such as housing, welfare, health, justice and skills – to prevent homelessness, address the widening gap between incomes and rents, and to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

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