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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Lack of Government action on rising homelessness problem 'national scandal'

Written by Sam Lister

The Government has failed to do enough to tackle the rocketing homelessness that has been partly fuelled by its own welfare reforms, according to a damning assessment by the public spending watchdog.

Over the last six years there has been a 60% rise in households in temporary accommodation, which includes 120,540 children, the National Audit Office found.

A snapshot overnight count last autumn recorded 4,134 rough sleepers, a 134% hike since the Conservatives took power.


Here are the key trends in the report:

  • An autumn snapshot survey last year recorded 4,134 rough sleepers, an increase of 134% on 2010
  • 77,240 households were in temporary accommodation in March, an increase of 60% on 2011
  • 120,540 children were temporary accommodation in March, an increase of 73% on 2011
  • 59,090 households told councils they were homeless and were assessed as entitled to temporary accommodation in 2016/17, an increase of 48% on 2009/10
  • 29,320 households told councils they were homeless but were assessed as not entitled to temporary accommodation in 2016/17, an increase of 31% on 2009/10
  • Councils helped 105,240 households remain in their homes in 2016/17, an increase of 63% on 2009/10
  • Councils helped 94,390 households find alternative accommodation in 2016/17, an increase of 23% on 2009/10


The ending of private sector tenancies has now become the main cause of homelessness in England, rather than changes in personal circumstances such as relationship breakdowns, with a threefold increase in numbers since 2010/11, the NAO found.

Rents have gone up at the same time as household incomes from benefits have been cut, it said.

Local housing allowance reforms are "likely to have contributed" to making tenancies for claimants less affordable and "are an element of the increase in homelessness", according to the report.

All forms of homelessness have increased "significantly" and are costing more than £1 billion a year to deal with.

But the Department for Communities and Local Government has continued with a "light touch" approach despite the clearly growing problem and its recent performance cannot be considered value for money, the NAO said.

Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse said: "Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors. Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms on this issue, and there remain gaps in its approach.

"It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money."

The Department for Work and Pensions has been unable to assess the impact that changes to local housing allowance have had on homelessness, the report said.

"It appears likely that the decrease in affordability of properties in the private rented sector, of which welfare reforms such as the capping of local housing allowance are an element, have driven this increase in homelessness," the report states.

"Despite this, the government has not evaluated the impact of its welfare reforms on homelessness, or the impact of the mitigations that it has put in place."

NAO analysis found private sector rents in London have gone up by 24% since 2010, eight times the average rise in earnings.

Across England costs have gone up by three times as much wages, except in the north and East Midlands.

Most of the £1.1bn councils spent on homelessness in 2015/6 went on temporary accommodation, up by 39% in real terms since 2010/11 - from £606 million to £845 million.

Over the same period spending on other services, such as prevention, support and administration, fell by 9% - from £334 million to £303 million.

The NAO found nine in ten households in temporary accommodation that have been housed outside their council area were placed there by a London authority.

Councils in the capital have been buying up properties in towns such as Bexley, Luton and Medway to house homeless families, it said.

Labour's Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: "It is a national scandal that more and more people are made homeless every year.

"This reports illustrates the very real human cost of the government's failure to ensure people have access to affordable housing. Over 77,000 households, including 120,000 children, are living in temporary accommodation and another 4,100 individuals have been left sleeping rough.

"The Department for Communities and Local Government's 'light touch' approach clearly isn't working. Its plans for the future merely seem to shift more responsibility and cost to local authorities at a time when they are already stretched."

A Government spokesman said: "Tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution, but this Government is determined to help the most vulnerable in society.

"We're investing £550 million to 2020 to address the issue and implementing the most ambitious legislative reform in decades, the Homelessness Reduction Act.

"This Act means more people get the help they need earlier to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

"Our welfare reforms restore fairness to the system with a strong safety net in place to support the most vulnerable, including £24 billion through the Housing Benefit.

"There's more to do to make sure people always have a roof over their head and ministers will set out further plans shortly, including delivering on our commitment to eliminate rough sleeping entirely."

Local Government Association housing spokesman Martin Tett said: "Rising homelessness is a huge challenge for councils, which are having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school's worth of homeless children in temporary accommodation every month. The net cost to councils of doing this has tripled in the last three years, as they plug the gap between rising rents and frozen housing benefit.

"Councils are working hard to tackle homelessness and are focusing on preventing it happening. We now need the Government to support this local effort, by allowing councils to invest in building genuinely affordable homes and providing the support and resources they need to help prevent people becoming homeless in the first place."

The chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, Polly Neate, said: "The NAO has found what Shelter sees every day - that for many families our housing market is a daily nightmare of rising costs and falling benefits which is leading to nothing less than a national crisis.

"That's why we are calling on the Government to act now, in this year's Budget, to end the freeze on housing benefit and to commit to building decent homes at affordable rents. Without this action this is a crisis which will only get worse."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA Wire.