A damning new report published today warns a housing shortage and Tory cuts to social security benefits are “fuelling” a rising homelessness crisis, as almost two thirds of councils across England (64%) struggle to find social tenancies for homeless people.
Evidence obtained from 162 of England’s 326 local authorities reveals how councils are struggling to house homeless people and large families, with 85% reporting difficulties finding accommodation for single people aged 25-34 and 88% saying they’re finding it difficult to house large families.
The findings come from the state-of-the nation report ‘The Homelessness Monitor: England’ – a jointly funded report from the homeless charity Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) think tank – and provides an in depth analysis on how economic and social policy choices are affecting homeless people.
The report highlights how single young people are at a greater risk of homelessness than older people because of unemployment, soaring rents, and cuts to welfare benefits. Worryingly, 94% of councils in England fear the difficulties in housing young homeless people will only get worse over the next 2-3 years.
Particular concerns were expressed regarding the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is replacing a number of existing benefits with one single monthly payment. Almost nine in ten councils in England (89%) believe the Government’s flagship scheme will further exacerbate the homelessness crisis.
Cruel cuts to housing benefits and Local Housing Allowance (LHA) were also making it more difficult for councils to house homeless applicants. One 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.”
Around 58,000 people were accepted as being homeless by councils in England in 2015/16 – an increase of 18,000 since 2009/10. Meanwhile, welfare cuts and housing shortages have resulted in a growing number of homeless people being housed in temporary accommodation – up by a shocking 52% from 2009/10 to June 2016.
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.”