MP’s push to extend homeless safeguards gets cross-party support

Bob Blackman’s bill aims to prevent people without children from being told by councils to fend for themselves.

Powered by article titled “MP’s push to extend homeless safeguards gets cross-party support” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for on Monday 24th October 2016 17.15 UTC

The government has said it will support a backbench MP’s private member’s bill that would impose a statutory duty on councils to help people who are in danger of becoming homeless.

Under the bill, councils in England would be legally obliged to provide free advice and support for anyone at risk of homelessness, regardless of whether they are deemed to be in “priority need” under existing laws.

Ministerial backing for the bill came amid concern over increasing levels of homelessness fuelled by housing shortages, rising rents, insecure tenancies and cuts to housing benefit.

The new duty, based on laws introduced by the Labour government in Wales in 2015, would give anyone who is homeless or at imminent risk of losing their home the right to practical help to prevent them losing a tenancy or secure new accommodation.

It places a duty on local authorities to help eligible people at risk of homelessness to secure accommodation 56 days before they are threatened with homelessness, and to provide those who find themselves homeless with support for a further period of 56 days to help to secure accommodation.

In return, households will be expected to cooperate with the council, and any that refuse will not be offered support under councils’ main homelessness duty. Households not in priority need who refuse to cooperate would be provided with advice and information only.

The bill, published by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, received cross-party support, including the personal backing of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, meaning it is more likely to become law.

The bill receives its second reading on Friday. Campaigners have warned that at least 100 MPs have to be present to ensure it can progress.

Local authorities warned that without extra investment in tackling the underlying causes of housing insecurity the bill would not on its own solve the problem of rising homelessness.

Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to prevent and tackle it.

“However, there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness. The causes of homelessness are many and varied and range from financial to social.

“After having worked closely with Bob Blackman, we are confident that the new bill, if it does go through parliament, will be in a better place. However, it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness.

“If we are all to succeed, then all new duties proposed in the bill will need to be fully funded. Councils need powers to resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “No one should have to sleep rough on the streets. We want to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That’s why we are determined to do all we can to help those who lose their homes and provide them with the support they need to get their lives back on track.

“This government is therefore very pleased to support Bob Blackman’s private member’s bill, with its ambitious measures to help reduce homelessness.”

Blackman, a former leader of Brent council in London, said: “I welcome the government’s decision to support my bill to reduce homelessness. Throughout my 24 years in local government prior to becoming an MP, I saw the devastation that can be caused by homelessness first hand, with too many people simply slipping through the net under the current arrangements.”

Homelessness law in England dating back to 2002 effectively reserves a full duty of support only for those deemed to be in priority need, which in practice means families with young children and pregnant women.

People who do not qualify for priority help, including most single people and a number of vulnerable groups including rough sleepers, are told by some councils to fend for themselves.

A 2014 “mystery shopping” exercise carried out in 16 local authorities by the charity Crisis found that councils turned away a third of single homeless people, some of whom were rough sleepers or victims of domestic violence.

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said: “This is a credible and much-needed piece of legislation which now has the backing of the government, the opposition and the communities and local government select committee.

“The cross-party consensus is there, and we hope that MPs from across the political spectrum will come together on 28 October to vote on the bill.”

Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of St Mungo’s, said: “The bill is a major step towards ensuring people get the help they need to prevent or tackle their homelessness. It will fill a gap in the law that has meant many people get little or no help to avoid the dangers of sleeping rough.”

A joint letter last week to Labour MPs from Corbyn and the shadow housing minister, John Healey, encouraged them to support the bill “to strengthen the homelessness safety net, to fund in full any changes and to commit to tackling the central causes of the last six years of failure on homelessness”. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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