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The Bill’s aims

Bob Blackman drew second place in the Private Members’ Bill Ballot and introduced the Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17 on 29 June 2016.  The Bill is scheduled to receive its Second Reading on 28 October 2016. The Bill extends to England and Wales but will only apply in England.

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee took evidence on the draft Bill ahead of formal publication. While supportive of the Bill’s aims, the Committee recommended some significant amendments. The final version of the Bill is substantially different from the draft considered by the Committee.

The main thrust of the Bill is to refocus English local authorities on efforts to prevent homeless. The Bill is seeking to amend Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. Its measures include:

  • An extension of the period during which an authority should treat someone as threatened with homelessness from 28 to 56 days.
  • Clarification of the action an authority should take when someone applies for assistance having been served with a section 8 or section 21 notice of intention to seek possession from an assured shorthold tenancy.
  • A new duty to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants threatened with homelessness.
  • A new duty to relieve homelessness for all eligible homeless applicants.
  • A new duty on public services to notify a local authority if they come into contact with someone they think may be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Several provisions have financial implications for local authorities for which a money resolution will be required. An impact assessment and new burdens assessment will be published in due course.

Government support

The Government confirmed that it would support the Bill’s progress through Parliament on 24 October 2016. Local authorities and their representative organisations had said that they could not support the draft Bill in the absence of an effective long-term national strategy. The Local Government Association (LGA) said: “There are further risks that, in areas where council resources are already particularly stretched, legislative change in isolation could affect their capacity to deliver good outcomes for groups of vulnerable people that they are successfully helping now.” The most controversial clauses from the local authority perspective have been removed from the final version of the Bill and, as a result, the LGA is reportedly close to supporting the Bill. There is certainly widespread support in the sector for a preventative approach to homelessness backed by adequate funding.

Pressure for change

Although a statutory framework has been in place to provide a safety net for homeless people in England since the enactment of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, there has never been a comprehensive duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people. In summer 2015 Crisis established an Independent Expert Panel to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the homelessness legislation in England.  In The Homelessness legislation: an independent review of the legal duties owed to homeless people (April 2016) the Panel said that the current safely net has a particular impact on single homeless people who “have no right to accommodation or adequate help to prevent or relieve their homelessness, even if they are sleeping rough.” The Panel favoured changes to place more emphasis on preventative work within a statutory framework, particularly in relation to single people and childless couples.

Select Committee inquiry into homelessness

The CLG Committee launched an inquiry into homelessness in December 2015 in response to evidence that homelessness, particularly rough sleeping, was increasing. The Committee concluded that the service offered to homeless non-priority need applicants is “unacceptably variable.” The Committee is supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill and has called for a “renewed cross-Departmental strategy” to tackle homelessness.

New approaches in Scotland and Wales

The fact that both Scotland and Wales have legislated in recent years to address the longstanding lack of support for homeless single people has added to the pressure for change in England. In Scotland, there is a statutory duty on local authorities to find permanent accommodation for all applicants who are unintentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness. In Wales, local authorities have a duty to prevent all those threatened with homelessness from becoming homeless. Statistics covering the first full year of implementing the new statutory provisions in Wales indicate some success in the prevention of homelessness.

Homelessness is increasing

Statutory homelessness in England has increased since 2010. The financial year 2010/11 saw a 10% increase in statutory homelessness acceptances by local authorities, representing the first financial year increase since 2003/4. Homelessness acceptances continued to rise over the next three years but fell by 3% between 2012/13 and 2013/14. The 2014/15 financial year recorded a further increase, with acceptances 36% higher than in 2009/10 (but 60% below the peak in 2003/4). The 2015/16 financial year saw acceptances increase by a further 6% on 2014/15.

The estimated number of rough sleepers in England has also increased each year since 2010. The autumn 2010 total was 1,768 while the autumn 2015 total was more than twice as high at 3,569. The number of rough sleepers increased by 30% between 2014 and 2015, the biggest year-on-year increase since 2011.

Why is homelessness increasing?

The rise in homelessness has been attributed to the long-term failure of successive Governments to ensure a sufficient supply of affordable housing. Other significant factors include the increase in homelessness arising from the termination of assured shorthold tenancies in the private rented sector, and Housing Benefit restrictions introduced since 2010 which, it is argued, have made it difficult for claimants to secure housing at rents which Housing Benefit will cover.

Relevant Library briefing papers

Relevant Library briefing papers include Statutory homelessness in England (01164) and the Households in temporary accommodation (England) (02110). Duties owed to the non-statutory homeless are covered in the Library briefing paper Rough Sleeping (England) (02007). There is also Rough sleepers: access to services and support (England) (07698).The variations in approaches to homelessness in Scotland and Wales are outlined in Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (07201). For an overview of statistical indicators see: Homelessness: Social Indicators (02646). Local-level data on homelessness in England can be viewed using the Library’s online tool (07586).

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