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Rough sleepers are vulnerable to coronavirus (Covid-19); they are more likely to have underlying health conditions than the wider population and to face difficulties in following public health advice on self-isolation, social distancing and hygiene. They can also face barriers in accessing public health information and healthcare. Shared facilities used by rough sleepers – such as day centres, hostels and night shelters – increase the risk of transmission of the virus.

The Autumn 2019 official count of rough sleepers in England recorded 4,266 people sleeping rough. The Covid-19 outbreak in Spring 2020 prompted an unprecedented public health response from the UK Government, local authorities and the voluntary sector to protect the rough sleeping population.

‘Everyone In’ Initiative

On 26 March 2020, the Government asked local authorities in England to “help make sure we get everyone in”, including those who would not normally be entitled to assistance under homelessness legislation. The Chief Executive of the charity Crisis, Jon Sparkes, described the Government’s request as a “landmark moment.”

In response, local authorities across the country sought to ensure that people sleeping rough and in accommodation where it was difficult to self-isolate (such as shelters and assessment centres) were safely accommodated to protect them, and the wider public, from the risks of Covid-19. This was an enormous challenge for local authorities, who block-booked hotel rooms, secured other en-suite accommodation (e.g. B&Bs, student accommodation, holiday rentals etc) and worked with partners to ensure that those accommodated had the food, medical care and support they required.

The Government supported the ‘Everyone In’ initiative with £3.2 million in funding and guidance. Announcing the emergency funding, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, said:

Public safety and protecting the most vulnerable people in society from coronavirus is this government’s top priority. We are working closely with councils and charities to ensure they have the support they need throughout this period.

Next Steps Accommodation Programme

The Government set up a rough sleeping taskforce, spearheaded by Dame Louise (now Baroness) Casey, to lead the next phase of the Government’s support for rough sleepers.

The taskforce is working with local authorities, charities, faith groups and other partners to ensure that as few people as possible return to life on the streets after the Covid-19 emergency. To enable this the Next Steps Accommodation Programme is providing two distinct funding streams for local authorities and their partners in 2020/21:

  • £105 million for shorter-term/interim accommodation and immediate support (of which £91.5 million has been allocated to 274 local authorities and the remaining £13.5 million will be used to enable local authorities to tackle new or emerging challenges).
  • £161 million to deliver 3,300 units of longer-term, move-on accommodation and support – to date over £150 million has been allocated to 276 schemes across England which are expected to deliver by March 2021.

The Government also made £23 million available in 2020/21 to tackle the substance dependence treatment needs of rough sleepers. The funding is administered by Public Health England and has been allocated to 43 areas across England.

Winter provision for rough sleepers

On 13 October 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced a package of support to protect rough sleepers over the winter:

  • £10 million Cold Weather Fund to support local authorities to provide self-contained and Covid-secure accommodation.
  • £2 million to enable faith and community groups to provide Covid-secure accommodation.
  • Operating guidance to the sector to help night shelters open more safely, as a last resort and where not doing so would endanger lives.

A new ‘Protect Programme’, announced in November 2020 and backed by £15 million, will target support at local areas with high numbers of rough sleepers, with a particular focus on protecting those deemed clinically vulnerable. The Government also asked all local authorities to update their rough sleeping plans and carry out a rapid assessment of need for everyone they accommodate.

As of 17 December 2020, the Government had allocated £7.3 million of the Cold Weather Fund to over 260 local authorities and £9.8 million of the Protect Programme funding to 19 local areas, including the Greater London Authority.

Following the announcement of a third national lockdown for England on 4 January 2021, the Government committed an additional £10 million funding for local authorities and urged authorities to “redouble their efforts” to help accommodate all those currently sleeping rough. Authorities were also asked to ensure that those accommodated are registered with a GP and factored into local area vaccination plans.

In total, the Government has allocated over £700 million ring-fenced funding in 2020/21 to support rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping.

Funding in 2021/22

At Spending Review 2020 the Chancellor confirmed an additional £254 million of resource funding to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness. The Government also committed £87 million of capital funding in 2021/22 to support the delivery of long-term accommodation for rough sleepers.

The Government subsequently announced a further £310 million Homelessness Prevention Grant, which takes the total resource funding for rough sleeping and homelessness in 2021/22 to over £750 million.

Impact of measures to support rough sleepers

The Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative has been credited with protecting rough sleepers and saving lives during the Covid-19 emergency.

On 18 April 2020 the Government reported that in England over 90% of rough sleepers (more than 5,400) known to local authorities at the beginning of the crisis had been offered accommodation as a result of ‘Everyone In’.

By November 2020, 9,866 people were in emergency accommodation and 23,273 people had moved on into settled accommodation or supported housing.

Homelessness organisations report that bringing everyone in has given them the opportunity to engage with and support many people who had previously been hard to reach, helping them to move on from rough sleeping. However, they also report that the flow of new rough sleepers onto the streets has continued throughout the pandemic and they have experienced increased demand for their services.

According to the National Audit Offfice, since June 2020 MHCLG has collected data on a weekly basis from local authorities which appears to confirm an upward trend in numbers of rough sleepers. The data was gathered at speed and has not been independently validated or published. Local Government Association (LGA) discussions with councils suggest a varying picture across the country, with levels of rough sleeping in some areas much reduced from the start of the pandemic, whilst in other areas levels remain the same or have increased.

Comment

Local authorities have welcomed the additional emergency funding to help them respond to the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the level of funding for homelessness services remains a concern. In addition, the LGA has criticised the fragmented, short-term and resource-intensive competitive nature of current funding and called for long-term and sustainable homelessness funding.

Following the first national lockdown, the approach taken by local authorities to those who newly presented as rough sleeping increasingly diverged, with some continuing to take people into emergency accommodation regardless of eligibility, and others assessing people’s eligibility for support. Housing lawyers and homelessness charities have called for greater clarity from the Government on the legal duties and powers local authorities should be using to accommodate rough sleepers during the pandemic. Support for those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) due to their immigration status is a particular cause for concern.

The Government’s decision to allow communal night shelters for rough sleepers to reopen has been criticised.

The shortage of suitable move-on accommodation in many areas of the country remains a significant problem. Furthermore, the sector is concerned that homelessness levels may surge once the Government’s temporary coronavirus housing, welfare and employment support measures come to an end and the full economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak starts to take effect

Stakeholders have called for further measures to prevent homelessness, including: the national roll-out of Housing First; changes to the UK welfare system; protections for private renters; and increased investment in social rented housing.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee published the interim report of its inquiry to assess the impact of the coronavirus crisis on homelessness, rough sleeping and the private rented sector on 22 May 2020. The report urged the Government to implement three key measures to protect rough sleepers against the impact of coronavirus:

  • Provide local authorities with an annual £100 million dedicated funding stream to end rough sleeping in England once and for all.
  • Compensate local authorities for provision offered to rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds as a result of the crisis and publish guidance on councils’ use of discretion in these circumstances.
  • Boost the immediate availability of appropriate supported housing, by providing targeted grant funding for local authorities and housing associations to acquire properties and removing restrictions on Right to Buy receipts.

The Government’s response to the Committee was published on 25 June 2020.

The HCLG Committee has issued a further call for evidence to understand how effective Government support has been in tackling the negative impact of Covid-19 on tenants, landlords, rough sleepers and the homelessness.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on its investigation into the housing of rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic (January 2021), in order to support Parliament’s scrutiny of the Government’s Covid-19 response. The investigation concluded that Everyone In was “a considerable achievement”. Nevertheless, it also identified several key issues that the Government needs to address if it is to achieve its goal of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Housing policy is a devolved area. The paper briefly outlines the key measures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to protect rough sleepers during the Covid-19 emergency.


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