The Homelessness Reduction Act needs proper funding

The Homelessness Reduction Bill introduced by Bob Blackman was a rare example of a private members’ bill attracting government support and passing into law.

It also had the support of almost everyone who has to address the challenge of homelessness, particularly in London where 70% of the nation’s homeless families are found.

Now an act, it could transform the way homelessness services are delivered and ensure that all eligible applicants are given the help they need. But this will only happen if local and national government work together to identify how the act can be translated into concrete actions and how those actions can be resourced.

The London boroughs fully support the act’s approach to tackling homelessness, which rightly focuses on prevention and early intervention as well as working with a broader range of residents in a more collaborative way.

We want to honour the intentions of the act by providing expanded services that address the full range of factors in people’s lives that can lead to them becoming homeless.

However, we are concerned about the way the Homelessness Reduction Act is currently being implemented. There is a real risk that the act’s landmark reforms could fail to reduce homelessness due to a lack of proper planning and unrealistic funding arrangements from government.

With less than seven months until the Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force on 1 April 2018, local authorities are still waiting for information from government that is vital for preparing to deliver the expanded homelessness prevention offer required by the act.

Crucially this includes both the funding allocations and the code of guidance. London boroughs are doing as much as they can, but without this information they cannot act with certainty to recruit additional staff or enhance their services in appropriate ways.

From 1 April 2018, boroughs will need to provide higher levels of support to a broader number of people at risk of homelessness as well as earlier interventions to the 54,000 homelessness households currently being accommodated, with every stage subject to review.

We are seeking to make this step change despite having experienced a 60% reduction in our funding since 2010, which has had a very significant impact on existing services.

Government must provide local authorities with the additional funding needed to run these important new services. Data from a survey of London boroughs suggests that providing expanded homelessness prevention and relief services will cost around £77m per year in London.

One of the ways government could help is by removing the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap. The restrictions that have been placed on LHA and its uprating since 2011, including the freezing of LHA rates from 2016 until 2021, have meant that it is increasingly difficult to meet the cost of renting in London even at the lowest end of the market. Indeed, this insufficiency has itself been a significant driver of homelessness.

We welcome the Targeted Affordability Fund (TAF), but it isn’t enough to meet the needs of those threatened, or at risk of, homelessness because a significant proportion of LHA rates are already at the level of the cap.

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are being used by boroughs to help households on a case-by-case basis. However, the level of DHP funding allocated to London is currently significantly lower than its peak in 2013/14 (£40.1m in 2017/18 compared to £56.6m in 2013/14) and insufficient to meet even the current challenges presented by the government’s welfare changes. DHP is also by nature supposed to provide only short-term support, and is an inadequate solution to a systemic issue that can only be resolved at a central government level.

As we move to implement the act we need leadership and support from the centre if we are to avoid missing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to help thousands of vulnerable homeless families.

Local government is ready, willing and able to play its part but we urgently need the guidance to be published and proper levels of funding to be announced so we can get moving.

This article first appeared in Inside Housing earlier this week

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