Homeless Households And The Temporary Accommodation Challenge
How can we find innovative ways to provide suitable temporary accommodation in such a challenging environment? CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves shares her views.
Communities minister Marcus Jones recently announced a ‘radical’ new package of measures to help tackle homelessness and strengthen the legal safety net for the most vulnerable people in our society. This is positive news but in the face of increasing demand and financial pressures, local authorities are having to find new ways to house people temporarily and for as short a time as possible.
Homelessness is increasing
The latest government figures reveal that the rise in homelessness shows no sign of abating, placing immense pressure on local authorities’ already stretched homelessness services. It’s understandable, then, that the number of households being placed into TA also continues to rise. The total number of households with children living in bed & breakfast accommodation (B&B) has increased by 45 per cent since last year and the surge in the number of these placements exceeding the legal six week limit is staggering – they’ve more than doubled in a year.
The problem is particularly significant in London, where a shortage of affordable local options mean London boroughs are placing homeless families further and further away from their communities and existing support networks. However, London’s solution is causing a problem for some local authorities – there have been reports of a shortage of TA options in many areas caused by London councils placing their own families into the private sector in more affordable parts of the country.
Government policy impacts
The impact of welfare reform, such as the benefit cap, on local authorities’ ability to secure suitable accommodation in their own areas, will no doubt be exacerbated further when the local housing allowance (LHA) cap is applied to social sector rents from April 2018. If the cap goes ahead as planned, many types of TA currently used by councils simply won’t be affordable unless there is sufficient funding to bridge the gap between LHA rates and the actual cost of providing TA to people who rely on housing benefit to help pay their rent.
So in an apparent attempt to plug this gap, from 2017-18 TA management fees will no longer be paid retrospectively on a case by case basis by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and instead local authorities will receive a lump sum amount in the form of a grant. The government has committed an additional £10 million a year, for three years, which will be allocated to areas under the most pressure. However, whether the funding will be ring-fenced to ensure local authorities use it for its intended purpose, or whether the amount will actually be enough to meet growing demand, is not yet clear.
Tackling the challenge of rising demand
So how do we meet this challenge? Local authorities currently use a range of options to provide TA to homeless households, including:
- housing in the private rented sector
- social rented sector (LA and registered provider units)
- hostels/refuges (either self- contained or accommodation with shared cooking/washing facilities)
- bed and breakfast accommodation
- supported lodgings and prefabricated units
Obviously preventing homelessness in the first place will always be the preferred approach, and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG)’s recent announcement that the Homelessness Prevention Grant will be protected, building on the government’s commitment of £139 million over the next four years to tackle homelessness, is extremely encouraging. Despite this, so many vulnerable households will nonetheless end up relying on councils to provide them with some form of TA.
We are a dynamic sector with a strong history of finding innovative ways to provide housing solutions in a challenging environment. The vast majority of people who need TA will end up being tenants of local authorities, registered providers or private landlords so it makes sense for the sector to pull together to provide temporary accommodation solutions, smoothing the transition from homelessness to a secure and stable home.