“I hoped there’d be more options:” Experiences of the Homelessness Reduction Act, 2018-2021

Cuchulainn Sutton-Hamilton, Research Officer

As a society we have a responsibility to make sure everyone facing homelessness can get help when they need it. Services should be designed to meet this need and have the resources and tools to ensure everyone has access to a safe and stable home.   

Crisis’ research into people’s experiences of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) shows that the legislation is an important step towards this much-needed goal. Local Authorities are helping more people than ever before and are doing more to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. However, there are still too many who are either receiving no support or finding the types of accommodation they can access very limited.

Four years on, Crisis’ research into people’s experiences of this new system shows that the HRA has made a huge difference. Through first-hand accounts of more than 1,400 people we know in many cases it has changed the relationship between people facing homelessness and staff to one that’s more person-centred and focused on how the council can better support people out of homelessness in a way that is right for them. When this worked well, people who traditionally would have been turned away were finally able to receive the help they needed.

The majority of participants said they were treated with respect when they first contacted their local housing team and felt positive after receiving an assessment. But due to staff shortages, high caseloads and a lack of affordable homes, many people found this early positivity quickly faded. There was a lack of contact, engagement, and meaningful support as they progressed through the homelessness system.

With little to no housing on offer, many felt pushed towards accommodation they couldn’t afford, came up against landlords who wouldn’t accept them, or were placed in properties that felt unsafe. Without genuinely affordable and easily accessible private rented accommodation, and a lack of social housing, many were still being left homeless (46%) or in insecure and unsuitable accommodation (4 in 10).

“The private sector, it’s not very helpful as well. The rent is gone high. It’s so unfair. Why is the rent gone so high? It’s like it’s not giving people opportunities to rent anymore… you have to earn three times the rent and I don’t earn that much, so I’m stuck.” (Interviewee)

Provided they meet immigration conditions, the new duties brought in by the Act require councils to provide a reasonable level of support to everyone facing homelessness, even if only some are then eligible for the full range of support available. But the research suggests that this support will only work if accommodation is easily available.

Despite the HRA broadening the eligibility criteria, across the second and third waves of the research, one in six (17%) respondents got no help at all. Staff described themselves as being predominantly ‘decision-makers’, enforcing eligibility criteria like priority need and local connection, rather than being there to support people. But ultimately locking people out of support does not relieve the pressure of them not having enough accommodation on offer.

“People are confused by our role sometimes. We’re not support workers. We’re making decisions. … I do try and make clear my role is still about making a statutory decision whilst at the same time working with people to understand their needs and try and accommodate for that, but ultimately that’s what we’re doing.” (Housing Officer)

More positively, the research shows that the emergency support brought in during the pandemic demonstrated what is possible when eligibility criteria's are lifted and more accommodation options are available. Staff said they were able to accommodate many whose cases were too ‘complex’, previously. This achievement was helped by councils being able to better join up different services, to provide the holistic support many need to end homelessness.

“Some of the people we put in the hotels and apartment blocks who were entrenched rough sleepers, were people who had been out on the streets for years, where we've been trying to work with them and get them into places, but virtually everywhere had turned them down or evicted them.” (Manager)

For services to be able to provide timely, holistic and effective support to prevent and end homelessness they need to have accommodation options, be accessible, and connected to the full range of services people need. The HRA has helped move England’s homelessness system towards one that’s more focused on solutions instead of looking for reasons why someone cannot be supported.

From conducting this research it was clear that when the right support was in place people were able to get on with their lives, have families, be part of communities and progress with fulfilling their hopes and dreams. Sadly, this is not the case for everybody. Too many are having their lives interrupted simply because there was no one there, nor was there enough housing for them when they needed it most.



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