Homelessness Monitor England – the need-to-know on this year’s report

Francesca Albanese, Head of Research and Evaluation

The publication last week of our state of the nation report, the Homelessness Monitor England, comes at a time where there is close political attention on the issue.

Compared to the previous decade, the last 12 months has seen homelessness become more of a priority issue - with progressive policy measures implemented through the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) and investment in solutions to address the most dangerous and visible form of homelessness; rough sleeping. 

The breadth of the evidence contained in our Homelessness Monitor gives us the opportunity to really take stock of the last year – spotting emerging trends and getting to grips with how policies on both a national and local level are affecting homelessness across England. 

Is the Homelessness Reduction Act working in practice?

After the HRA was enacted in April 2018, this report provides insightful findings on how councils are faring under the shift of approach, where preventing homelessness in the first place is the priority. 62% of authorities reported the HRA had enabled a more person-centred approach (interestingly more common among London councils) and another two-thirds saw the Act has having a positive impact for single people - a group the legislation was specifically designed to help.

However, the key takeaways from the report were not all positive and there were some more worrying findings. Only 46% of councils said the Act had prompted more effective prevention work. We know from our own HRA research and practice work, for the Act to get the best results for homeless people, it needs to go beyond the minimum legal requirements. It’s an opportunity to improve service design and culture to address homelessness at the earliest possible point. Examples we have seen include homelessness teams in councils working closely with their local Jobcentre and debt departments to identify people at risk of losing their home.

Tackling the root causes of homelessness

Whilst the Act is a significant step forward it is still thwarted by  ongoing issues with the current welfare system, something that the homelessness monitor series has highlighted as a driver of homelessness year after year. Nine out of 10 councils this year said the freeze to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is likely to increase homelessness in their area and nearly two thirds anticipate a “significant” increase in homelessness as a result of the full roll-out of Universal Credit.

The decreasing levels of social housing have also been widely documented in the monitor series. This year we asked a question for the first time about the practices of housing associations and their ability to resolve homelessness. This shines a light on the continued disconnect between the number of houses needed compared to the number actually available. Nearly two thirds of local authorities reported that “housing affordability” or “financial capability” checks, which are run to make sure a potential tenant has the financial means to actually afford their rent month on month, were making it increasingly difficult for homeless households to access tenancies. This teamed with a drop in absolute numbers by both housing associations and local authorities who have let to homeless people raises worrying questions about where they are currently being housed. For eighth consecutive year we have seen Temporary Accommodation placements go up (by 71% since 2010) and a disproportionate rise in the number of people placed in B&B.

Quite clearly the lack of investment in LHA, restrictive allocations policies and overall lack of social housing stock have some quite serious consequences for people at the lowest end of the housing market.

What else needs to change?

Whilst there is some cause for optimism this year, there is only so far the current policies can go without further political commitment to tackle the root causes of homelessness and end it for good. Most urgently, we need significant investment in housing supply and a properly funded welfare safety net, like restoring LHA rates, to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

We know what these solutions are, we now just need commitment from the government to make these happen now, and then hopefully next year’s report will paint a far more positive picture and we will be further forward to truly end homelessness for good.

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