From the Wirral to West London: homelessness soars
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From the Wirral to West London: homelessness soars
From the Wirral to West London, homelessness is on the increase across England. So what are councils doing about it and are welfare cuts really to blame, asks Ross Macmillan?
A snapshot survey of councils across England has revealed that homelessness acceptances are up from last year with family evictions and termination of private rented sector (PRS) tenancies being cited as the main causes.
But lurking behind the reasons cited, homelessness charity Shelter believes benefit reforms are at play with fears there is worse to come as the cuts have so far only come in the PRS.
Last April came the caps to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). Then, six months later, the Government set LHA rates at the 30th percentile of rents in each rental market area rather than the median – cutting down the number of properties that claimants can afford.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, of the 10 councils we contacted in our snapshot survey, a London borough reported the biggest increase and revealed that termination of assured shorthold tenancies in the PRS had actually overtaken parental/family evictions as the biggest category cited in the last 12 months.
Hounslow reported 446 acceptances in April 2011/12 compared to 199 the year before – a 55% increase.
A spokesperson said: “This isn’t necessarily down to LHA cuts, as it can be for other reasons, such as the landlord selling the property or the tenant being evicted for rent arrears etc.”
The council has developed new posts to address the impacts of welfare reform and says it is working with private landlords to source accommodation.
Another London borough seeing similar results is Islington which has reported 413 acceptances this year – compared to 333 the year before.
A spokesperson said: “It's hard to give a detailed reason for the increase, however in 2010/11 homelessness due to the ending of a private sector tenancy accounted for 6 percent of all homelessness acceptances which increased to 14% in 2011/12. The changes in LHA must account for this increase but it is not clear which particular element of the LHA changes may have had most impact.”
The council said it has created a LHA ‘action team’ to assist affected households. In many cases, it said, it has negotiated with landlords to reduce rent payments to prevent eviction.
Shelter’s head of policy, Toby Lloyd, is adamant benefit cuts are at play. He said the survey results were “exactly what we expected”. He said: “This is the effect of benefit reforms but they would never show up in the questions as homeless applicants have a small number of categories to choose from on the forms.”
Another commonly cited reason across the councils we approached was a lack of private rented properties. In one area of Richmond – which has also seen an increase – just 8 in 100 properties were available within the 30th percentile. It should be 3 in 10. However, it did reveal it has had only two cases where a person has been evicted over LHA changes as it has focused on using Discretionary Housing Payments to help.
Moving away from the capital, the figures are still alarming. Wirral council has seen a 30% increase in acceptances which rose to 100 in the last year. “It seems mostly that family and friends are no longer willing to accommodate – it’s difficult to assess why this is,” it said. “It could be because people are not able to find an alternative affordable option in the private rented sector themselves, but as most of the statutory cases are not under 35 singles this is not likely.
“We’ve looked at the usual prevention measures but we are also extending the choice-based letting preference to include those living with family and friends.”
In 2012 Norwich City Council said it had provided advice to 1,890 clients – assisting an average of 52 people a week.
“The reasons behind the number of homeless applications going up are the obvious ones you'd expect - the financial climate and rising unemployment,” said a spokesperson. “We haven't identified any particular upsurge specifically due to welfare reform, although we do expect an increase when the latest tranche of changes come into effect in 2013. We're working hard to ensure that applicants for housing as well as existing tenants are well informed about benefit changes and the effects of these changes on them, using mail-outs, our website etc.”
Homelessness in England
- 12,860 applicants were accepted as owed a main homelessness duty between 1 April and 30 June 2012, 9 per cent higher than during the same period last year.
- The number of people finding themselves homeless because they have had to leave privately rented accommodation is at its highest for 14 years.
- 51,640 households were in temporary accommodation on 30 June 2012, 7 per cent higher than at the same date in 2011.
Source CLG, Homeless Link, CLG