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10 COMMENT THE SOCIAL NETWORK


Patrick Mooney, managing director at Mooney Thompson Consulting


EXTRA HELP FOR THE UK’S GROWING NUMBERS OF HOMELESS


Colleagues in local authorities are bracing themselves for the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act, which goes live in April and places new responsibilities on councils to intervene at an earlier stage to prevent more people from losing their homes.


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INSTEAD OF WAITING TO ASSIST A FAMILY WHEN THEY BECOME HOMELESS, COUNCILS ARE BEING ASKED TO STEP IN UP TO EIGHT WEEKS BEFORE


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ouncil staff fear they could be overwhelmed by a rising tide of homelessness. Last year local


authorities in England accepted 14,400 households as homeless. Many of them joined the 79,190 households already in temporary accommodation, including a total of 121,360 homeless children.


The number of rough sleepers recently rose to an all-time high of 4,751 people. On top of this there are thousands of ‘hidden homeless’ staying with family or friends, sleeping in spare rooms or on sofas, with less fortunate people bedding down in cars, garages and garden sheds. At the same time councils are losing thousands of properties through the Right to Buy – 58,000 were sold in the last six years – with up to a third of these properties being relet at significantly higher rents.


TRAGEDIES


Behind these statistics are many personal tragedies. When a homeless Portuguese man died in a pedestrian underpass near Parliament in February, it made national news headlines but it was not an isolated case. At least four other rough sleepers died on the streets of London in the first six weeks of the year, each of them a tragic waste of a life. Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why the new homelessness law was passed. Something needed to be done, but homeless- ness is a bit like emergency surgery – it is best avoided and prevention is usually better than the cure.


So instead of waiting to assist someone or a family when they become homeless, councils are being asked to step in up to eight weeks before this becomes a reality. Ideally landlords will be


persuaded to not proceed with an eviction. In addition councils will help everyone, regardless of their circumstances and not just those considered to be in priority need.


RESOURCES


Since 2010 councils have lost up to 50 per cent of their grant from central Government with many now simply providing statutory services such as care services for vulnerable adults and children. To help deliver the new responsibilities, Government has announced additional funding of £72.7m over the next two years. The extra money is welcome, but will not be enough to cover all the additional costs of paying rent deposits to landlords, clearing rent arrears or in training and employing extra staff to advocate on behalf of those threatened with losing their home.


One bright light is the growth in Housing First schemes. These put the homeless person firmly at the centre of the solution. They are given proper accommodation and a support worker whose main focus is on helping to sustain the tenancy. This model is attracting lots of positive publicity for its supportive approach and hopes to pay for itself by saving people and money in the long run. The additional money from Whitehall will not deliver Housing First schemes across the country, but hopefully enough can deliver positive outcomes to persuade Treasury Ministers to release higher levels of funding. Of course the only sustainable and long term solution would be to build thousands more affordable homes and to provide stronger legal protections against homelessness, particularly evictions.


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