Government risks squandering homelessness efforts

Successful efforts to tackle rough sleeping during the coronavirus outbreak risk being squandered if the government fails to implement and fund a comprehensive exit strategy.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has released its interim report on protecting rough sleepers and renters and calls on ministers to dedicate at least £100 million annually in long term housing support or risk thousands of people currently in temporary accommodation returning to the streets.

The committee further warns of a looming homelessness crisis as private sector renters currently unable to pay rent, face building up debt or losing their homes when the current ban on evictions expires.

It is reported that 90 per cent of rough sleepers have been taken off the streets and housed in temporary accommodation, allowing the government a unique opportunity to eradicate rough sleeping in England once and for all. Now, with this at risk, MPs are calling on the government to work quickly to develop a housing based exit strategy and identify the level of funding required to support it.

Such a strategy should be a dedicated funding stream that enable local authorities to ensure people are accommodated safely and securely, but must also provide for the additional support services to tackle the range of issues rough sleepers may face.

Moreover, the government should work with the Local Government Association and National Housing Federation to develop targeted grant funding for councils and housing associations to acquire properties, including those close to completion that may no longer be in demand. As part of this, the government should remove restrictions on Right to Buy receipts so councils can use 100 per cent of sales to fund these acquisitions and better replace lost housing stock.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said: "We must praise the efforts of all those who have done so much to help take people of the streets during the current health emergency, but what happens next is crucial. It is simply not good enough for anyone to leave temporary accommodation and end up back on the streets. This isn't just about protecting vulnerable people from Covid-19. It is not safe to live on the streets in any circumstances and it is not acceptable to allow it to return once the health crisis abates.

“In our report we have called on the government to grasp the golden opportunity that has presented itself. For the first time in over a decade, rough sleepers have been comprehensively taken off the streets and given accommodation. This must become the new norm. As it stands there are two main risks that need to be addressed if the current low levels of rough sleeping are to continue. Firstly, the government needs to fund a comprehensive housing-led exit strategy for those currently being housed in short term accommodation during the Covid-19 crisis, which we estimate will cost around £100 million a year. Secondly, the government needs to amend legislation to ensure those in the private rented sector who have been caught up in the economic fallout of the pandemic are not evicted when the freeze on eviction proceedings ends.

“In our interim report we have set out what the government will need to do immediately in terms of funding, policy and legislation. There can be no question that we have to ensure no one is forced to live on the streets, we now expect the government to put this achievable goal into long-term reality. We will continue our inquiry to explore how to deal with other long-term issues, such as the crucial issue of rent arrears."

The report from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee follows similar calls from the Labour Party and Homeless Link.