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Notable success of “Everyone In” exposed rough sleeping problem many times larger than Government “has previously acknowledged”

17 March 2021

The notable pandemic response success of the "Everyone In" initiative has exposed gaps in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)’s approach to tackling rough sleeping, says the Public Accounts Committee in a report published today.

Alongside local authorities and the voluntary sector MHCLG made a "considerable achievement" in the first wave of the Covid19 pandemic in spring 2020, moving quickly and decisively to house people sleeping rough: potentially avoiding some 20,000 transmissions of the virus and limiting deaths among this highly vulnerable population to an estimated 16, against around 37,430 people who had been helped into accommodation by January 2021.

But that number is nearly nine times MHCLG'S last official estimate of people sleeping rough on England’s streets, made before the start of the pandemic, of 4,266 - and MHCLG still does not have a plan for achieving or maintaining the government’s 2019 election commitment to end rough sleeping by May 2024: three years from now. 

Owing to MHCLG’s sometimes "disappointing evasiveness" it’s uncertain whether its objective of providing 3,300 homes for people sleeping rough by the end of March 2021 will be met. It has distributed £161 million funding for these homes, but contrary to its previous accounts to the Committee, it expects the majority to involve the leasing or purchasing existing buildings rather than new additions to the housing stock.

Further, this accommodation is expected to be temporary, with stays of on average two years, and MHCLG has not given details on how this will contribute to ending rough sleeping or what will be available for people to move into afterwards.  MHCLG was unable to provide any figures on the number of homes that had already been provided and occupied, nor how many it was on track to provide by the end of the financial year.

The Committee also questions whether funding of local authorities is adequate or sufficiently long-term to achieve MHCLG objectives. Local authorities are generally not permitted to support non-UK nationals who legally have "no recourse to public funds" (NRPF), including benefits and public housing, except where there is a risk to life.  At the outset of the pandemic MHCLG was clear that because of the risk to public health, local authorities should provide accommodation for all people sleeping rough irrespective of immigration status.

Over the course of the year however the messaging provided to local authorities became more ambiguous, and the approach councils have taken has increasingly diverged.  In particular, it appears that local authorities in London and the West Midlands are facing practical and financial difficulties, with around 50% of those staying in hotels in London being recorded as having 'no recourse to public funds' at the beginning of winter 2020-21.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

"Everyone In was a success with local authorities and voluntary organisations working to help people living on the street into hostels and hotel rooms in a matter of days. But the Everyone In initiative has exposed the scale of the task the Ministry of Housing faces to meet the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping in three years.

Rough sleeping was a massive public health issue long before the pandemic, and much larger than Government has previously publicly acknowledged. MHCLG now has a huge opportunity to capitalise on this success in the pandemic response and begin to reverse its long record of failed and abandoned housing targets and policies

People without recourse to public funds are still left exposed and risk losing support. Support for these people is urgent."

Further information

Image: CCO