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Government must establish £100m housing support fund or risk losing ‘golden opportunity to end rough sleeping’

22 May 2020

Successful efforts to tackle rough sleeping during the Covid-19 pandemic risk being squandered if the Government fails to implement and fund a comprehensive exit strategy, say the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in it's interim report on protecting rough sleepers and renters.

The report calls for the Government to dedicate at least £100m per year 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.

Tackling rough sleeping

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, 90% of rough sleepers have been taken off the streets and housed in temporary accommodation. This has provided the Government with a unique opportunity to eradicate rough sleeping in England once and for all. The Committee calls on the Government to work quickly to develop a housing based exit strategy and identify the level of funding required to support it. This 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. The Housing First pilots provide an ideal model for such support and the rollout across the country should be accelerated.
 
The Government will need to consider how to ensure an adequate supply of immediately available supported housing. To this end they 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. The Government should remove restrictions on Right to Buy receipts so councils can use 100% of sales to fund these acquisitions and better replace lost housing stock.

Supporting private renters

There is a looming crisis in the private rental sector with thousands of tenants unable to pay their rent having lost their jobs or seen a significant loss of income. The Government has banned evictions for a three month period, which has ensured people have a home to live in but may result in amassing significant rent arrears. Citizen’s Advice calculated that up to 2.6 million private renters may have missed or expected to miss a rent payment in April. Without action from the Government, the possibility remains that there will be a cliff edge of evictions once the temporary ban lapses.
 
The Committee calls on the Government to consider amending existing legislation to provide greater security to tenants during the ongoing health crisis. This could include amending the Housing Act to enable judges to use discretionary powers where a tenant is in rent arrears due to Covid-19 for the next 12 months, that compels tenant and landlord to work together to find a solution and removes the option of eviction as the first resort. The Committee has included the text of a draft Bill as an example of how to achieve this. This would be supported by the abolition of the ‘no fault evictions’.
 
The Committee additionally calls for Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to be set at a level that reflects real market rents and ensures those in need are able to afford properties in their areas. The Government should guarantee that the rate be maintained at the 30th percentile in the long-term, and undertake an analysis of the impact of further rises in LHA rates on renters and the wider rental market.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts 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 £100m 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."

Further information

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