Written evidence submitted by Crisis [RSH 066]

 

Introduction

 

Crisis is the national charity for people facing homelessness. We know that homelessness is not inevitable, and we know that together, we can end it. Crisis is dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change.

 

Every year we work directly with thousands of people experiencing homelessness in 11 areas across England, Scotland and Wales. We provide vital help so people can rebuild their lives and are supported out of homelessness for good. We offer one to one support, advice and courses according to individual needs. We use research to find out how best to improve our services, but also to find wider solutions to end homelessness for good.

 

Homelessness has a significant financial and social cost; as well as the £1.1 billion councils spend each year temporary accommodation and measures to mitigate homelessness, there are wider costs to public services.[1] Improving access to and sustainment of social housing for people experiencing homelessness would provide the foundation for Government to deliver a more cost effective, preventative response to homelessness and to deliver on its commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the current parliamentary term. The way social housing providers are regulated has a critical bearing on their performance in tackling homelessness and Crisis welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s call for evidence on the Regulation of Social Housing.

 

Summary

 

Our submission makes the case for ensuring that the reform of social housing regulation introduces effective scrutiny of social housing providers role in tackling and alleviating homelessness. We address these issues under the inquiry questions examining whether the current regime for regulating social housing is fit for purpose and whether the reforms in the social housing White Paper will improve the regime. Our submission also notes specific problems that have been identified in relation to the regulation of providers delivering homes under the exempt provisions of Housing Benefit, which we will address in more detail in response to the Select Committee Inquiry on exempt accommodation.

 

We recommend that the Committee calls on the Westminster Government to ensure that the social housing sector plays its full role in addressing the Government’s objective of preventing homelessness and ending rough sleeping by:

Our response to the call for evidence:

 

Our response to this question focusses on the relationship between the regulatory regime and social housing providers role in preventing and alleviating homelessness. Over the past few years, Crisis has been working with housing providers as part of the Homes for Cathy alliance to increase the impact of the sector in ending homelessness. The alliance came together in response to concerns that some social housing providers have drifted away from their original social purpose, with evidence that not enough is being done by parts of the sector to address the difficulties some groups of people face in accessing or sustaining social housing.

 

We see the impact of this in the low proportion of social housing lettings made to people experiencing homelessness; for example, in 2019/20 only 24% of social housing lettings in England went to people experiencing homelessness compared with 44% in Scotland.[3] Similarly, while evictions from council and housing association tenancies had decreased marginally in the years running up to the pandemic, around 16,000 households a year were still being evicted by councils and housing associations, with two thirds of evictions from the housing association sector.[4] The 2019 Homelessness Monitor commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation documented local authority housing option teams’ perspectives on the impact of social landlords’ practices, recording concern that a proportion of landlords are not doing all they might to alleviate homelessness.[5]

 

This evidence suggests that the current (pre-White Paper) regulatory regime and self-regulation of the consumer standards have failed to ensure social landlords to adopt a proactive approach tackling homelessness. While the response to the pandemic led to significant changes in approach amongst in some areas and by some providers – for example with the temporary suspension of choice based lettings schemes to allow direct lets to those with the most urgent need for rehousing and the cessation of most evictions – it is unclear to what extent these gains will be sustained.

The need for a stronger regulatory approach to address homelessness has been highlighted by the Kerslake Commission report into homelessness and rough sleeping.[6] The Commission called on the housing sector to drive forward a commitment to collaborate with Local Authorities and other public agencies, to prevent and relieve homelessness, and help develop solutions and strategies.’ But it also identified a case for monitoring of performance in this area by the Regulator of Social Housing in order to incentivise housing associations to prevent and contribute to homelessness solutions.’

Crisis and the Homes for Cathy group believe that the sector can and should do more to improve access to social housing for people moving on from homelessness and to reduce the scale of evictions. Crisis is in the early stages of commissioning research to identify practical ways in which social landlords can overcome the challenges associated with allocations and tenancy sustainment and play their full part in addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

 

The reform of social housing regulation provides an opportunity to ensure that social landlords provide decent homes and effective services for the 4 million households that already live in social housing, but also play their part in meeting the needs of homeless people and others who form part of the 4 million households in the backlog of housing need.[7] We would like to see the regulatory regime supporting this wider objective and set out proposals for reform below.

 

Crisis has also been examining shortcomings in the way the Regulator of Social Housing is currently empowered to address problems with the management of homes provided under the exempt provisions of Housing Benefit (where delivered by registered providers). Despite recent efforts by the Regulator to address problems with lease-based exempt provision, it appears to be the case that some exempt providers are continuing to exploit loopholes within the current regulatory regime to evade the regulation of property standards. For example, as registered providers they are not subject to rules on licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation, but where providers use exempt accommodation to deliver ‘non social’ housing (broadly speaking homes at market rent levels) they are also not subject to consumer regulation of property standards by the Regulator of Social Housing. We have also heard from local authorities that they are seeing continuing problems with unscrupulous registered providers charging what appear to be excessive rent levels, but some report challenges in engaging with the Regulator to address these.  The reform of social housing regulation appears to offer an opportunity to identify and address problems that relate to limitations on the regulator’s powers to intervene or share information about exempt providers with local authorities. We will address these issues in more detail in response to the Select Committee’s separate inquiry into exempt accommodation.

 

 

While the Social Housing White Paper contains positive and welcome proposals for reform, including to strengthen the enforcement of consumer standards, remove the serious detriment test and ensure speedier resolution of tenants’ complaints, we were disappointed that it did not expressly address the role of social housing providers in preventing and alleviating homelessness. We were similarly disappointed that the Regulator’s recent publication of key principles and its outline approach does not directly address the issue of homelessness.[8] We do recognise, however, that the forthcoming consultation process planned by the Regulator provides an opportunity to feed into the development of the new consumer standards regime, and we will take the opportunity to feed in our recommendations in due course.

 

We would urge the Select Committee to recommend that the Westminster Government and Social Housing Regulator address the following areas as part of the ongoing reform process:

 

 

 

 

Proposals to reform social housing regulation have rightly focussed on improving accountability to existing social housing tenants. But it is in our view an oversight that they do not also focus attention on the needs of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness - those whose future housing stability depends on access to or sustainment of social housing. We recommend that the Select Committee calls on Government and the Regulator to address this omission in the future reform of regulation, ensuring that the social housing sector plays a full role in addressing the Governments objective of preventing homelessness and ending rough sleeping.

 

 

December 2021


[1] Downie, M., Gousy, H., Basran, J., Jacob, R., Rowe, S., Hancock, C., Albanese, F., Pritchard, R., Nightingale, K. and Davies, T. (2018) Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain. London: Crisis.

[2] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/52/section/213

[3] Stephens, M., Perrry, J., Williams, P., Young, G., & Fitzpatrick, F. (2021) UK Housing Review 2021. Coventry: Chartered Institute of Housing. See Figure 2.5.6

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/local-authority-housing-data#2020-to-2021; https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistical-data-return-statistical-releases

[5] https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/homelessness-knowledge-hub/homelessness-monitor/england/the-homelessness-monitor-england-2019/

[6] https://usercontent.one/wp/www.commissiononroughsleeping.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/KRSC_Final_Report_29_11.pdf

[7] Bramley, G. (2018) Housing supply requirements across Great Britain for low income households and homeless people. London: Crisis and the National Housing Federation.

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reshaping-consumer-regulation-our-principles-and-approach/reshaping-consumer-regulation-our-principles-and-approach-accessible-version

[9] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/52/section/213

[10] https://homesforcathy.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/commitments-one-pager.pdf

[11] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/755234/Framework_document_for_RSH_and_MHCLG.pdf