13 September 2019

The number of households living in temporary accommodation in England is at its highest level in more than a decade and the number of households considered newly homeless rose by by more than 3,000 in three months, government statistics show.

A total of 84,740 households were in bed and breakfasts, hostels and other temporary accommodation at the end of March this year, including 126,020 children, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said. It is the highest number of such households since mid-2007 and compares with a low of 48,010 in 2010.

Between January and March this year, 32,740 households were initially assessed as being homeless, up 11.2% from 29,430 in the previous quarter.

The figures only account for those whom the authorities deem homeless, and charities say the true figure is much higher. Years of austerity, changes to the benefit system and rising rents have led to sustained increases in the number of people made homeless.

The number of households classified as homeless in rural England almost doubled over the past year, according to an analysis by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. It said 173,584 families were on waiting lists for social housing in areas where councils built just 1,336 homes for social rent in 2018.

The housing charity Shelter said one household had become homeless every four minutes in England in the last year, and it called on the government to invest in a new generation of social homes.

“During a year where Brexit negotiations have totally dominated the political agenda, catastrophic numbers of people have become homeless,” said Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate. “Cripplingly expensive private rents, frozen housing benefits and lengthy waiting lists for social homes are pushing people to the sharp edge of a housing emergency, which won’t go away without genuinely affordable homes.

“The government must invest in a new generation of social homes, 3m more in 20 years, if they are to pull hundreds of thousands of people out of homelessness. And in the meantime they must urgently increase housing benefit so that it covers at least the bottom third of private rents.”

The charity Crisis said everyone had the right to a decent home. It welcomed what it said was the success of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) in preventing nearly 60,000 households from becoming homeless in England, but called on the government to address the causes of the issue.

“We know we can do better,” said Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis. “The HRA has great potential, but it can only go so far when people are being pushed to the brink, struggling to meet the cost of housing. The government needs to tackle the root causes of this issue, investing in building more social housing and restoring local housing allowance, so that it covers the true cost of renting.”

Crisis said more than 7,000 households currently lived in B&Bs and were unable to access safe and secure accommodation. “Our clients tell us of damaged and even dangerous conditions, where they lack basic cooking and laundry facilities and face the constant pressure eviction at short notice. No one should have to live like this,” Sparkes said.

The government figures show London continues to have a disproportionately high number of households in temporary accommodation, with 66% of the total for the whole of England.

MHCLG’ s report acknowledges for the first time that a proportion of those considered “hidden” homeless were omitted in previous statistics, suggesting some have now been accounted for.

The National Probation Service, which supervises offenders after they leave prison, made the most referrals to authorities reporting either homelessness or fears that households were threatened with homelessness.

The statistics are based on full or partial returns from 319 out of 326 local authorities, and MHCLG said it was working with councils to improve the quality of the data.

Shelter said in November last year that its own research suggested at least 320,000 people were homeless in Britain, and prominent statisticians have cast doubt over official counting methods.

MHCLG said more people than ever were entitled to support to prevent homelessness, after it was made a statutory obligation for local authorities.

“The Homelessness Reduction Act is the most ambitious change to homelessness legislation in decades,” said the minister for homelessness, Luke Hall. “Today’s figures show that progress is being made. The act is helping people earlier so they are not having to experience homelessness in the first place. There is still more to do though, which is why we have committed a record investment to ending homelessness and rough sleeping for good.”

The department said another £54m would be spent in 2020-21 to help reduce homelessness and rough sleeping, a 13% increase on the current year.

Source: The Guardian