Local Government Homelessness Commission says current crisis can’t be solved on a shoestring
Final report calls on the Government to adopt a national housing and homelessness strategy with sustainable funding for local authorities
Today, the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has launched the final report from the Local Government Homelessness Commission (LGHC), a year-long initiative set up to investigate how councils can fulfil their obligation to prevent homelessness.
In the report, the LGHC argues that a comprehensive housing and homelessness strategy is desperately needed to address the underlying causes of homelessness and give councils the powers and resources they need to carry out their duties. Commissioners concluded that the recent dramatic rise in homelessness across the UK is a result of national policy failure. Rough sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg. Tackling homelessness and addressing its causes is a long-term project that needs to draw on partners and organisations from across the public sector and cannot be solved by reactive homelessness services alone.
While the LGHC welcomed the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017), the report found that without significant strategic funding, the systems in place under the HRA may result in an improved assessment process, but will not achieve its ultimate objectives.
Sustainable and affordable housing, mental health support, addiction services, and other infrastructure are urgently needed to address the causes of homelessness. The report shows that current funding is spent unproductively and inefficiently. A dysfunctional housing market, inadequate and badly administered welfare regime largely exemplified by Universal Credit and the Local Housing Allowance, and rising levels of poverty all exacerbate homelessness.
The LGHC report is the first assessment of the state of homelessness prevention from the perspective of local government, those who are tasked with implementing the policy. The Commission was led by local government. Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of Sevenoaks District Council, and Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, were co-chairs joined by a panel of local government experts (full details below).
In a series of four evidence sessions held between October 2018 to March 2019 the Commission’s investigation focused on how councils use data as a homelessness prevention tool, strategies for supporting young people and other vulnerable groups, accessing sustainable accommodation, and finance and funding. Evidence was presented to the LGHC from Bristol City Council, London Borough of Hackney, London Borough of Croydon, Centrepoint, Social Finance/De Paul, London Borough of Southwark, Liverpool City Region, CAPITAL Letters, Gloucester City Council, Dublin City Council and Crisis. Those evidence sessions formed the basis of the arguments presented in the report.
Key recommendations from the report include (full details below):
- A sustainable housing and homelessness strategy, with adequate funding
- Local variation of housing allowance
- The introduction of minimum three year tenancies for the private rented sector
- A homelessness prevention toolkit, designed around the needs of local government
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of Sevenoaks District Council and co-chair of the LGiU’s Homelessness Commission, said: “The timing of what has been an in-depth look at the current homelessness situation in this country couldn’t have been more appropriate, with the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act being felt across local government this was an opportunity to look at different solutions for what has become an intractable problem in many communities. The LGIU saw this as a valuable piece of work and has been instrumental in bringing different perspectives around the table to help produce the report and its recommendations”
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council and Co-Chair of the LGiU’s Homelessness Commission, said: “A huge amount of work has gone in to this report, and I would like to thank the LGIU, and everyone who has presented evidence to the enquiry. It is clear that Government needs to work with local authorities to ensure that the distribution of funding matches need, and that there is enough flex in systems to allow areas to respond to their housing challenges, which vary hugely across the country.”
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGiU, said: “Local authorities are tackling an ever growing homelessness crisis in our communities on a shoestring, with less and less money to do so. The Government can no longer expect local government to pick up the pieces.
Councils shell out vast amounts of money to house people in expensive temporary accommodation or to meet skyrocketing private rents. Something has to give, and we argue that it should be the UK’s overly centralised system of governance. Our report calls for greater devolution of powers to build houses, to combine budgets and control and vary the welfare regime so that it better reflects local housing markets.
We are proud to be supporting the Local Government Homelessness Commission’s work and look forward to continuing to work with colleagues across local government to ensure these recommendations are implemented.”
Notes to editors
The Local Government Homelessness Commission launched on Friday 6 July 2018 with support from Co-Chairs Cllr Peter Fleming and Cllr Simon Blackburn (further detail below). In a series of four evidence sessions held between October 2018 to March 2019 the Commission’s investigation focussed on how councils use data as a homelessness prevention tool, strategies for supporting young people and other vulnerable groups, accessing sustainable accommodation, and finance and funding. Evidence was presented to the LGHC from Bristol City Council, London Borough of Hackney, London Borough of Croydon, Centrepoint, Social Finance/De Paul, London Borough of Southwark, Liverpool City Region, CAPITAL Letters, Gloucester City Council, Dublin City Council and Crisis. Those evidence sessions formed the basis of the arguments presented in their final report.
Case studies and an embargoed copy of the full report are available upon request.
About the Co-Chairs of the Local Government Homelessness Commission
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of Sevenoaks District Council
Peter Fleming has been a District Councillor since 1999 and has led Sevenoaks District Council for the last ten years. As an authority, Sevenoaks District Council has been nationally recognised as leading the way in providing value for money and the good use of resources and is now preparing to become self-sufficient, no longer requiring direct government funding.
Peter is a Deputy Chairman of the LGA and regularly acts as a national spokesperson. He is also a member of the LGA Leadership Board and LGA Executive and serves as the lead member for innovation on the Improvement and Innovation Board, having previously been the Board’s Chair from 2012 to 2015. Peter is also the Executive of the District Councils Network.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council
Simon was first elected in 2003, and has served as Executive Leader of Blackpool Council since 2011. He has a longstanding involvement with the Local Government Association and has served as the Chairman of the Safer Communities Board since 2016. He is a member of the Government’s Serious Violence Taskforce, the Home Secretary’s National Oversight Group on Violence Against Women & Girls, and leads on all aspects of the LGA’s work around community cohesion, Counter Extremism and the CONTEST strategy, particularly in relation to Councils duties under the PREVENT arm. Simon has recently been appointed to the expert group which advises the UK Counter Extremism Commissioner, Sara Khan.
He is Vice Chairman of the Lancashire Leaders Group, a Director of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, Vice Chair of the National Migration, Asylum of Refugee Taskforce, a non-Executive Director of the Calico Group, and a delegate to the Council of the Congress of Europe.
Co-Chair, Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council
Co-Chair, Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of Sevenoaks Council
Robert Pollock, Director, Social Finance
Ian Swift, Head of Housing Solutions, London Borough of Southwark
Mike Wright, Strategic Lead for Homelessness, Greater Manchester Combined Authority
Piali Das Gupta, formerly Head of Policy, SOLACE
Matthew Wilkins, lead author of the NAO’s 2017 report on homelessness, acted as a commissioner in a personal capacity
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, LGIU
The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) is a think tank and membership body with over 200 councils and other organisations subscribing to our networks. We work to strengthen local democracy and put citizens in control of their own lives, communities and local services. For more information, visit lgiu.org.
Full recommendations from the report include:
- A sustainable housing and homelessness strategy, with adequate funding.
Homelessness is a much bigger issue than rough sleeping. For every 2 people sleeping rough on the streets, there are 98 in shelters, temporary accommodation, bed and breakfasts, or moving between precarious forms of accommodation.
The narrative must change so that it encompasses all forms of homelessness. We need an approach that addresses the real, underlying issues, because just trying to tackle the problem we can see will not work.
Councils have been tasked with solving one of the big social and political challenges that we face, but with inadequate resources to take on the task. Funding for homelessness services is piecemeal, unproductive and fragmented. As a result there are various small pots of money that help to fund pockets of innovative practice. The HRA has had a positive impact on culture and on the processes within local authorities. But councils need certainty. Without funding to instigate real change in the outcomes, the HRA will only have created an ‘assessment process’, without achieving any of its stated aims.
Therefore, as a matter of urgency, the government should commit itself to a coherent, combined housing and homelessness strategy with sustainable funding for local authorities to put preventative programmes in place. This must include a firm commitment beyond the 2020 deadline for new burdens funding.
- Local variation of housing allowance
We are spending a lot of public money on homelessness, but it is largely wasted because it is being spent inefficiently and in the wrong places. Local Housing Allowance, in particular, amounts to a costly and inefficient transfer of public funds to private landlords and fails to achieve the goals of reducing or preventing homelessness.
In many parts of the country LHA rates are well below local market rents, while in other areas rents are well below LHA rates. This means that tenancies are sustainable, conditions are too often poor, and councils can not access decent accommodation to house people when they are at risk of homelessness.
Local government should, therefore, have the power to vary Local Housing Allowance rates to better reflect local housing market conditions. Greater variation would be a far more efficient use of public money. It would enable more people to carry on living independently, as well as facilitating councils carrying out their homelessness duty in the private rented sector. In Ireland the government has transferred LHA to housing depts and away from welfare department. Along with a large programme of investment in affordable housing supply, this represents coherent strategic approach to housing and homelessness policy.
- Private rented sector
The private rented sector is a rapidly growing part of the housing market and the breakdown of a PRS tenancy is now the most common route into homelessness. Meanwhile, recent policy changes have weakened the position of small-scale private landlords, who are a vital part of the housing market across the country. Something is not working, therefore, and the consequences are terrible for some people. This demands attention.
To address instability and uncertainty in the private rented sector, the government should introduce minimum three year tenancies. In return, the importance of good landlords should be acknowledged and they should be supported to stay in the market. This would provide greater long-term security and stability for people renting private sector housing.
- A homelessness prevention toolkit, designed around the needs of local government.
All too often people fall through the cracks between public services that are poorly joined up. Councils are responsible for bridging these gaps, but they need the tools to do so and accurate, useable information is essential. The current system of gathering and sharing information does not work, however. It is inconsistent, out of date, and often inaccessible.
To build a homelessness prevention toolkit for councils, the government should invest in a project to identify what information local government needs, particularly from central government departments, where the information is held, and what would make it most useful for preventing homelessness. The project should be led by councils and based on the experience of council staff and service users.