A new era in fight against homelessness but are we ready?
As the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act approaches, policy and practice officer Faye Greaves asks is the sector ready for the changes.
Next week will mark a new era in statutory homelessness service delivery as we welcome the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
The act will require all English councils to offer more meaningful support, and sooner, to help people avoid homelessness. I’ve written before about the many positives of the act as well as pointing to the many challenges to realising its full potential.
However, opportunities versus challenges aside, the latest official figures reflect the urgent need for action. As a country we can no longer accept the rising number of people being temporarily housed by local housing authorities in England. On 31 December 2017 there were 78,930 households in temporary accommodation - up five per cent on the same quarter in 2016, and up 64 per cent on the last low of December 2010.
It is encouraging though to see a 27 per cent drop in the number of families with children being housed in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation. The 30 per cent fall in the number of these placements exceeding the legal six-week limit is also good news. However, we cannot allow this to detract us from the hugely damaging impact that living in temporary accommodation can have on people’s lives. We need to do more to prevent people needing this type of accommodation in the first place and for those who have no alternative, there needs to be swift action to help people move on to more stable, decent and affordable homes.
I genuinely believe we can achieve this, but only if we see the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act as a watershed moment to drive a culture of prevention for us all - at operational, strategic and political decision making levels. I’ve been highlighting the importance of culture shift to make the most of the new measures at a local authority level – partnership working, collaboration and person centred services being key to this – but the culture of prevention required to make a real difference must run through all of our systems like a stick of rock.
At government level we need a culture of policy development that puts prevention at its heart; starting with sufficient funding for local services, certainty around the funding for supported housing, a commitment to building more genuinely affordable homes to rent and reviewing the devastating impact of welfare policies.
At the local strategic level, elected members, councillors, heads of departments and key partners all need to understand what the Homelessness Reduction Act means and what it can help them achieve if they work together – making prevention everyone’s responsibility will be the key to unlocking local potential.
And finally, at the operational level, services need to be designed to focus on helping people as soon as possible. This includes; having information and advice readily available and accessible via as many channels as possible; working to get all partners working together to make sure routes to homelessness are cut off before problems escalate; and ultimately, placing people at the centre of all service delivery models.
I know the Homelessness Reduction Act will not magically remove the many challenges English councils will be facing over the coming months but we know the act was never meant to do that.
What it is meant to do though, is drive a reduction in homelessness and I know councils have been working hard across the country to prepare for doing just this from next week.
Faye Greaves is policy and practice officer at CIH.
- CIH members: log-in to the Knowledge Hub for more on what you need to know about homelessness policy, including the Homelessness Reduction Act