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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Temporary accommodation: the challenge


How can we provide suitable temporary accommodation despite increased demand and economic challenges? We caught up with CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves to find out her views ahead of next week's South West conference in Torquay.

Image of house in sand Faye, what do you mean by the term ‘suitable’ temporary accommodation (TA)?

Councils in England are legally obliged to provide accommodation for certain groups of homeless people.  Households might be placed in TA as an interim measure, pending the completion of inquiries into an application, or once a full housing duty has been accepted they might spend time waiting in TA until suitable secure accommodation becomes available. 

Any accommodation provided must meet suitability criteria as set out in statute. All accommodation secured must be fit for habitation and councils need to consider things like:

  • the location of the accommodation
  • affordability
  • size
  • whether there are any individual needs that require consideration e.g. physical requirements such as wheelchair access

In 2003 it became unlawful for local authorities to place households with children, or where a household member is pregnant, into bed and breakfast accommodation unless there is no other suitable accommodation available and placements do not exceed six weeks in total.

Can you provide some ideas on how suitable housing can continue to be provided despite increased demand and economic challenges?

As local authorities are required by law to secure suitable accommodation in certain circumstances, they face increasing pressure to come up with solutions in an often very challenging environment.  Limited availability of affordable options in the private rented sector - exacerbated by welfare reform measures such as the benefit cap and the local housing allowance (LHA) single room rate - and reduced levels of social housing stock make it very difficult for local authorities to avoid costly use of B&B accommodation altogether.  However, there are some good examples of how local authorities are coming up with new cost-effective ways to meet demand. 

Examples include:

  • private sector leasing provides a range of incentives to landlords and allows councils long term use of a property at a more affordable rate
  • purchasing property in the private market for use as TA
  • use of own stock (for stock retaining councils) 
  • working with registered providers to provide accommodation and/or manage the provision
  • working with voluntary, community and faith sector organisations 
  • making use of empty homes and vacant/redundant sites

In your opinion, what are some of the key challenges faced in providing temporary accommodation?

The private rented sector (PRS) has grown considerably over recent decades and is expected to expand further at the same time as a shrinking social sector.  With this in mind, councils are right to carefully consider and seek opportunities offered by the private rented market. 

However, this is becoming more and more of a challenge, even for areas that have previously been fortunate enough to have an adequate supply of affordable PRS properties – this is a particular concern in London where rents are significantly higher than the rest of England.

In addition to the benefit cap, the differential between LHA rates and actual market rents, alongside increased competition among aspiring tenants, means that in lots of areas landlords are less willing to enter into arrangements with councils because they can easily rent their properties to people who are more than willing to pay full market rent. 

At the same time, councils are seeing more and more households becoming homeless as a result of their private sector tenancies being ended by their landlords.  This accounted for 30 per cent of all cases where a full housing duty was accepted in 2015 and total figures have almost doubled since 2010. 

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