Homelessness prevention…it’s always better than cure
Before chairing the workshop on Wales' homelessness prevention duty on day 2 at TAI 2016, Melanie Rees takes a look at the legislation that's getting quite a bit of attention from outside the Welsh housing world.
Homelessness can affect anyone. Relationship breakdown, illness, reduced income through loss of a job or overtime payments, or a landlord deciding not to renew a tenancy are all life events that might lead directly or indirectly to someone losing their home.
And the impact on people is enormous. It affects their mental and physical health and wellbeing and their ability to keep, or find, a job. It disrupts their children’s education and development, affects relationships and leads to social isolation. These things also have an impact on public services like health and social care all of which are experiencing increased demand but reduced resources. So it’s in everyone’s interest to prevent homelessness wherever possible.
Although UK local authorities haven’t been legally required to take steps to prevent homelessness, many did because they could see the benefits for all concerned. But people threatened with homelessness don’t have a legal right to ask for help to prevent themselves becoming homeless – but now they do in Wales.
By introducing Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 in April 2015, the Welsh Government has blazed a trail for the rest of the UK to follow. As well as placing a duty on local authorities to prevent homelessness for anyone who asks for help, they must also intervene within 56 days of homelessness. It also requires housing associations to help with homelessness prevention and, controversially, allows local authorities to discharge their duties by offering a private rented home even if the homeless applicant doesn’t give their consent.
Could this new approach spread to other parts of the UK? As well as announcing a package of measures to tackle homelessness in December 2015, Westminster’s communities minister Marcus Jones also confirmed that he would work with homelessness organisations and across government departments to explore options, including legislation, to prevent more people from becoming homeless. This is welcome news but at CIH we think it’s vital that any new prevention duty is backed up by resources to help councils to implement it effectively.
It’s still quite early days but what impact has the new prevention duty had so far? Welsh Government statistics show that local authorities managed to prevent almost 3500 households becoming homeless in the first nine months of the Act coming into effect. This is great news for those households although the real test will be whether their homelessness has been genuinely averted and for how long. Becoming stuck in a ‘revolving door’ of homelessness is stressful and exhausting so solutions need to be sustainable.
There’s so much to learn from the first twelve months of this new legislation. That’s why I’m really looking forward to our workshop on day two of TAI 2016 where Shelter Cymru’s Jennie Bibbings, Hugh Russell from Community Housing Cymru and Elliw Llyr from Gwynedd County Council will join me to talk about how they think things are working in practice. If you’re there, why not join us?