Re-thinking homelessness prevention

Homelessness picture
At the heart of this research was a recognition that the way we talk about homelessness prevention needs to change, recognising the vital importance of upstream cross-service prevention work in local homelessness systems, and the role of councils, their partners and central government policy in delivering this work.

Foreword

The COVID-19 crisis has had profound effects on our communities. In the UK alone, tens of thousands have tragically passed away as a result of the virus. Restrictions on our daily lives have been immediate, and, for peacetime, unprecedented in scale. The impact on local people, and on the services which support them, has been huge.

The crisis has, understandably, highlighted the importance of a strong and agile emergency response. Across the country, we have all mobilised quickly to mitigate or alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on our communities. 

Thousands of people - previously sleeping rough – have been given shelter to enable them to self-isolate. Hundreds of thousands have been given food parcels, including people who could not leave their homes for fear of contracting COVID-19. And an army of volunteers has supported their neighbours and communities to keep well. In the process, we have begun to rethink what is possible.

However, just as the crisis has highlighted the strength of our emergency response, it has exposed gaps in preventative services, with many suddenly facing precarity, hunger, or homelessness. When the crisis began, it was estimated that 4,266 people were sleeping rough on a single night in Autumn 2019. Now, government data suggests that over 29,000 people have been given safe accommodation – many of whom were suddenly at risk of sleeping on the streets for the very first time.

It has also highlighted that the impact of the crisis on our communities has been uneven, and that some are far more vulnerable than others, including the elderly, people suffering in abusive relationships, people from Black and Ethnic Minority Communities, and people already experiencing financial hardship or uncertainty. 

Over the coming months, we face the challenge of ensuring that the gains we have made in supporting people are not just emergency responses, but a new normal. At the same time, we will need to push against the impact of a declining economy on our communities – especially for those who are already vulnerable. 

This means a renewed focus on homelessness prevention – in its broadest sense, moving beyond homelessness services, and beyond a reactive response to need and vulnerability. The crisis has reminded us of the importance of financial stability, social connections, opportunities, and good health. A new focus on prevention must be about a broader plan of action - across the whole public sector – for delaying the onset of need through the renewal of stable, supportive, and inclusive communities.

Here too, the crisis has demonstrated what can be done, and public sector silos and distinctions have taken on less importance. At heart councils are all seeking to serve the public, and throughout the crisis all areas of the public sector have sought to do that. As the democratic leaders of our communities, councils now must consider how partnerships were helpful and where we can celebrate and build on them, and how  distinctions and boundaries created obstacles, and where we can collectively work to remove them for good.

Councils have led during this pandemic despite already facing significant pressure on increasingly fragile services. To make the kind of progress we want, these issues will need to be resolved. We must ask tough questions about what councils are for, recognising that we do not exist simply to deliver services or receive government grants but to improve outcomes and opportunities. We must also reflect on the role of central government in preventing homelessness. During the crisis, it has demonstrated an understanding of how national policy measures can play a vital role in preventing homelessness. Without the lifting of local housing allowance rates, or the six-month delay on eviction proceedings, many more households would have undoubtedly faced the loss of their homes during the global pandemic. Government must recognise their role as councils’ enablers and partners in homelessness prevention and build on this progress.

This document is intended to explore our roles further, so that we can begin to rethink homelessness prevention.

Introduction

What do we mean by homelessness prevention?

Many definitions of homelessness prevention have been developed to help understand the ways in which central government, local government and their partners can intervene to reduce the risk of homelessness.

Last year, the Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned Dr Beth Watts from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, and Equalities Research and Neil Morland and co. to carry out research into homelessness prevention.

At the heart of this research was a recognition that the way we talk about homelessness prevention needs to change, recognising the vital importance of upstream cross-service prevention work in local homelessness systems, and the role of councils, their partners and central government policy in delivering this work. 

To facilitate this change, the research utilised the following typology, originally developed by St Basils and since used in a wide variety of policy settings, including the West Midlands Designing out Homelessness Pathway Approach:

  • Universal prevention – seeks to reduce the population-wide risk of homelessness, for example by ensuring that everyone has access to affordable housing and sufficient income to maintain that housing.
  • Targeted prevention – focuses on groups at particular risk of homelessness, for example those who are leaving institutions.
  • Crisis prevention – focuses on preventing homelessness when risk is imminent. This is in line with the Homelessness Reduction Act, where a person is “threatened with homelessness” when they risk losing their home within 56 days.
  • Emergency prevention – focuses on those at immediate risk of homelessness, who may not have anywhere to sleep that night.
  • Recovery prevention – seeks to minimise repeat homelessness among those who have already experienced it. This might include housing-related support for people who have been placed into housing.
  • This highlights that homelessness prevention is not something that councils – who hold statutory homelessness prevention responsibilities – can do alone, but requires a combination of action from national government, local government, and their partners in the public, third, and private sectors.

It also widens our focus on who can be usefully reached and targeted by preventative services, such that prevention becomes about people facing unexpected income shocks, struggling to pay the rent or other household bills, or approaching a stressful transition point in their lives.
It illuminates the many tools available to both policy-makers and practitioners to prevent homelessness through enhancing, enabling and prioritising different kinds of prevention work.

Many of these levers exist at the local level, including universal measures to maximise housing supply through local housebuilding programmes, targeted measures to identify people at particular risk of homelessness, such as hospital discharge pathways, and emergency measures to accommodate people at risk of sleeping rough, such as Somewhere Safe to Stay hubs. However, councils and their partners, including health, education, and justice agencies, the voluntary sector, and the housing sector, arguably have more control over the levers available to influence targeted, crisis, emergency, and recovery prevention than universal prevention. Collectively, they can design and commission services that prioritise these. 

Opportunities to promote and embed universal prevention are largely found in central government policy, for example, in steps to encourage the delivery of affordable housing, or reform to welfare benefits to enable access to that housing. Central government also holds levers to influence all forms of homelessness prevention through homelessness legislation, regulation, and funding, and through policies across all government departments – control over the shape of the social security safety net is key, as is the development of criminal justice, health, and education policies.

We are seeking the recognition of these levers through an explicit, national-level focus on upstream homelessness prevention work, and associated resourcing, that enables and encourages councils to avoid residents reaching crisis and reduces the demand for emergency responses. This should build on and extend the preventative focus of the Homelessness Reduction Act, recognising that effective homelessness prevention requires earlier intervention than the 56-day period required by legislation. 

This approach is key if we are to reduce the flow of people into homelessness services, and allow for effective support for people already experiencing homelessness. Through this approach, we can prevent homelessness at all stages, with a view to ending it altogether.

The research

The research commissioned by the LGA sought to understand what central government can do to help councils to effectively prevent homelessness. 

I-SPHERE and Neil Morland and Co. spoke to councils about the prevention activities they currently engage in and how effective they are, the consequence of government’s policies and funding decisions on their ability to undertake effective homelessness prevention work, and what national policy and funding changes would most improve their ability to prevent homelessness.

In March 2019, researchers carried out a workshop with 30 council officers, to understand their perspectives on homelessness prevention and the research. Over that summer, they surveyed 70 councils to understand the shape, scale, strengths, and weaknesses of current prevention activity underway, and councils’ perspectives on the barriers to and enablers of effective prevention work. Finally, they spoke in depth to six councils, from a range of places and contexts, to understand their local homelessness prevention activity.

The research found that prevention activity in England is unevenly focused with crisis, targeted, and emergency prevention receiving the most focus at the local level, and universal and recovery prevention the least.

The research also found that councils see central government as fundamentally shaping the landscape and context in which councils are able to engage in homelessness prevention activity, with government policy and funding decisions acting as a key drivers for whether councils are able to engage in upstream forms of homelessness prevention.

The following sections highlight the role of these drivers, focusing on housing policy, wider government policies, and homelessness policies.

Current policy context

Homelessness is rising

Against all measures, there has been a steep and sustained rise in homelessness in recent years.

Key facts - figure 1:

One of the key drivers in recent years behind increases in statutory homelessness has been evictions from the private rented sector. Across England, the ending of private rented sector tenancies accounted for 74 per cent of the growth in households qualifying for temporary accommodation between 2009/10 to 2016/17. Over this period, other immediate triggers for statutory homelessness, including parental exclusion and relationship breakdown, have remained relatively stable.

This phenomenon can be explained by two key factors:

  1. An increase in private sector rents

Government’s housing policy in recent years has focused on support to the private sector to increase the delivery of new homes for home ownership. The 2020 UK Housing Review found that government investment in affordable housing and low-cost homeownership will account for only 25 per cent of the total planned investment between 2015/16 and 2023/24.

Within that, the most recent data from the Government’s Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021 showed that only 4 per cent of the funding up to September 2019 has been allocated to the delivery of social rented homes.

At the same time, the amount of available social housing has seen a long-term decline, and is currently the smallest tenure in England, comprising 17 per cent of households in 2018/19. Only 7 per cent of households in 2018/19 were renting from councils, compared to 9 per cent in 2008/09.

 This has contributed to the rapid growth of the private rented sector, which has doubled in size since 2002 to comprise 19 per cent of all households in England in 2018/19.

To meet the decline in the availability of social housing for low-income housing, government investment in housing benefit has risen, with the aim of improving access for households to the private rented sector. However, levels of supply in the private rented sector have not risen to meet increases in demand, resulting in rents increasing three times faster than earnings across England since 2010.

As a result, financial pressures on 

households have increased, with a subsequent impact on evictions from the private rented sector. Evidence from the National Audit Office suggests that in areas where rents have increased the most since 2012/13, levels of homelessness have been higher.

2. A decrease in households’ ability to pay higher rents

The reduced focus on affordable supply has seen a significant increase in housing benefit expenditure, which almost doubled in the decade up to 2012 to an estimated £21.6 billion.

In response, successive governments have introduced sweeping changes to the welfare benefits system. The Welfare Reform Act, passed in 2012, aimed to save £18 billion from the annual welfare bill through a series of measures, including the introduction of Universal Credit, an overall cap on household benefits, and the introduction of Local Housing Allowance rates. These measures were updated by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 to reduce the household benefit cap and introduce a four-year freeze on rises in welfare benefits, with a forecast additional saving of £13 billion per year by 2020/21.

These measures have impacted low-income households’ ability to pay their rent. While impacts have been uneven across household and region, research suggests that reforms have reduced average household income by £300 per head, per year across England, between 2010 and 2018.

Within this, caps on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates have been a core factor, and LGA analysis has found that, for every 1000 households experiencing a rent shortfall as a result of LHA caps, 44 require temporary accommodation. This has created average gross temporary accommodation costs between £1.4 million to £3 million for every council with homelessness responsibilities.

Conclusion

Overall, the assessment of the cost of national policy change in relation to housing and welfare benefits has not taken account of impacts on the wider public purse.  

Reduced investment in truly affordable social housing has led to the rise in demand-side subsidies in the form of housing benefit, subsequently limited by welfare reform. This has increased the cost of housing, while reducing low-income households’ ability to cover these costs, resulting in a rise in homelessness as a result of evictions from the private rented sector and increased cost to councils.

 

Homelessness policy is predominantly crisis-oriented

Recent academic analysis suggests that the primary focus on government funding in recent years has been rough sleeping, with the Rough Sleeping Strategy, published in 2018, introducing several additional funding streams to support the government’s commitment to end rough sleeping within this parliament.

The Homelessness Reduction Act, introduced in 2018, also introduced new statutory responsibilities on councils with the aim of preventing homelessness. This included – for the first time – a specific homelessness prevention duty, which gave legislative underpinning to councils’ work to prevent homelessness, and a duty to refer, which requires a range of public authorities to highlight people at risk of homelessness to local housing authorities. It was supported by a new data recording system, and short-term new burdens funding.

Prior to this, in 2016, the government introduced the Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer programme, allocating £20 million to a total of 30 councils in order to promote and support “targeted” prevention work. This marked a commitment to, and investment in, more upstream forms of homelessness prevention, and led to many successful local initiatives.  

Collectively, these initiatives represent progress in homelessness prevention – particularly, as defined in the Homelessness Reduction Act, where a person is threatened with homelessness within 56 days.

However, this progress has not been sustained or supported. The Trailblazers programme, whilst a promising first step, was a short-term measure which did not embed upstream homelessness prevention in national policy for the longer-term.

Governments’ homelessness policy has not yet focused on preventing homelessness upstream by addressing the key drivers of homelessness, including a lack of affordable housing, income-based unaffordability, and a lack of an integrated prevention approach.

As a result, councils continue to see high numbers of households presenting as homeless, accommodated in temporary accommodation, and sleeping rough.

Councils are financially strained

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, councils had seen dramatic reductions in their core funding over the last decade, and had lost 60 pence out of every pound in government funding since 2010. As a result, councils were facing a funding gap of £6.4 billion by 2024/25 just to keep services running at 2019/20 levels of provision.

Homelessness services are a particular cost pressure for councils, with these services alone facing a pre-COVID funding gap of £432 million by 2024/25.

A primary factor has been increases in the cost of temporary accommodation, driven both by increased numbers of households in accommodation, and by higher costs of the accommodation itself as decreases in available social housing has increased the use of private accommodation providers. A recent Shelter and Panorama investigation found that the amount paid to private providers has almost doubled between 2013/14 and 2018/19, and now comprises 86 per cent of councils’ £1.1 billion gross spend on temporary accommodation. Recent LGA analysis found that councils’ net expenditure on temporary accommodation was over budget by £140 million per year in 2018/19.

As a result, councils have experienced significant pressure to reduce spending on homelessness services, and particularly non-statutory services: while overall spend on accommodating households has increased by 372 per cent between 2009/10 and 2018/19, overall expenditure by councils on housing services (excluding housing benefits) saw a reduction of £1.3 billion in real terms between 2009/10 and 2018/19. This has been driven by decreases in Supporting People funding, and private sector housing renewal.

Since 2009/10, councils have delivered £3 million worth of efficiencies in the administration of homelessness duties, against a 23 per cent increase in the number of homelessness decisions. Despite this, councils have been forced to increasingly focus on the statutory provision of temporary accommodation, dedicating more and more resource to a crisis response for households already experiencing homelessness at the expense of vital non-statutory services, including upstream homelessness prevention.

New homelessness funding is not fit for purpose

The Government has recognised and responded to homelessness funding challenges, primarily through the introduction of new funding programmes in its 2018 Rough Sleeping Strategy. However, whilst welcome, this funding is highly fragmented.

LGA analysis shows that at least 12 small, short-term funding programmes relating to homelessness were issued between 2015/16 and 2018/19. In most cases – with the exception of the Homelessness Prevention Trailblazers - these programmes are specifically focused on the emergency response to existing rough sleeping.

As with other service areas, funding for homelessness is issued on a short-term basis. As a result, staff may be hired on short-term contracts, strategies may be reduced in scope, and resources are diverted towards applying for funding on a regular, annual basis. Joint commissioning is also severely affected, as councils are unable to guarantee certainty to partners.

Nearly 50 per cent of [the homelessness team] are on fixed-term contracts that are linked to short-term funding so that's a real challenge for us in getting the right type of culture that we want within the team. People are constantly just thinking about well, two years is going to be up soon, or my fixed-term contract is coming to an end. So it's actually really difficult for us to get some stability within the team"

Quotation from Homelessness Prevention research - Wychavon and Malvern Hills district councils 


Often, funding comes with highly specific conditions – in some cases, asking councils to demonstrate that outcomes from funded services will be sustained beyond the lifetime of the grant. However, the scale of the challenge means that councils can’t achieve the long-term savings envisioned with the small and limited grants available. Instead, services are refocused rapidly and often to align with the requirements of newly available funding.

It is very difficult to strategically set up services when you're having unexpected, short term funding come in that needs to be spent against very specific parameters. It doesn't give you much chance for being flexible or give capacity for long-term thinking… It's frustrating because actually emergency prevention and crisis prevention can be planned on a more short-term basis… [but] when you're trying to think longer term and more targeted and universal services in line with the ethos of the Act, you need longer run in time for that kind of work and we don't have any guarantees around the long-term funding…”

Quotation from Homelessness Prevention research - Reading Council


Councils are also increasingly asked to bid for this funding through a competitive process, with half of the new homelessness grants allocated in this way. This is placing extra stress on an over-stretched homelessness system, as officers are often required to scope and complete an extensive application within limited timeframes – sometimes as short as one month.


If it's one-year funding it can take a couple of months to get set up, by the time we get everything set up it's nine months, it's not just that, you've got limited months on the service which can stop abruptly”

 Quotation from Homelessness Prevention research - South Norfolk District Council


The prevalence of a targeted, competitive homelessness funding landscape risks shifting the focus of services towards a crisis-oriented approach, funded via an effective postcode lottery and delivered as transformational projects additional to and distinct from councils’ core offer. Instead, tackling homelessness must be seen as a joint effort by a range of public services to delay the onset of need with a broad, upstream, and person-focused preventative offer.


New funding from Government does not close the gap left by other cuts, leading to new cost pressures that councils must manage. Local authorities are left with no choice but to direct limited resources to acute and crisis services, curtailing our ability to deliver the full extent of preventative interventions that we want to deliver. We believe that funding models are too fragmented, too short-term and too uncertain – such as the Flexible Homelessness Grant. Councils cannot plan stable services for the long term but in addition, this fragmentation can have a negative impact for individuals who need stable, consistent and responsive services."

Quotation from Homelessness Prevention research - London borough


Case study: Next Steps Accommodation Programme
 

The £266 million Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP) was launched by MHCLG on 18 July 2020, with the aim of making resources available to councils to help ensure that people accommodated in emergency housing during the COVID-19 crisis could continue to have a safe place to stay.

Whilst this funding was welcomed by councils, its competitive nature meant that councils needed to engage in an intensive bidding process, diverting resources away from service delivery at a time of intense pressure.

There were also significant restrictions on delivery: councils were asked to ensure that any new capital schemes were delivered by March 2020/21 and to ensure that any grant funding was match funded by the council; however, they were not able to use right to buy receipts towards programme delivery, and were subject to a 10 per cent limit on the amount of funding which could be used to convert or re-utilise existing units.

Councils were locked by the funding into providing specialist housing with a maximum limit on tenancies of only three years, but were asked to commit to maintaining any units created for 30 years. This locks councils into diverting resources into a stock of short-term housing with short-term support, rather than the stable, long-term support they feel is needed to support people with complex needs out of homelessness.

Finally, the programme restricts councils to tying support provided to particular tenancies, rather than individuals – this excludes evidence-based approaches such as Housing First from funding, as well as any approaches where individuals are supported by the same worker and specialist agencies throughout the housing pathway. Requiring councils to attach different support to different interventions is less efficient, and also risks poorer outcomes for individuals.

Councils seek a set of long-term funding arrangements that allow them to both plan and invest in homelessness prevention and minimise the need for emergency responses. Currently, funding for homelessness services does not meet this need.

The COVID-19 crisis is increasing pressures

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted a large-scale emergency response from councils’ homelessness services and their partners. A key driver of this has been the government’s “Everyone In” policy, which asked councils to ensure that people sleeping rough and in high-risk accommodation were safely accommodated to protect them, and the wider public, from the risks of COVID-19.

When the crisis began, it was estimated that just under 4,300 people were sleeping rough. Since March, Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) figures suggest that councils have accommodated over 29,000 people under the Everyone In initiative. In addition, councils have worked effectively with a wide range of local partners to coordinate support for people brought into emergency accommodation, many of whom are experiencing the multiple disadvantages associated with rough sleeping. As a result of this effort, people have been able to access support for drug and alcohol issues, mental health needs, food poverty, transport, and support with claiming welfare benefits.

This work has performed a vital role in reducing the risks of COVID-19 to people experiencing homelessness, whom evidence suggests are particularly medically vulnerable to the effects of the illness. There is also increasing evidence of the wider impact that this response has had on the broader wellbeing and health outcomes of people in emergency accommodation. Research by University College London has found that the measures might have avoided over 21,000 infections and 266 deaths among people experiencing homelessness.

The work has also had impacts on local health policy. Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs), where political, clinical, professional and community leaders from across the care and health system come together to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population and reduce health inequalities, are sharpening their focus on issues such as homelessness and the underlying causes including mental health, domestic violence and poverty.  An increasing number of HWBs are adopting a ‘health in all policies approach’ in recognitions that all aspects of councils’ functions, services and strategies have an impact – either positive or negative – on the health and wellbeing of their communities. Many will, therefore, be working across the council and their partners to ensure that health improvement and addressing health inequalities is proactively considered in all housing and homelessness prevention policy.

However, the COVID-19 response has also created a significant strain on councils’ resources.  MHCLG data on councils’ finances from July 2020 indicates that councils forecast an additional expenditure of £110.7 million on homelessness services, and £139.9 million on rough sleeping, as a result of COVID-19 in 2020/21. Overall, as a result of increased demand, loss of income, and cash flow pressures, councils will need at least £2 billion more to meet the full financial impact of the pandemic in 2020/21. This is placing serious and ongoing pressures on local services.

There is a high risk that these pressures will increase, as the economic impact of COVID-19 has increased financial insecurity for many households. Recent UK labour market statistics show that the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in at least 782,000 fewer people in work since March. In April, research from Shelter showed that one in four renters had already seen their income fall.

The ability to pay rent will become particularly constrained for low-income households. The Resolution Foundation has argued that furloughing, job losses and hours reductions are more common experiences for these households. As a result, economic pressures threaten to lead to much greater homelessness pressures.

The Government has recognised and responded to these challenges. On 27 March 2020, it introduced a stay on possession proceedings in courts for renters of all tenures. This stay was subsequently extended twice before ending in 20 September, with the notice period for some evictions extended for six months up to March 2021. A further extension up to January 2021 was announced with the second period of national restrictions beginning in November.

The Government also responded to long-running campaigns to increase Local Housing Allowance rates by raising these to the 30th percentile of market rents up to March 2021, improving the ability of low-income households to cover the costs of their rents.

However, the key drivers of homelessness – a lack of affordable housing, income-based unaffordability, and a lack of an integrated prevention approach – still remain. Research from Generation Rent, based on YouGov statistics, estimates that 55,000 eviction claims may be heard in the courts from September.

Support for renters who have built up rent arrears remains limited. Between February and May 2020, the number of households hitting the benefit cap increased by 93 per cent to 154,000 households, driven by an “unprecedented” increase of 665 per cent in the number of newly Universal Credit capped households. Each household, on average, has lost £57 per week in income, with consequences for their ability to pay their rent.

The risk is particularly high for migrant households. The No Recourse to Public Funds condition, which limits some migrant households’ ability to claim welfare benefits, has remained in place throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with implications both for households who are facing reduced employment or unemployment, and for councils rehousing people currently in emergency accommodation.

Key message

The added pressure for low-income households, set against the context of existing need, creates an impetus to stem the flow of all forms of homelessness. The key policy objectives must be to:

  • ensure effective rehousing and support for the 29,000 people who have been accommodated under Everyone In
  • improve the preventative response for households at risk of homelessness, including those at risk of street homelessness, to enable them to sustain their housing
  • ensure the move-on of the households in temporary accommodation into settled housing.

This requires a funding and policy settlement that addresses affordable housing, welfare-related poverty, and integrated prevention.

 

Policy recommendations

Councils have identified a clear set of enablers and barriers of effective homelessness prevention. Below, we have set these out, alongside our high-level recommendations for how central government can enable councils to prevent all forms of homelessness.

Table: homelessness prevention barriers and recommendations for change
Issue Recommendation
Central government messaging has shifted away from upstream homelessness prevention towards crisis management, reducing the important role that previous programmes – such as the Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer - played in prioritising early prevention at the local level.

An explicit, national-level focus on homelessness prevention, and particularly universal and targeted prevention, through the development of a cross-government prevention strategy and action plan.

 

All departments should develop a joint statement which acknowledges responsibilities in delivering homelessness prevention, including and in addition to the Homelessness Reduction Act, and details actions to take. 

 

A wide range of local services are needed to provide effective support for people experiencing homelessness, especially social care and mental health services. Funding restrictions in these services have tightened eligibility thresholds and limited access, reducing councils’ ability to support people out of homelessness permanently.

Departmental commitments to homelessness prevention should include addressing funding for all relevant local services to enable access to timely support. There should be a commitment to integrated social, health, drug and alcohol, and economic support through transition points between key services and beyond, with a particular focus on universal and targeted prevention for all at risk groups.

Central government funding fundamentally shapes the prevention context. The Flexible Homelessness Support Grant, Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer, and Rough Sleepers Initiative, have enabled prevention work locally.

 

However, the funding model for public services is geared away from prevention, with a focus on proving savings in advance of savings being made.

 

The wider context of reduced council spending power is fundamentally important, as councils face hard choices about what to fund, and vital, but non-statutory early intervention approaches are limited.

 

Funding opportunities are issued in response to crisis and emergency prevention, are aimed at specific services, and have a narrow remit, short time scales, and competitive structure. This is a key barrier to effective prevention work.

Address the significant local authority funding gap, which stood at £6.5 billion by 2024/25 even before the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Address fragmentation in local government funding by allocating money to places and not departmental silos. A shared financial and governance framework would mean that services can better align with local priorities and local duplication of efforts can be eliminated. The Government should place emphasis on communities and place by introducing multi-department place-based budgets, explicitly built around the needs of diverse local communities.

 

Funding for services with the potential for preventing homelessness and ill-health should be based around the precautionary principle, with policy proposals subject to cross-departmental impact assessments, and local initiatives funded where the impact is uncertain but where the lack of a service may cause harm.

Homelessness data collection, including the Homelessness Case-Level Collection (H-CLIC) has limited ability to capture and encourage more upstream prevention across a range of public services.

 

There is limited high-quality, timely data which contributes to an understanding of interaction of wider policy changes with levels of homelessness. This has contributed to a disconnect between analysis of the costs and benefits of government policies, and the experience of local communities impacted by these policies.

Any homelessness data collected from councils, particularly H-CLIC data, should be made visible and accessible for councils’ own use

 

Each government department should determine a definition of preventing homelessness and rough sleeping and identify key success factors

 

Guidance on GDPR to departmental agencies should be improved, to overcome existing barriers in data linking

 

Data linking between services should be improved so that councils are able to understand the impact of other agencies’ actions and identify households at early risk of homelessness

The Homelessness Reduction Act has limitations – while it is seen as an overall enabler of local prevention work, it also has significant administrative burdens which – as indicated by LGA research - have not been fully met by new burdens funding.

 

The Duty to refer is limited in its potential to engage local partners, as not all partners are bound by the duty, and because the duty does not require local partners to actually co-operate with councils in preventing homelessness.
 

Extend the Homelessness Reduction Act’s duty to refer to a duty to cooperate on relevant public agencies, including housing associations, health services, DWP agencies, and Ministry of Justice agencies, requiring these agencies to support local authorities in their efforts to prevent and respond to homelessness, and incentivising prevention efforts further upstream.

 

Departments should develop clear and detailed guidance and training for all service managers, commissioners and staff in delivering the action plan through effective multi-agency working locally

Welfare benefits are a key universal homelessness prevention measure. Welfare reforms – including changes to local housing allowance rates, universal credit, the benefit freeze and benefit cap – are seen to undermine local homelessness prevention efforts by reducing household income.

 

Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) enables councils to provide vital support to households facing a temporary shortfall. However, they have increasingly been used as a panacea for shortfalls that result from welfare changes and housing policy. As the economic pressures on households increase, councils are likely to face a significant increase in demand for DHPs.

The No Resource to Public Funds condition is a barrier to homelessness prevention and relief for migrant households.

The government should maintain to keeping local housing allowance rates at at least the 30th percentile of market rents, and review the post-COVID-19 crisis impacts of the Benefit Cap. The government should also ensure that COVID-related measures in the benefits system, including the additional £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit, are kept in place throughout recovery.

 

Funding for DHP and other local discretionary support must be both adequate and fit for purpose.

 

The No Recourse to Public Funds condition should be universally lifted for the duration of the pandemic, to enable people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness because of their migration status to access safe and suitable accommodation.

Many low-income households struggle to manage their money because of constraints in access to appropriate advice, support and services.  Access to timely, preventative debt and money advice is a key objective for the Money and Pensions Service, but there is much work still to be done and the role of councils in commissioning, referring to and providing financial support remains both under-recognised and under-resourced.

There is already good work underway between councils, LGA and Cabinet Office to improve approaches to data-sharing and debt recovery.  Councils are also working closely with MaPS and advice providers to ensure that people have access to free, impartial debt advice and to improve access to affordable credit.  However, there is much more that could be done.  The LGA’s ‘reshaping financial support’ programme is identifying and sharing good practice across the sector, and has highlighted a number of areas where modest levels of Government investment now would lead to both savings and improved outcomes in the future.

A lack of suitable housing options is a major barrier to addressing homelessness, with significant variation in the availability and quality of housing across local areas. National housing policy is limited in its support for the delivery of new social rented homes, with Right to Buy reducing the number of available social homes and councils’ ability to replace them. Between 1981 and 2016 the social housing stock decreased by 25 per cent.

Government should work with councils towards delivering a new generation of 100,000 high quality social homes per year. Each new social home would generate a saving of £780 per year in Housing Benefit.

 

We have published a full set of steps, measures and reforms which would support councils to deliver more housing.

A sustainable supported housing funding model is needed to ensure that councils can reduce homelessness and help older and other vulnerable people to live well. The current housing benefit system and multiple capital funding sources means that funding for supported housing is too complex. Stable and sufficient capital and revenue funding is needed in order to create the market conditions for a diverse range of providers who can meet local need. Furthermore, a lack of local oversight means councils sometimes lack the levers to address quality concerns about supported housing.

Government should work with local government, Homes England and supported housing providers to simplify supported housing capital funding. We also want to work with DWP to improve the Housing Benefit interface so that councils are not forced to make up subsidy shortfall. Both the housing and care elements of the revenue cost of supported housing must be adequately funded. We need to work together to develop and fully fund a locally-led approach to overseeing the quality and value for money of supported housing, building upon the forthcoming National Statement of Expectations for Supported Housing. Councils are ideally placed to take the lead role because of their wider housing, planning and care responsibilities, and their relationships with local housing associations and other supported housing providers.

No fault evictions from the Private Rented Sector have been a major immediate trigger of statutory homelessness presentations, suggesting that tenancy security needs to be improved.

 

Councils’ levers to enforce tenancy security are limited. For example, landlord licensing schemes can have significant benefits in respect of enforcement. However, local authorities lack the flexibility to take forward whole area or area-specific licensing schemes. From April 2015, councils have been required to secure Secretary of State approval for licensing schemes that cover more than 20 per cent of the area or 20 per cent of privately rented homes.

The Government should bring forward its commitment to ending Section 21, or “no fault” evictions.

 

Ensure sufficient funding for tenancy relations officers, to support tenants in cases of illegal evictions.

 

Remove the restriction on local licensing schemes requiring councils to seek Secretary of State approval.

Poverty and local labour market conditions are strong determinants of homelessness, eg homelessness is especially high amongst young people in areas where there is only seasonal employment.

Improving local labour markets should be a key focus of the cross-departmental action plan to prevent homelessness.

 

The LGA has set out its Work Local vision, which, if implemented, could result in 8500 more people in work each year, and a £420 million boost to the economy.

 

Our offer

The LGA is the united voice for councils in England and Wales, and we have a role in supporting councils to improve local capacity and local services, so that local interventions to prevent homelessness are as effective as possible.

Through our research, councils raised several local factors as being particularly important in shaping the local response to homelessness prevention. Below, we have set these out, alongside our offer to councils and to central government.

We are ready to work with the sector and government with a detailed offer.

Local factor Our offer
Local political leadership is a key factor in shaping councils’ preventative responses We will continue to support political leaders to shape and improve local homelessness services through our leadership offer, including the leadership development course and upcoming resources on effective scrutiny.

The changing homelessness context continues to present challenges for the homelessness workforce. Councils need sufficient resource to recruit and retain frontline staff who have the time and skills to deliver the Homelessness Reduction Act effectively and to its full potential. Councils and their partners would benefit from skills development, knowledge exchange and strategic support in relation to homelessness prevention – particularly pre-56 day prevention which falls outside the framework of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

We will continue to support homelessness officers through our sector-led support offer, including:

  • The Housing Adviser Programme
  • The development of a new homelessness and rough sleeping peer support offer
  • The continued publication of advice, guidelines, and case studies on the LGA website (a list of recent resources can be found below)

    We will support the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government with their ongoing efforts to devise a training programme for the homelessness workforce.

There are already many sources of data which could be used more effectively to prevent homelessness. Not all of this data is homelessness-specific or held by homelessness teams, and it is currently not widely accessible or visible.

We will produce resources for councils to enable them to work with partners to make better use of existing data.

 

This will include a review of the resources currently available through the LGA’s LG Inform platform.

Councils are forced by homelessness pressures to place an increasing number of households outside their council area. This presents issues for households being placed, and for councils receiving placements. We will consult the sector on a council-led protocol, which sets out voluntary guidelines for improving practice around out of area placements.

 

LGA resources

Homelessness prevention in England: What can central government do to help councils prevent homelessness?

This research was commissioned by the LGA and delivered by Dr Beth Watts from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research and Neil Morland and Co Housing Consultants. Its findings and recommendations  form the basis for this report.

Making Homelessness Strategies Happen

Advice for councils and their partners on how to formulate and deliver local homelessness strategies

Duty to refer: an opportunity to cooperate to tackle homelessness

This report includes advice for councils and their partners on meeting the duty to refer responsibilities, and includes examples and advice on how to cooperate more fully with relevant partners to tackle homelessness.

Understanding Local Housing Markets

Advice and guidance for councils on how to best understand the various complexities within their local housing markets

Understanding Local Housing markets – individual local authority reports

These reports and maps accompany the main “Understanding Local Housing Markets” report

Housing our Homeless Households

Advice for councils on how to meet the increasing demand for temporary accommodation

Housing people who were rough sleeping and those at risk who have been accommodated due to COVID-19

Best practice briefing on procuring accommodation and support for people in emergency accommodation

Adult safeguarding and homelessness: a briefing on positive practice

A briefing to senior leaders on support people who are homeless and at risk of or experiencing abuse or neglect

Reshaping financial support: how local authorities can help to support low-income households in financial difficulty

The LGA is working with six core councils as part of our Reshaping Financial Support Action Learning Programme. This study looks at how 10 councils have been reviewing their approaches so that they can better target their resources on those in greatest need, and support people to become more financially resilient in the longer term.

Good practice guide: Delivering Financial Hardship Support Schemes

This good practice guide provides a range of advice, ideas and case studies to help councils and their partners to develop their local approach to delivering financial hardship support schemes.

Data report – Financial hardship and economic vulnerability

This report provides an overview of financial hardship and economic vulnerability in individual local authorities as a result of COVID-19. It is intended to help inform the design of support services, encourage greater partnership working, help to make the case for resources and funding, and aid the development of effective recovery approaches.

Improving the private rented sector

A good practice guide on the role of councils in improving the quality of the private rented sector.

Homelessness case studies

All good practice case studies currently published by the LGA

Housing Advisers Programme

An LGA programme designed to support councils in meeting the housing needs of their communities

Housing peer challenge

Information about the LGA’s housing peer challenge, which offers an independent review of a housing service to identify opportunities for improvement

LG Inform

The LGA’s local area benchmarking tool, which gives councils access to over 1800 items of contextual and performance data, and allows councils to assess performance locally, regionally, and nationally across all areas of England.

Delivery of council housing: a stimulus package post-pandemic

The LGA’s recommendations on what steps, measures and reforms would support councils to work towards delivering a new generation of 100,000 high quality social homes per year

Work Local

The LGA’s vision for an integrated and devolved employment and skills service, bringing together information, advice and guidance alongside the delivery of employment, skills, apprenticeships and wider support for individuals and employers.

Evidencing the link between the Local Housing Allowance freeze and homelessness, Local Government Association, 2020

Research by Policy in Practice for the LGA on the relationship between the freeze in LHA rates and the costs of homelessness to local authorities

Fragmented funding – the complex local authority funding landscape

Research by TRL Insight for the LGA on the nature of central government funding for councils between 2015/16 and 2018/19

Comprehensive Spending Review 2020: LGA submission

This submission sets out how local government can act as the driver to achieve shared priorities between central and local government.