Support for homelessness during the winter months - House of Commons Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Councils and their partners worked tirelessly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, under the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ directive, to support people sleeping rough or in high risk, dormitory-style accommodation into more appropriate accommodation. Many councils have continued these efforts well beyond the first national lockdown period.


Key messages

  • Councils and their partners worked tirelessly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, under the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ directive, to support people sleeping rough or in high risk, dormitory-style accommodation into more appropriate accommodation. Many councils have continued these efforts well beyond the first national lockdown period.
  • The Everyone In programme was broadly successful in improving health and housing outcomes for people at risk of sleeping rough or in unsafe accommodation. The LGA’s new report found that in many cases the programme led to a rapid and expansive response in identifying people sleeping rough or in unsafe conditions, including people not normally eligible for public services due to immigration status.
  • The latest MHCLG data shows that over 29,000 people have been accommodated by councils since the Everyone In initiative began, with almost 19,000 of these moved into longer-term housing.
  • It is positive that the Government has recognised this work with additional funding announced in the Spending Review, which will help councils to continue their ongoing efforts to support people at risk of rough sleeping and homelessness. The Next Steps Accommodation Programme, the Cold Weather Fund, and the Protect Programme are also welcome, and will provide a vital boost to councils’ services.
  • However we remain concerned that councils may not have sufficient funding to safely accommodate people over this winter period, in light of MHCLG’s Winter Night Shelters guidance, which outlines that councils are expected to use self-contained accommodation to house people sleeping rough, with shared shelters to be used only as a last resort.
  • We urge the Government to temporarily and universally remove the No Recourse to Public Funds condition. This would reduce public health risks and ease the pressure on homelessness services by enabling vulnerable people to access welfare benefits, who are currently unable to do so because of their immigration status.
  • Economic pressures on households resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have created significant new flows of people into homelessness and rough sleeping. In the longer term the LGA is calling for a shift towards investing in homelessness prevention measures. This includes maintaining increased support through the mainstream benefits system, increased protection for private renters, and a commitment across government to a programme of homelessness prevention.
  • With council housing waiting lists set to potentially nearly double as a result of COVID-19, we are also calling for councils to be given powers to kickstart a post-pandemic building boom of 100,000 new social homes for rent each year, including reform of Right to Buy. This would help ease the difficulties faced by councils in sourcing move-on accommodation for households in temporary accommodation.
  • The LGA launched its new Rough Sleeping Peer Support offer on 1 December. This has been designed in partnership with MHCLG and will provide access to peer support and learning for councils which have received NSAP funding.

Spending Review 2020

  • Last week’s Spending Review provides £254 million of resource funding, including £103 million announced earlier this year for accommodation and substance misuse, to support rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness during COVID-19. This takes total resource funding in 2021/22 to £676 million, a 60 per cent cash increase compared to SR19. This additional funding will support frontline services through the Rough Sleeping Initiative and enable local authorities to fund their statutory duties to prevent homelessness. The Government will also provide new funding to support prison leavers at risk of homelessness into private rental tenancies and will commit £87 million of capital funding in 2021/22 primarily to support the delivery of long-term accommodation for rough sleepers.
  • Councils have done an incredible job getting people sleeping rough off the streets and have accommodated more than 29,000 people who have faced homelessness since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It is good the Government has recognised this with additional funding, which will help councils to continue their ongoing efforts to support people at risk of rough sleeping and homelessness.

    The Everyone In programme

    • On 26 March 2020, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing wrote to local authorities to ask them to ensure that people sleeping rough or in high risk, dormitory-style accommodation were supported into more appropriate accommodation by 29 March.
    • Councils and their partners worked tirelessly to fulfil this request, known as the ‘Everyone In’ initiative. They, including through their commissioned services, provided people accommodated under the initiative with accommodation, support services, including for substance dependency and mental health, and additional support such as food, transport (where needed), supporting with claiming benefits, and personal items.
    • Councils received an initial £3.2 million in additional funding to support people sleeping rough, alongside broader Government funding to local authorities to meet pressures across all services.
    • There is now evidence to suggest that the initiative was very successful in the short term in accommodating large numbers of people and improving health outcomes. The latest MHCLG data shows that over 29,000 people have been accommodated by councils, with almost 19,000 of these moved into longer-term housing. Evidence from University College London shows that the measures might have avoided over 21,000 infections and 266 deaths among the homeless population. The same study also found that, if self-contained accommodation remains available, COVID-19 infections amongst people experiencing homelessness could be avoided on a large scale.
    • The LGA has commissioned two reports summarising the local response, including one outlining the lessons learnt for homelessness services from the Everyone In approach. This report found that, in many cases, the programme led to a rapid and expansive response in identifying people sleeping rough or in unsafe conditions, including people not normally eligible for public services due to immigration status. Councils were able to carry out comprehensive needs assessments, with multiple agencies encouraging engagement and providing holistic services. As evidenced by the MHCLG survey data, councils were also effective in rapidly moving people accommodated into longer-term accommodation.
    • However, the programme also presented issues related to the clarity of the Government’s expectations. The LGA and other organisations sought urgent clarity in June on how the Government intended to move from the Everyone In approach to the next phase of supporting rough sleepers. We called for councils to be resourced and supported to accommodate everyone who needed it, for as long as there was a public health impetus for doing so, and for the end of the Everyone In initiative to be announced clearly by the Government.
    • In light of the ongoing public health risks, many councils continued to accommodate people sleeping rough after the initial national lockdown period ended. MHCLG survey data suggests that, between May and September 2020, an additional 15,000 people were accommodated by councils in emergency and move-on accommodation.
    • This work continued despite financial pressures. LGA analysis of MHCLG survey data shows that the additional spend by councils on homelessness and rough sleeping services as a result of COVID-19 is projected to be £250 million in 2020/21. LGA analysis also shows that the overall funding gap facing councils by 2023/24 is £5.3 billion – a result of the COVID-19 crisis as well as the significant pre-existing financial pressures on councils’ services.
    • In addition to the initial funding, MHCLG has since announced a package of support for councils supporting people sleeping rough. This includes the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, which allocated £271 million of funding in two tranches (£105 million and £166 million) for 2020/21, to support councils to source 3300 units of move-on accommodation and support for the 29,000 people accommodated under Everyone In. Of this, £241 million has been allocated to date.
    • Whilst councils welcomed this funding, they raised concerns with the LGA relating to the competitive nature of its design, meaning that only a selected number of councils have received support, despite all councils having acted in good faith to meet significantly increased demand following the Government’s request to accommodate people experiencing homelessness. Secondly, the funding is short-term, and highly restrictive in terms of the type of tenancies and support that can be funded. Councils are concerned that this prevents them from delivering the long-term, flexible support needed.
    • MHCLG has also announced a £10 million cold weather fund, and £15 million for the Protect programme, which is initially targeted at ten councils with high levels of rough sleeping and allows for additional support during the period of national restrictions.
    • Last year the government made £13 million available for cold weather provisions, compared to £10 million in 2020/21. However, the Winter Night Shelters guidance, published by MHCLG on 13 October, outlines that councils are expected to use self-contained accommodation to house people sleeping rough over winter, with shared shelters to be used only as a last resort. We welcomed this guidance, which clarifies expectations and provides a public health basis for decision-making. However, the guidance will have cost implications for councils over and above previous years’ expenditure, as the supply of winter accommodation will be restricted to more expensive, self-contained accommodation.
    • New research from HomelessLink has found that 32% of homeless organisations and local authorities expect to see a decrease in the numbers of bed spaces available this Winter. The need for new self-contained accommodation and loss of existing shelters were highlighted as driving factors behind this, and this translated into a likely increase in use of B&Bs and hotels during the winter months.
    • In light of these new, higher expectations for winter provision, the continued flow of people into homelessness and rough sleeping, and the significant pre-existing financial pressures on councils, we are concerned that councils still don’t have sufficient funding to safely accommodate people over the coming months. This presents a potential public health risk during the second period of national restrictions.

      Temporary and move on accommodation

      • The number of households in temporary accommodation has been rising in recent years. In December 2019, 88,330 households were in temporary accommodation, up 5.7 per cent on December 2018. This is a result of long-standing homelessness pressures, with a 2017 National Audit Office report finding that recent increases are driven by the rising cost of rents in the private rented sector, reductions in welfare benefits, and reduced funding for homelessness prevention in councils’ services.
      • The COVID-19 crisis has increased these pressures. The latest statutory homelessness statistics show that between April and June 2020, 98,300 households were in temporary accommodation, up 14 per cent from June 2019. This increase may have been driven by the Everyone In programme, which resulted in the number of single adult households in temporary accommodation increasing by 50.8 per cent on June 2019.
      • However, councils continue to face difficulties in sourcing move-on accommodation for households in temporary accommodation, with shortages of affordable housing acting as a substantial block, and 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, with councils having replaced just under one third of homes sold since 2012 (LGA analysis of MHCLG live tables 691 and 693).
      • The LGA is calling on government to address shortfalls in affordable accommodation by allowing councils to retain 100 per cent of receipts from homes sold under Right to Buy, and to set discounts locally to enable investment in new and existing housing stock. The time limit in which to spend Right to Buy receipts must also be extended to at least five years, and councils should be able to combine receipts with Homes England and other funding streams.
      • The LGA has also called on government to work with councils towards delivering 100,000 high quality social homes per year. Our analysis suggests that each new home would generate a saving of £780 per year in housing benefit and could return £320 billion to the public purse over 50 years.

        No recourse to public funds

        • Councils have seen high numbers of people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) facing homelessness and destitution, particularly given restrictions on access to benefits following loss of employment and a lack of voluntary movement or enforced removals from the UK as a result of the pandemic.
        • There has been a significant shift in the expectations on councils to support people with NRPF since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Councils are statutorily obliged to provide support to families and adults with care and support needs but there is no eligibility for support for those without care and support needs under the statutory homelessness framework. Support from local welfare funds is also legally unavailable to people with NRPF. There is also a lack of clarity as to whether those with NRPF can receive the discretionary element of the Test and Trace Support payment administered by councils.
        • Despite this, councils have made a significant effort to ensure that individuals in acute housing need have been safely accommodated and supported to follow government guidance on shielding, self-isolation and social distancing. This vital work is made difficult by the NRPF conditions as councils must respond within the parameters of the law and avoid use of prohibited public funds. Government guidance has not been updated to set out what government assistance schemes can or cannot be accessed by a person who has no recourse to public funds.
          • Whilst the Home Office has introduced some process improvements for certain groups of people with NRPF in securing rights to stay in the UK, these require quite complex applications with onerous evidential requirements, and there is widely acknowledged pressures on capacity in both Home Office decision making and community and voluntary sector’ support and legal advice provision. 
          • All these factors create significant funding and reputational challenges for councils and also can lead to variance in provision for individuals. On 8 April three of the UK’s Local Government Associations wrote to the home secretary to ask that this be addressed, with recommendations for policy change also reflected in the Home Affairs Committee’s report into the Home Office’s preparedness for COVID-19 (coronavirus), the recommendations include:
          • The no recourse to public funds condition is universally lifted during the pandemic to facilitate compliance with government public health guidance.
          • If the NRPF condition is not relaxed, there needs to be joint work with local government to:
            • Provide accessible and clear government information in one place for both councils and their communities which include details of all schemes related to coronavirus and what people can or cannot claim when they have no recourse to public funds.
            • Adequate funding for local authorities for supporting people with no recourse to public funds when statutory duties are engaged or when this is required on public health grounds.
            • Remove the local welfare fund from the list of prohibited public funds.
            • Introduce changes to process including provisions for people whose leave to remain is due to expire, to ensure this can continue to be valid, and amend fee waiver and change of conditions policies to reduce the evidential burden on people.

        Contact

        Amy Fleming, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

        Amy is the LGA’s public affairs lead on devolution, economic growth, skills and employment, EU, housing and homelessness and the environment. She also supports the Devolution All-Party Parliamentary Group. Amy joined the LGA in April 2020, having previously worked for St Mungo’s.

        [email protected]