Last Updated: 26/06/2018
It is anticipated that the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act in April 2018 will place increased pressure on local authorities, in particular those services linked to homelessness relief duties as the act will significantly increase the number of households to which a statutory duty is owed. At the same time, the changes to the way the temporary accommodation management fee is now allocated to the local authority and ring fenced for homelessness prevention duties (since April 2017) means uncertainty over the amount of money available to support the carrying out of this statutory duty.
The Homeless Reduction Act will place a statutory duty on local authorities to prevent homelessness by working with at risk clients to produce a personal housing plan with actions agreed by both parties. Where homelessness cannot be prevented, the authority is under a 56 day duty to relieve homelessness (to help the applicant secure accommodation that would be expected to be available to them to occupy for a period of at least 6 months), before making a decision on a homelessness application. This will significantly extend the length of time under statutory duty to work with a client and also the length of time that clients are eligible to stay in temporary accommodation.
Individual cases will remain open for considerably longer than currently as a homeless decision cannot be made until after the 56 day relief duty has expired if it is not possible to relieve homelessness during the 56 days. Where the criteria for placement into temporary accommodation are met, households will now spend longer in this temporary situation as the relief duty will have to be met. Households placed in temporary accommodation will be able to remain there for the whole period of the relief duty. This will result in a significant increase in the numbers in temporary accommodation. This will lead to an increased use in Bed & Breakfast (B&B) accommodation which brings with it a very high cost.
The significance of this Act in increasing the need and costs of emergency accommodation provision cannot be underestimated. Moreover, the fact that the full costs are never recovered through housing benefit due to a cap of the amount that can be redeemed and the actions of the clients themselves meaning the HB claim may not be able to be processed means the risk and scale of financial loss to the provider will rise as a result of the introduction of the Act.
The private rented sector has a role to play in helping reduce the dependence on unregulated, unsuitable, high cost B&Bs in dealing with homeless families. In terms of the Homelessness Reduction Act, a Council will be able to discharge its prevention duty into a 6 month PRS let (at the moment they can only discharge full homelessness duty into a 12 month PRS tenancy which is much more difficult to find). This means that a flow of PRS that is affordable is absolutely key, especially in areas such as Manchester. Instead of having a lot of people in temporary accommodation, these homes would be used to discharge a prevention duty and just become an ordinary tenancy, not a temporary accommodation one. If this was done through an organisation such as Salix Living under the auspices of a Greater Manchester social lettings agency model then such a proposal offers these households access to a regulated part of the private rented market they might struggle to access on their own, diverting them away from the more unscrupulous landlords, thereby helping the personal outcomes of the households involved through an improvement in their sense of well-being meaning their sense of feeling good and functioning well.
In finishing, we need to be prepared to start to think differently in Greater Manchester and recognise that the PRS can be part of an overall solution to homelessness, at least in the short to medium term, until a more longer-term prevention solution is found.