Nobody left out
Everyone has a right to a home. A stable place of safety and security is the basis upon which people can improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Only a safe environment can offer the necessary sense of ownership and belonging to enable this. A Yorkshire Assembly should strive to enable individuals to gain independence and develop a sense of identity, value and purpose within a wider community. Ending homelessness in Yorkshire is an imperative step to create a future founded on fairness and opportunity.
What is Homelessness?
In modern society, the right to housing is internationally recognised and embedded in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
The safety and comfort provided by the security of a home is vital to human dignity. Those who, often through poverty, are denied a home are also denied the opportunity to succeed in life.
Although the common perception of homelessness is of people sleeping rough, being homeless is not necessarily lacking a roof over your head. It applies to anyone without safe, stable and affordable accommodation. Whilst someone living in so-called temporary accommodation, such as a bed and breakfast, may have physical shelter, the nature of that shelter provides them with neither the security to plan for the future nor the stability to express themselves in order to make the place they live truly a home.
In a society that aspires to be founded on fairness, it is therefore a tragedy that, far from eliminating this blight on society, homelessness in Yorkshire is rising. A decade ago, people without a stable home numbered in their hundreds, now this figure is in the thousands. In 2017, 207 people were reported as sleeping rough in Yorkshire, up 20% on the previous year.
The most effective way to reduce homelessness is to prevent it occurring in the first place. It costs public services £20,128 for every person who is homeless for 12 months. However, if current policy is unchanged, homelessness could double by 2041.
There is a significant human cost too. The life expectancy of a person sleeping rough is 47 years and without secure accommodation 77% of rough sleepers become victims of anti-social behaviour or crime, including theft, violent attack and sexual assault. Mental and physical health problems are key factors of homelessness – 40% of rough sleepers have a mental health problem and someone who is homeless is more than nine times more likely to take their life than someone who is not.
Yet, if prevention is maximised homelessness could be reduced by 26% by 2026 and within the next 25 years become a thing of the past.
- Establish a regional Commission on Homelessness to thoroughly assess the extent of homeless in Yorkshire, highlight people and groups who are at immediate risk and conduct a comprehensive audit of homelessness provision available from public, private and voluntary services across the region.
- Place a duty on all local authorities and other relevant bodies to act to prevent and relieve homelessness by ensuring a mandated minimum set of available activities defined by the Commission on Homelessness. This should include: enhanced housing advice; housing association protocols to identify at risk groups; support vulnerable tenants to retain tenancies; sustainable private renting access through ‘help-to-rent’ schemes; family and relationship mediation; and ‘sanctuary schemes’ and other interventions for victims of domestic violence, to enable them to remain in their own home following the exclusion of a violent partner where possible.
- Provide preventative support for at risk families to prevent homelessness and maintain housing stability.
- Ensure that Critical Time Interventions, offering transitional support and rapid rehousing to individuals leaving the armed forces, prison, care or other state institutions, form a key part of a co-ordinated strategy to prevent and end homelessness.
- Co-ordinate homelessness data linkage across health and social care, criminal justice, welfare and other relevant providers to fully understand how homeless services can support those in need and ensure cost effective homelessness prevention.
- Redesign statutory homelessness data collection to agree a common definition of the term ‘homelessness’, and ensure consistently accurate and reliable data is collected to support individuals through their entire journey within the homelessness system.
- Ensure sufficient funding is available to guarantee the provision of the mandated minimum activities mentioned above.
Ending homelessness is not merely a moral imperative but an economic one. Homelessness costs, both in human and financial terms. While people remain homeless, unnecessary burden is placed on public services and individuals are prevented from realising their potential. Time and again, prevention has been shown to be more effective and cost efficient than trying to find a cure. Therefore, public investment in preventing homelessness occurring must be the bedrock on which homelessness and housing policy is founded.
Wherever possible, homelessness should be prevented. However, where homelessness does occur it should be brief and non-recurring. To achieve this, rapid rehousing is essential. The current system’s reliance on hostel and other forms of temporary accommodation fails to provide stability and security. A Housing First approach addresses the primary need for stable, secure and permanent accommodation. Only when this need is addressed is it possible to tackle other issues surrounding the individual’s homelessness and offer necessary support.
- Establish Housing First as the default option ensuring that all those without a safe place to stay are provided with emergency accommodation and to guarantee that people experiencing homelessness, particularly those with complex needs, are not excluded from registering for social housing.
- Abolish priority need and local connection rules which present barriers to people who are or at risk of becoming homeless from accessing support.
- Create a Regional Reconnection Framework to work with councils across Yorkshire and the rest of the country in order to help people who are homeless regain connection to their local area, assuming in is safe to do so. This framework should outline minimum levels of support individuals should receive from the original and destination local authority and ensure outcomes are monitored to ensure people do not return to homelessness.
- Set a seven-day time limit for people staying in temporary accommodation, such as hostels, safe seats, night shelters and bed and breakfasts, to ensure that rapid rehousing is used as a bridge to help people move out of the homeless system into stable accommodation and not be viewed as permanent solution.
- Apply No First Night Out approach across the whole of Yorkshire in order to prevent people who have become homeless from sleeping rough.
- Scale up assertive outreach to allow teams who work with long-term rough sleepers to provide integrated support drawing on a range of services, including alcohol, drug, mental health and peer mentoring. For such intervention to be effective, it must be done in line with a Housing First approach with the aim of directing rough sleepers off the streets and, ultimately, into settled and stable accommodation.
- Ensure access to social housing by preventing affordability tests and inflexible requirements, such as the first month’s rent in advance or requiring repayment of historic rent arrears, from becoming barriers. Instead, councils and housing providers should share best practice in the use of pre-tenancy assessments.
- Provide short-term emergency accommodation for migrants who are or at risk of being homeless along with access to immigration advice.
- Guarantee long-term funding for emergency accommodation and homeless support ensuring that the welfare system is flexible enough to meet the needs of individuals living in supported housing.
- Invest in new social housing stock and amend planning guidelines to encourage the construction of new affordable housing across the region to ensure there are enough homes for all.
- Phase out hostels and night shelters as new social housing stock becomes available to fully transition to a Housing First approach.
- Conduct annual review of regional homelessness strategy for local authorities across Yorkshire and for the Yorkshire Assembly based on reliable homelessness data. This should offer clear key performance targets for new affordable and social housing and the provision of services.
By establishing a principle of Housing First, a Yorkshire Assembly can work proactively to reduce homelessness, cutting associated costs and strive to ensure everyone has the right to somewhere to live. Increasing the supply of social and affordable housing through the construction of new builds and conversion of existing buildings will not only have immediate economic benefits, but will also provide security for people across Yorkshire who would otherwise be vulnerable to homelessness. A stable and suitable place to stay is the first step towards ensuring people experiencing homelessness can access the support services they require. A stable home provides a person with security, independence and value within the community.
From House to Home
Whilst the welfare system in Yorkshire, and indeed across the United Kingdom, provides a breadth of support to the most vulnerable in society, it is by no mean comprehensive. Organic implementation and periodic reforms mean that the social safety net is fragmented. Aspects of financial support, such as the Local Housing Allowance rates which grew by 3.2% from 2011-14, has failed to keep pace with private rent increases, which increased by an average of 6.8% nationally in the same period.
The Shared Accommodation Rate generally requires recipients under 35 to live in shared housing. Whilst some vulnerable groups are exempt already, others who are at high risk of homelessness for whom sharing accommodation with strangers would be highly inappropriate, including care leavers, survivors of domestic abuse and those with drug and alcohol dependencies, are not protected. An inflexible welfare system that fails to take into account the effect of homelessness on work capability has resulted in homeless people being twice as likely to be sanctioned as the general population.
We must mend the social safety net and provide ongoing intervention, to ensure the welfare system does not unintentionally increase risk of homelessness and instead is designed to first guarantee a safe and stable home.
- Increase Local Housing Allowance rates to once again be in line with the 30th percentile of rents in a local area and ensure the rate increases in line with private rent increases in each area, using a regional register of private landlords’ rental property data to improve accuracy.
- Reallocate Targeted Affordability Funding, which has failed to address the gaps between Local Housing Allowance rates and market rents, to help cover the costs of Local Housing Allowance increases.
- Exempt vulnerable groups from the Shared Accommodation Rate, including people receiving a Housing First offer, care leavers, prison leavers, people escaping domestic abuse and those with drug or alcohol dependencies; to ensure in-home support can be delivered in confidence and privacy not always available in shared accommodation.
- Support vulnerable people who have experienced homelessness by placing a duty on local authorities to provide necessary support through an integrated health and social care system.
- Integrate housing and employment support by introducing specialist housing teams in Jobcentre Plus and ensuring staff are trained to recognise, understand and respond to homelessness effectively.
- Reform Work Capability Assessments so that the alternative criteria guidance takes the impact of homelessness on work capability into account as well as incorporating housing need and homelessness into work coach assessments.
- Improve delivery of Universal Credit by increasing staff training and capacity in order to reduce processing errors and delays until welfare can be devolved to Yorkshire.
- Provide financial support for people being rehoused though greater awareness of the Flexible Support Fund and access to advance payment of Universal Credit that can be deducted from subsequent repayments once the recipient’s housing situation is secure.
- Extend homelessness easement, which suspends job seeking requirement to allow recipients to focus on stabilising their housing situation, to all homeless people and those at risk of homelessness. Work search requirements should be adapted to recognise housing related activity and applied to contracted providers as well as Jobcentre Plus.
Rehousing people who have been homeless is only the first step on the road to eliminating homelessness in our society. Whilst it is important for any welfare system to prevent abuse of and reliance on that system, the long term consequences of sanctions and conditionality must be re-evaluated to ensure no one is forced into homelessness by a system that should be designed to support them. To create a truly fair society, we must create a social safety net, through which no one must be allowed to fall, and ensure that those who require it have the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
Quality Housing for All
To implement a Housing First approach and truly end homelessness and housing insecurity in Yorkshire, it is essential that there is enough good quality housing for all who live here. It is estimated the twenty years from 2011 to 2031 will see a 14% increase in the number of households in Yorkshire, requiring 320,000 new houses. However, housing construction is failing to keep up with demand: between 2010 and 2014, demand exceeded the number of houses completed by 45,750. To ensure adequate and affordable housing for all, we must dramatically increase the amount of housing being built in the region, placing an emphasis on genuinely affordable homes.
- Set a target for delivering 23,000 homes a year, of which 8,000 are available at social rent levels over 20-year period.
- Encourage the distribution of new affordable and social housing across local authorities, as was the practice in the East Riding, to prevent concentration of social housing the creation of new ‘sink estates’.
- Devolve housing investment and increase government investment through a Housing Investment Fund to meet the regional minimal target for social rented housing through new build, acquisition and the conversion of empty/obsolete buildings.
- Increase affordable housing by ensuring that all developing housing associations provide a proportion of new homes at rents that are affordable to low income households.
- Revise the right to buy to ensure for every house sold, another house is built and end conversion of social rent housing until at least 90% of required housing has been delivered and measures have been put in place to prevent future decline in the supply of homes at social rents. Adjust Right-to-Buy rules so houses are sold at the cost for the construction of a new house within the Local Planning Authority area.
- Create a regional definition of affordable housing and establish rent-setting framework that relate housing costs to households’ ability to pay, meeting the needs of those on low earnings and in receipt of Housing Benefit – setting affordable private rent housing at 80% market rents to encourage provision targeted at households on median earnings in the ward where schemes are located.
- Ensure homeless people are not excluded from registering for social housing and promote public monitoring and reporting on local authority performance to encourage social housing providers to adopt best practice in supporting homeless people into social housing – including the use of pre-tenancy assessments.
- Guarantee housing quality and reduce illegal evictions by placing statutory requirements on every private sector landlord to ensure any home they rent is fit for human habitation at the start of and throughout the tenancy; devolve control over selective licensing schemes to local authorities on whom should be placed a duty to provide a tenancy relations service.
- Introduce a new standard private rented tenancy with a three-year term period where the landlord could only give notice by using specified grounds, with limits on annual rent increases linked to an inflationary measure and abolishing renewal fees for tenants.
- Introduce regional provision of private rented access schemes (help to rent) across Yorkshire, including a regional rent deposit guarantee scheme.
- Devolve housing regulation, ensuring regulatory objectives for Yorkshire include safeguarding and promoting the interests people who are or may become homeless as well as current and future tenants (as is the case for the Scottish Housing Regulator).
- Address need for housing for single homeless adults by update planning guidance to ensure it expressly takes into account the availability of shared and one bedroom supply in existing housing stock.
- Ensure evidence-based housing supply targets by requiring local authorities to take the permanent mainstream housing needs of homeless people into account through Strategic Housing Market Assessments, monitoring and reporting on targets as part of homelessness strategies.
In implementing devolved housing policies we should look to other areas where responsibility for housing has been devolved, such as Greater Manchester, Wales and Scotland, and learn from best practice. Devolving responsibility for housing to a Yorkshire Assembly, which has the powers and investment to drive house building, the distribution of affordable and social housing across the region and regulatory powers, is important to ensure local areas have the means to ensure enough good quality housing can be provided for all.
Compassion Without Compromise
Even with a comprehensive, housing-first approach to ending homelessness, there will inevitably be a minority of individuals who refuse to engage in the services available. That is their right. No one should be forced to engage with homelessness services.
However, where rough sleeping and associated anti-social behavioural problems, such as begging, does occur in a public place action should be taken. A high density of rough sleeper not only has a detrimental effect on local businesses, it also negatively impacts on those who live and work in the surrounding community. Business owners and employees should be not be responsible for having to move-on rough sleeper when arriving at their place of work, just as residents should be free to enjoy their local area without being asked for spare change. In addressing this, it is essential that a fair but firm approach is taken.
- Call for the repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824 which criminalises rough sleeping and begging.
- Grant additional powers to local authorities who, based on the annual review of regional homelessness strategy, have fulfilled the minimum set of available activities to instigate a Housing First approach.
- Empower assertive outreach teams in those local authorities with powers to move on people who are sleeping rough or engaging in antisocial behaviour, such as begging, to a place where they can access social services. These powers should be used sparingly and as a last resort.
- Employ a fair but firm social services approach, as outlined above, as the default preference. However, groups or individuals causing, or likely to cause, antisocial behaviour in public places, may still be prosecuted under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
- Remove additional powers from local authorities that are deemed to have fallen below the minimum provision required for a comprehensive housing-first approach, until sufficient support can once more be guaranteed.
In ending homelessness across Yorkshire, it is essential that a social safety net is put in place through which no one must be allowed to fall. Those receiving support from homelessness services must be treated with dignity, respecting their rights as individuals. However, a fair but firm approach must be taken to any individuals whose actions may have a detrimental impact on others. By tackling antisocial behaviour associated with homelessness, we show compassion to the most vulnerable in society without compromising the safety of our community.