A new bill is looking to change local authority approach towards homelessness. The bill, which has had its first reading in June and has a second reading scheduled for 28 October, draws on a recent report by Crisis which recommends the introduction of prevention duties on councils.
With rough sleeper statistics at an all time high (3,569 people in England), it is evident that the spiralling issue of homelessness is finally being considered seriously by law makers.
The bill will put added expectations on local authorities making them demonstrate more strongly that they have offered meaningful advice. It will also introduce a 56 day period before someone is made homeless in which they can ask for homelessness advice. Furthermore, clear guidance has been put forward for councils to intervene with private landlords to prevent evictions. If the bill goes through Parliament, this could be a significant piece of legislation for this area of law.
It is important to note that Wales introduced a similar duty on councils to prevent homelessness in 2014 and have consequently seen a drop in the number of homeless people in the last year. Current legislation in the UK identifies those in ‘priority need’ who automatically qualify for assistance. This approach does not put people first. Rather, it is an attempt to limit the numbers of those that local authorities are under a duty to assist.
Prevention duties will apply on an equal footing to all those at risk of homelessness. In implementing such policies, the government recognises that homelessness is a symptom of a wider problem and preventative measures are crucial. While this approach is likely to cost more in the short term, in the long term it pays dividends and saves money. Less pressure is put on multiple service providers when local authorities can exclusively deal with the issues early on and ‘nip them in the bud’.
It is only hoped that if approved, this Act would be the first step towards tackling homelessness from the core. Other problems such as lack of social housing and increased rents are also factors contributing towards the complex social issue that is homelessness.
By Iman Nauman, graduate paralegal in the housing team.