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Homelessness: Should we be following Welsh approach?

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New homelessness and domestic violence guuidance

Recent homelessness figures have shown that the number of households accepted as homeless between October and December last year has risen by 6% in England to 14,470. However, in Wales the number of households accepted as homeless in the same period was 405, 67% less than the previous year.

Local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are required by law to offer housing only to homeless people who meet the following criteria:

  • Whether you are homeless or threatened with homelessness
  • Whether you are eligible
  • Whether you are in priority need
  • Whether you are intentionally homeless

However, it is thought that such legislation fails a large number of homeless people who are not deemed to be in priority need.

In 2014, new legislation was introduced in Wales in an attempt to address this issue. Under the Housing (Wales) Act, all Welsh local authorities are now required to work with anyone facing homelessness, regardless of the circumstances, and to help all those who actually become homeless, rather than only those who fall within the above thresholds.

Although some local authorities in England do afford assistance to all of those requiring help, they are not required by law to do so. It is therefore down to the luck of where you live as to the level of assistance you will receive from your local authority.

Since the Act came into force in Wales, local authorities report having assisted more people, focusing on their needs, rather than just vulnerabilities. Recent figures show how the legislation has had a significant impact on the number of people who remain homeless after seeking help. Between July and September 2013, 900 households were found not to be in priority need and so were likely to remain homeless. Since the new legislation came in, during the same three months in 2015, only 210 households were found not to be in priority need.

Many of the underlying causes of homelessness remain: people are struggling to pay their rent in an increasingly uncertain market and cuts to housing benefit and local council funding have only made the problem worse. While the new framework in Wales doesn’t resolve those problems, it does give the council more flexibility to find new ways of helping people with their housing difficulties. For example, increased Government funds in Wales have allowed local councils to offer rent deposits, help clear arrears and even help pay household bills.

The priority need test does still remain in place under Welsh legislation, however, this more encompassing approach is helping more people, and fewer people remain homeless. This system could easily be replicated and could prove to be the way forward for tackling homelessness in England.

If you or anyone you know is facing homelessness and in need of assistance, contact our housing law solicitors on 0175 321 6399.

Brea Carney-Jones, housing law team