Homelessness rise fuelled by government’s welfare reforms, says report

A National Audit Office report slammed the government response to escalating levels of poverty in Britain, as homeless households grow by 60 per cent in five years

Government welfare reforms are to blame for soaring homelessness over the last five years, according to a damning new report.

The study, carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO), warned that the government does not have a published strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness and the responsible department’s approach to the issue was slammed in the report, describing it as a ‘light touch’.

A stark message on homeless deaths was emblazoned on the empty BHS in Glasgow

As a result, the number of households in temporary accommodation rose 60 per cent to 77,240 by March 2017. In that time, the number of children in these households grew by 73 per cent with 120,540 kids growing up without a permanent home.

It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem.

The rising problem has cost the public sector £1.15 billion-a-year with more than three quarters of this spent on temporary accommodation – a figure of £845 million. And from that total, £638m was sourced from housing benefit.

The end of private sector tenancies is now the biggest single cause of homelessness. The proportion of households made homeless at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy increased from 11 per cent during 2009-10 to 32 per cent during 2016-17.

This is particularly prevalent in London with a rise from 10 per cent to 39 per cent during the same period while the rest of England saw a 74 per cent growth in the households who qualify for temporary accommodation since 2009-10.

The study also found that rising private renting prices have driven the increase in homelessness with the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance cap in April 2016 playing a part in that.

The Department for Communities and Local Government does not have a published cross government strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness, according to the report, although it has acknowledged the issue and vowed to improve homelessness data-gathering.

Campaigners protest against welfare cuts and the so-called 'Bedroom Tax' outside the Supreme Court in London.

A ‘light touch’ approach to working with local authorities was also cited by the NAO, with the government failing to monitor the content or progress of councils with their individual homelessness strategy.

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 – a new bill that is only waiting on royal assent before it can be brought into force next year – has been supported by the government and promises to increase the responsibility on local authorities to prevent homelessness.

But the report warns that the councils’ ability to respond to the issue is constrained by a lack of housing options with a reduction in social housing in the past few decades while spending on homelessness services has increased since 2010.

More is being spent leaving people in limbo as they are placed in temporary accommodation, while less is spent on homelessness prevention, social housing and new affordable housing, which makes little sense

A 21 per cent decrease in money spent on overall housing services has been reported despite the proportion of homeless households in temporary accommodation outside their home borough sat 28 per cent in March 2017 – up from 13 per cent in March 2011.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors.

“Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms on this issue, and there remain gaps in its approach.

“It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money.”

Big Issue founder and crossbench peer John Bird called for an assessment of past strategies before deciding how to tackle homelessness going forward.

He said: “If we really want to change anything around poverty what we’ve got to do is find out what reforms have been tried, what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past so we need a kind of audit.

“And, unfortunately, what is happening now is that people are trying new stuff without diagnosing or analysing what has been tried before so as far as I’m concerned, the first thing we need to think about is what’s out there, what’s been done, what can be done and what needs to be done.

“We’re going to be in a much better situation over handling poverty, homelessness and all these long-term issues if we know what has actually been attempted and attained previously.”

Matthew Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “The National Audit Office fully acknowledges what we already knew, that homelessness has got drastically worse since 2010-11.

“As the shows, more is being spent leaving people in limbo as they are placed in temporary accommodation, while less is spent on homelessness prevention, social housing and new affordable housing, which makes little sense.

“While the Homelessness Reduction Act coming into force next year will address this preventing many from becoming homeless in the first place, it must be implemented with cross-government working and a genuinely affordable housing supply.

“Furthermore, the government must fully assess the impact of its welfare reforms on homelessness.”