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Housing

Almost all Welsh councils are bracing themselves for a surge in homelessness this winter

21 of 22 local authorities warned they are expecting a rise in evictions this winter but Welsh minister Julia James says ‘there is no going back’ to mass homelessness

Almost all local authorities in Wales are expecting a rise in the number of renters needing support for homelessness after being evicted, according to a new report.

Councils praised the Welsh Government for its commitment to providing emergency accommodation for people experiencing homelessness throughout the pandemic.

But 21 of Wales’ 22 local authorities also told charity Crisis that they expect evictions will see them called on to provide support. And two-thirds of local authorities are braced for homeowners to need assistance due to repossessions. 

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The end of Covid support such as furlough or the £20 cut to universal credit is also set to cause a rise in homelessness, according to two-thirds of councils.

The findings, from Heriot-Watt University on behalf of Crisis, underline the risk of a mass homelessness crisis this winter. The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelesness campaign this week revealed failing to cover rent arrears could cost the government £2.6bn if it ends up with hundreds of thousands of renters falling into homelessness. 

“This research shows that the Welsh Government has taken the right approach to protect people from homelessness in the pandemic,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. “It is vital that this highly effective action is continued so we can end homelessness in Wales for good.

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“But it is very concerning that as we enter winter, councils across Wales are expecting rises in homelessness. It is critical that councils, government, health services and charities continue working together, as they have done throughout the pandemic, to ensure no one slips through the cracks, no one is left out of support.”

Crisis’ Homelessness Monitor report is the first time the charity has run the biannual study of homelessness across Wales since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020.

Ministers initially announced £10m to protect rough sleepers in emergency accommodation when the pandemic hit,  with 800 people brought off the street. 

They then announced a further £20m package to move people into more permanent accommodation to prevent a return to the streets. Meanwhile the emergency accommodation scheme has continued running throughout the pandemic.

Renters were also initially protected from losing their home through an eviction ban that ended in June 2021 and while possessions have returned, six-month notice periods remain in place until the end of the year. There are also loan and grant schemes to help renters with arrears.

The Welsh Government committed £250m towards 20,000 new low-carbon homes for social rent in August.

Climate change minister Julie James, who is in charge of tackling homelessness, has said “there is no going back” to mass homelessness in Wales.

A Welsh Government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “We welcome the positive response from local authorities to the steps we have taken to tackle homelessness. We have worked to ensure that no one is left without accommodation nor the support they need to stay safe during the pandemic.

“The minister has been clear that there is no going back. We have set out our intention to reform homelessness services to focus on prevention and rapid rehousing.”

Housing is also central to the new co-operation agreement between first minister Mark Drakeford and Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price that was signed last weekend. 

The light coalition will see the two parties co-operate on 50 policy ideas including second homes crisis, bringing in rent controls and reforming housing law to end homelessness.

But ministers may first be facing a rising homelessness crisis with rising living prices, falling Covid-19 support and the pandemic’s impact on jobs conspiring to put renters on the brink in the next few months.

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Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University, the lead author of the report, said the government’s interventions were “highly effective” but the “economic aftermath of the pandemic risks an immediate rise in levels of homelessness”.

“Looking forward we must build on the positive work happening in Wales through the current Programme for Government and five-year Action Plan to make sure the Covid-19 crisis doesn’t lead to increased levels of homelessness, and that we achieve long lasting change,” said Prof Fitzpatrick.

Katie Dalton, director of Cymorth Cymru, told The Big Issue said it was “critical” that the government commits to multi-year funding at December 20’s draft budget.

She also called on ministers to increase the Housing Support Grant to keep up with rising inflation and pledge £300m for social housing in 2022/23. 

“The Homelessness Monitor for Wales highlights the extraordinary work of local authorities, housing and support providers during the pandemic – but also illustrates the scale of the challenge ahead of us,” said Dalton.
The Big Issue is calling for urgent action to prevent rising homelessness this winter through the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Find out more here.

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