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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Is the Government doing enough to protect people from falling into homelessness?

Is the Government doing enough to protect people from falling into homelessness?

There are concerns that the long-term economic fall-out from the pandemic could cause thousands more people to become homeless, writes Josh Grundy. | PA Images

Josh Grundy | Dods Monitoring

4 min read

With the UK now in recession and a potential second wave of coronavirus in the winter, there are concerns as to whether there is enough support, particularly for those who are already homeless.

It is without question that Covid-19 has caused difficulty for many people, including those in the private rented sector, insecure housing and rough sleepers.

There has been substantial government intervention to protect those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, but questions remain over whether these interventions are enough to safeguard people in the long-term.

Successive governments have tried to tackle the issue of rough sleeping. The 2019 Conservative Manifesto committed to end rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament.

Back in March, communities secretary Robert Jenrick announced £3.2m of emergency funding to enable rough sleepers to self-isolate. The funding was made available to local authorities, who in turn paid the accommodation costs.

There are concerns that the long-term economic fall-out from the pandemic could cause thousands more people to become homeless.

Freedom of information requests from councils show there was a rise of homelessness in April, despite government support through the furlough scheme and the ban on evictions.

Freedom of information responses from 212 councils across England show 22,798 households who applied for support after 1 April this year were found to be legally homeless. However, this may only show part of the problem, as these figures cover only two thirds of councils in England.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee have called on the Government to provide funding streams for local authorities. This will give people safe and secure accomodation, as well as accelerating the delivery of the housing first approach.

The committee also called on the Government to address the issue of people with no recourse to public funds, arguing that councils should be reimbursed for providing accommodation for people with this status.

The Local Government Association have called for government intervention and practical support on this issue, along with the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who has called on the Government to guarantee that homeless people receive temporary accommodation over the next 12 months, regardless of their immigration status.

The Government did step in to help those in the private rented sector who were struggling with rent payments. The Coronavirus Act 2020 made provision to extend notice periods, with Robert Jenrick announcing on Friday 21 August that the evictions ban would be extended again until the 20 September.

As much as the extension to notice periods has been welcomed by many, there are concerns about what comes after.

In addition to this, a six-month notice period will be in place until 21 March 2021.

However, Jenrick did state it was important for certain eviction cases to be held in court, particularly when they involved anti-social behaviour from tenants or those involved in domestic abuse.

MHCLG added that government would continue to work with the judiciary and stakeholders to ensure the courts are prepared for eviction cases to be heard safely.

It remains to be seen what the long-term fallout of the pandemic will be for renters.

As much as the latest extension has been welcomed by many, there are concerns about what comes after. There are fears many tenants will simply not be able to afford to pay back their landlord in full, adding to the risk of homelessness and debt.

The Welsh Government announced a scheme, starting in September, called tenancy saver loans.

These loans will be available for renters who need it and not eligible for housing benefits. The loan will cover rent arrears from the start of the pandemic; aiming to provide affordable payment plans for renters, with the money going back to the landlord or agency.

It is without question that the Government have acted to prevent people falling into homelessness due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The evictions ban along with funding to house rough sleepers has been welcomed by many. However, question marks remain over what the future holds for this at-risk demographic.

With the UK now in recession and a potential second wave of coronavirus in the winter, there are concerns as to whether there will be enough support, particularly for those who are already homeless.

Councils have responded and helped provide accommodation, but with many facing financial uncertainty, there are calls for more funding for councils to continue helping the homeless.

The Government are leading a taskforce to tackle issues of rough sleeping and homelessness. However, recently Dame Louise Casey resigned from her position as head of the taskforce.

With no replacement announced, questions remain over who will lead the effort to end rough sleeping by 2024.

 

Josh Grundy is the Dods Political Consultant for Housing and Local Government. You can download the Dods Briefing on The Private Rented Sector, Homelessness and Domestic Abuse here.

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