My Homelessness Reduction Act will make a difference – but it’s far from job done
Shifting the balance towards prevention work will have a big impact on reducing homelessness. But it is only one part of the solution, writes Bob Blackman
On 3 April 2018, following a year of preparation by local authorities across England, my Homelessness Reduction Act finally came into force. Naturally this was something of a personal landmark; few backbench MPs have the chance to put through a private member’s bill, and fewer still see their work go on to change the law.
A lot of work has been done to get us to this moment. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to my colleagues on the HCLG Select Committee for their willingness to support my Bill and to carry out an unprecedented round of pre-legislative scrutiny which ensured that the draft Bill laid was already well constructed and workable.
As a result, the Homelessness Reduction Act received a groundswell of support from colleagues from all sides of the house and, eventually, was given the financial backing it needed by the government to make it a reality.
I have long felt there was a problem with the way councils have tended towards rationing the few services available, while turning away anyone not meeting the requirements for priority status, rather than looking at preventative work. While no one piece of legislation can completely tackle this enormously complex issue, I knew that I wanted to try.
Fortunately, the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 came into force in April 2015, and the experience gained from that piece of legislation was perfectly timed to help inform measures put forward in my Bill. Since Wales saw a 69% decrease in the number of households owed the main homelessness duty in the first year, we already have evidence that shifting the balance towards prevention work can make a big impact.
There is also a strong evidence base to suggest that the costs of transforming local authority services towards prevention work prior to homelessness occurring will be rapidly offset by the savings to local authorities on temporary and emergency accommodation.
The National Audit Office (NAO) report on homelessness in September 2017 showed that, of the £1.1bn spent by English local authorities in 2015-16, £845m was spent on temporary accommodation, and this figure has only continued to increase.
I am very pleased that the government is funding the initial implementation of my Act to the tune of £72.7m over the next two years, helping local authorities to make the adjustments and provide the new services needed to turn things around and change how we approach homelessness entirely.
After this initial period, I believe there will be fewer people hitting the point of becoming homeless in the first place, with local authorities empowered to step in and offer help and advice up to 56 days before the crunch occurs, in turn causing a reduction in the need to use unsuitable temporary accommodation and a lower cost to the taxpayer.
My Bill will also ensure that care leavers, ex-offenders, NHS patients, armed forces veterans and other vulnerable groups will receive help and advice for the first time.
Of course, this is only one part of an overall agenda for the government. Housing policy is a key political issue and it is clear that more action is needed and, going forward, I want to see the government achieve its aim of eliminating rough sleeping entirely by 2027.
In the autumn budget, Philip Hammond announced £15bn of new financial support for housebuilding, taking the total amount to be spent from 2017 to 2022 to at least £44bn. A housing white paper was also published in February 2017 and a social housing white paper is expected this spring, so it is clear that the need for action on multiple fronts is being taken seriously.
I have no doubt that the Homelessness Reduction Act is going to make a big impact over the next few years, but sadly it cannot be considered ‘job done’. The work must continue and I am confident that it will.
Bob Blackman is Conservative MP for Harrow East and a member of the HCLG Committee