Britain is facing a homelessness time bomb as ministers remove a host of coronavirus support schemes
Ministers are being urged to extend a ban on evictions to prevent a new wave of homelessness. (PA)
A lethal combination of factors mean Britain is heading for the worst winter homelessness and rough sleeping crisis we’ve seen in decades.
As the support schemes put in place to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 are scaled back, a nightmare appears to be unfolding before our eyes.
Unemployment continues to rise. The ban on evictions ends this weekend leaving 230,000 at risk of losing their homes. The furlough and self-employment support schemes stop soon.
The ‘Everyone In’ programme to house rough sleepers is set to close before winter and has not funded every rough sleeper despite the scheme’s name, leaving councils massively out of pocket.
This lethal combination of factors all point to one thing – the worst winter homelessness and rough sleeping crisis we’ve seen in decades.
We know that the Government doesn’t have accurate data on rough sleepers. Many of us have been asking for the ‘guesstimate’ method of councils doing a simple headcount of rough sleepers in their area to end.
This method has grossly underestimated the problem: ministers previously used it claim there were around 5,000 rough sleepers across the country — but ‘Everyone In’ provided almost 15,000 people with accommodation. Ministers also instructed councils to house everyone, but they seem to have reneged on funding rough sleepers subject to vicious Home Office ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ conditions.
For renters living in private accommodation whose employment and finances have been hit by the pandemic, the outlook is also worrying. The ban on evictions expires on Sunday and the furlough scheme, which has helped over 9 million people in work, ends on 31st October.
A third of all recent Universal Credit applicants have been told they are not entitled to anything and another 500,000 claimants have been forced to take a loan from DWP, pushing people seeking help into debt. With homelessness charities worried that hostels and other temporary winter accommodation may not meet Covid-related measures, like social distancing, it is no wonder that councils up and down the country are urgently calling for more resources from Government to prepare for a large increase in homelessness.
A homelessness time bomb is waiting to go off
In my own borough of Southwark, between 1st April-31st July 2020, the number of homelessness applications received by the council increased by 60% compared to the same time last year.
During this period, Southwark have prevented 592 households from becoming homeless and seen a 20% increase in the number of households placed in temporary accommodation since the lockdown began. But, with nearly 50,000 local people furloughed and the number of households on Universal Credit increasing by 12,000 over the course of the pandemic in the borough, the council is simply not able to hold back the tide without more resources.
The Government has been praised for some of the measures taken in response to the pandemic. However, most policies have been purely reactive. It is now time for Ministers to adopt a proactive approach if they want to prevent a new epidemic of homelessness.
They could start by extending the ban on evictions; ending section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions; giving judges the discretion not to evict renters when arrears could reasonably be paid off; reforming the welfare system by scrapping the benefit cap; raising Local Housing Allowance rates; increasing Discretionary Housing Payments funding; and scrapping the five-week delay for first Universal Credit payments.
A homelessness time bomb is waiting to go off. If the Government wants to defuse it, ministers must act now.
Neil Coyle is the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness