The paper includes a set of measures to increase the overall supply of housing and tackle some of the impacts of the current housing shortage. It recognises that high and increasing costs in the private rented sector put households at risk of becoming homeless, and that losing a private sector tenancy is now the main cause of homelessness.
Although the paper commits the Government to doing more to prevent homelessness, most explicit actions around homelessness have all been previously announced. For example, the paper references supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill, doubling the size of the Rough Sleeping Fund, establishing a network of expert advisors to work closely with all local authorities and reforming homelessness data. The paper does commit to exploring whether social investment may have a role in helping to secure homes for those who are vulnerable or at risk of homelessness, and whether social lettings agencies can be an effective tool for securing more housing for households who would otherwise struggle.
Our manifesto, based on the views of people who have experienced homelessness in England and those who support them, identified increasing sub-market level housing supply across all tenures and improving the quality and security of tenure in the private rented sector amongst the actions the Government could take to make the greatest difference for homelessness.
Increasing sub-market level housing supply across all tenures
Without truly affordable places to live, a route out of homelessness is not achievable, meaning people are stuck in temporary accommodation far longer than necessary. The Government’s current definition of affordability of up to 80% of local market rate means most affordable accommodation remains unaffordable for those on low-incomes and benefits. Our latest annual review, using data from hundreds of homelessness services in England, indicates that 30% of people living in homeless accommodation projects are ready to live independently, but many cannot move out because there is nowhere suitable to go. Of this group, more than a quarter (27%) have been waiting to move on for more than six months.
The White Paper outlines a series of measures that relate to this, including:
- Consulting on introducing a standardised approach to assessing local housing requirements which take account of the needs of different groups, for example older people.
- Diversifying the market to increase house building and address affordability issues
- Amending policy expectation so that housing sites now deliver a minimum of 10% affordable home ownership units, reducing focus on Starter Homes
- Investing in the Affordable Homes Programme, which will now include Rent to Buy homes alongside shared ownership
- Consulting on changing the definition of affordable housing, including the introduction of a definition of affordable private renting housing and measures to promote Built to Rent developments.
Improving the quality and security of tenure in the private rented sector
Our work has found that private rented accommodation is often unregulated and can be poorly maintained and of very poor quality, and for many vulnerable people the prospect of insecure tenancies and unclear rights can easily push them towards - or back into - homelessness. We are also hearing from our members an increased reluctance from private landlords to house people on benefits due to the changes being brought in through the new Universal Credit system. However, we do recognise that there are some private landlords who are working with homelessness services to successfully accommodate people who have been homeless. The White Paper outlines measures to:
- Implement measures in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to remove rogue landlords or agents from operating
- Encourage longer-term tenancies in private rental homes delivered by housing associations and institutional investors.
The measures outlined in the White Paper will only make a difference to homelessness if they provide people with a truly affordable place to live, improve the quality and security of tenure in the private rented sector, place stronger expectations on landlords and increase tenancy lengths that help achieve housing stability. Further, it must be recognised that ‘fixing the broken housing market’ is not the only action that Government needs to take. Ensuring better support for people to find and keep a job and an effective welfare safety net should also form part of a long-term cross-department strategy to end homelessness.