On 3rd April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force across England.
The Homelessness Reduction Act brings significant changes to the assistance that homeless people will receive from their local council. Under the old homelessness law, single homeless people were often not given any help. This new law is supposed to change that.
However, under the old law we know that many families and individuals who were entitled to assistance were turned away without any help – a practice called gatekeeping.
Will this new law change the culture of gatekeeping that we’ve faced (and challenged!) in the housing office? Will the Homelessness Reduction Act really reduce homelessness?
We know what will reduce homelessness – secure, quality council homes in our communities for everyone, higher wages, higher benefits and an end to racist rules and immigration controls (including Right to Rent, No Recourse to Public Funds, restrictions on EEA benefits being some we’re familiar with).
Unfortunately, the Homelessness Reduction Act doesn’t include any of these. There are really basic homeless law changes that could actually help reduce homelessness such as abolishing priority need which Scotland have done and phasing out intentional homelessness as Wales are doing but it doesn’t even include these good steps.
So what does the Homelessness Reduction Act mean and how does it work?
We’re still trying to understand it fully. There’s a flowchart here which is a useful starting point.
We certainly had strong criticisms of the old homelessness law and process. Many of us in the group have had very bad experiences of it. But trying to understand the HRA makes us miss the fairy simple old homeless law and process.
Our experiences so far of the HRA has included Southwark council’s trial of it over the last year, a homelessness assessment at Lambeth’s housing office and a workshop we attended by Doughty Street Chambers. All of these experiences have given us some deep concerns about the HRA.
There are a number of changes that we believe make things much worse for homeless people under the Homelessness Reduction Act and we are very worried about their impact:
More stress for homeless people – Personalised Housing Plans are patronising
The Personalised Housing Plan that every homeless person must follow is deeply patronising. It brings in the harmful conditionality that has been running out of job centres where the blame and responsibility is placed on the claimant/homeless person. During this severe housing crisis, homelessness law is placing responsibility on homeless people to solve homelessness themselves. Homeless people often visit the housing office as a last resort after exhausting all their other options. As if being homeless wasn’t difficult enough, as if people haven’t done everything to prevent their homelessness already, they are being given extra tasks under threat of sanction.
Under the old law homeless families could get interim/ temporary housing from the council – alongside this, if they wished, they could look for alternative housing completely voluntarily, so the PHP simply acts as a coercive and patronising tool.
Worse rights for homeless people – 6 month private tenancies create a cycle of homelessness and poverty
The new law allows the council to discharge their duty to a homeless household with a section 193A offer. This is a 6 month private tenancy. This offer is far worse than the previous private sector discharge offer that a council could force on a homeless household under the old law. Under the old law, a council could discharge their homeless duty by offering a 12 month private sector tenancy with 2 years protection if they became homeless again. This private sector tenancy had to meet a list of criteria to make sure it was decent quality. If the household became homeless within 2 years of the start of the tenancy, then they would have an automatic homeless duty with the council.
6 month private sector tenancies for homeless households is the exact opposite of what homeless households need – after enduring homelessness, you need security that you will not face this again. Secure council tenancies provide this. A 6 month private tenancy means that homeless households will face a cycle of homelessness, insecurity and poverty.
The new law is even more complicated than the old law
The new homelessness process and law is not easy to understand. Flow charts appear to be the favored way to explain it, it is much more complicated than the previous law. These flow charts show many routes and options – but getting to secure, quality council housing looks further away than ever before. Before, we were able to use our clear and simple leaflet with the 5 tests that a council would do to investigate for your case. Whilst the old law was still difficult to understand, it was simple enough that we could know and share our basic rights. We have certainly struggled to get our heads around the new law.
Slowing down and drawing out an already difficult process
Under the old law, the council had 33 working days to investigate a case and make a decision on whether the applicant was owed a full homeless duty. Now, if you are homeless, the council have 56 days under the relief duty to investigate your case and come to a decision. This increased wait will simply mean more stress and delays for the homeless household awaiting their decision.
Some positive developments?
Of course, ensuring that everyone who approaches the council as homeless or facing homelessness gets help is a welcome development. Although under the old law, the council did have a duty to provide ‘advice and assistance’ to anyone who approached as homeless. Most councils just regularly chose to gatekeep single homeless applicants instead from this duty.
The new law also possibly provides better support for those households who are in priority need and deemed ‘intentionally homeless’ as a duty under section 190(2) arise. Although again under the old law councils were supposed to give households a reasonable amount of time to find other accommodation. Nearly Legal confirms that the new law ‘potentially’ gives households more time than under the old law.
What’s been happening in Southwark who piloted the Homelessness Reduction Act?
Southwark council explain their pilot of the Homelessness Reduction Act
- Numbers of households being put up in temporary homes have halved in a year, and the use of unsuitable and expensive bed and breakfast accommodation has been eliminated.
The dramatic halving of households provided with temporary accommodation cannot be denied, but how exactly was this achieved? What has happened to those families now? (By the looks of it they have been housed out of borough in private rented housing – see next bullet point.)
Before the HRA the council had been able to avoid the use of B&B accommodation to house homeless families. It was only in June 2016 when the council first started using B&Bs. Before this they had not used B&B accommodation at all for homeless families. It is already unlawful to house families in B&B accommodation for over 6 weeks (and the law says that councils should do everything they can to avoid housing families in B&Bs at all) so homeless households already had protection against this and Southwark should not have been housing families in B&B accommodation.
- People threatened with homelessness were helped to find homes in the private rental sector – though this was often many miles away in outer London boroughs.
Housing people outside of their communities in private rented accommodation cannot be seen as a positive effect. This is social cleansing. Being re-housed in outer boroughs also means that they will no longer be entitled to be on Southwark’s housing waiting list so that they will not stand a chance of moving back to their home borough in council housing. Southwark council says that 358 households were placed in private rented accommodation (although it does not say whether this was in or outside of the borough). These families will have missed out on the protections afforded to them that you do have in temporary accommodation with a homeless duty (for example, the ability to review suitability of temporary accommodation, immediate rehousing if the temporary accommodation private landlord wants you out, ‘reasonable preference’ on the housing register and certain standards in the quality of the private rented accommodation with private sector discharge).
- The borough provided mediation to rehouse young people at home after they had been thrown out by their family following a row.
What was the quality of this mediation? Was it really effective or did young people just give up on pursuing a homeless duty? Young people cannot remain in their family home forever and often family tensions and rows arise from being forced to live together, something mediation cannot resolve.
- In some cases it paid off tenants’ rent areas.
This is of course a positive thing.
- In the first year Southwark topped up the £1m government grant it received to test the new system with £750,000 of its own cash.
Depending on the true outcomes for homeless households and those threatened with homelessness that will determine whether this was money spent in support for vulnerable families or gatekeeping and socially cleansing them.
Our experiences of the Homelessness Reduction Act in Southwark
Same old gatekeeping – reducing homelessness by pretending it doesn’t exist?
Our member M approached the council as homeless. M and her family were living in M’s mother’s flat. The two families were very overcrowded living together in the small flat and M’s mother asked her to leave. M approached the council to make a homeless application, but they told her that they could not open a homeless application until after 56 days had passed.
J and his family faced a similar situation living at J’s mother in law flat which was two small to house both families. J, his wife and his two children all share a single room. The stress of the situation lead J’s mother in law to ask his family to leave. They made a homeless appointment with the council but again it seemed the housing officer was reluctant to open a homeless application. They were told that they could remain in their current housing situation while they looked for other places to live. The housing officer suggested that they have mediation between J and his mother in law so that J’s family could remain in the home. Since the first homelessness appointment, J heard nothing from the housing officer (despite making a complaint about this) and 3 months have passed.
Our member F made her homeless application in October last year when the council were trialling the Homelessness Reduction Act, yet she heard nothing from the council about her application for months. When she faced eviction from her hostel this April, it took a twitter storm before the council would confirm temporary accommodation for her.
We have been supporting all of these members with their cases.
Another HASL member met a young street homeless man on the street. He was a care leaver. He told her he had been to the housing office for help but was turned away.
What can we do?
We’ll be organising leafleting sessions to speak with people about their experiences of getting housing help from the council and we’re also organising a Homelessness Reduction Act workshop with Southwark Law Centre to learn our rights together.
Join your local housing action group to support each other with housing problems and fight together for the good quality, secure homes in our communities that we all need and deserve! The Homelessness Reduction Act won’t reduce homelessness, it’s up to us!
UPDATA 30th ARPIL 2018: Our member F was housed in temporary accommodation by Southwark council. She is very happy in her temporary accommodation because the location is close to her community and she has use of her own bathroom for the first time in almost 2 years. But the council have still not confirmed a full homeless duty for her. They must give F the peace of mind and security of a full homeless duty where she can then bid for secure council housing. Southwark council must support survivors.
Our member F was made homeless by domestic violence. When she visited Southwark housing office for help she was gatekept on two occasions – turned away without any housing assistance. With our help, she was finally able to open a homeless application, but 6 months later the council have failed to give a decision letter or temporary accommodation, leaving her threatened with street homelessness this month.
Southwark council’s treatment of our member, a vulnerable survivor of domestic violence, is unacceptable. F does not have English as a first language, a factor that is often used by housing officers when refusing help and which makes her more vulnerable in general as it harder for her to access basic support services. She suffers from a number of health issues and is experiencing severe stress and anxiety caused by homelessness. The council’s unlawful gatekeeping and delays has meant that she has been forced to live in unsuitable hostel accommodation for the last year and a half. During this time, one hostel she was staying in evicted everyone with days notice and she was forced to move to another.
If the council had acted when she first approached for help in October 2016, she might have been in secure council housing by now, instead, she is fearing street homelessness yet again.
The council must accept a full homeless duty and provide her with suitable temporary accommodation.
The council must also seriously reflect and investigate how F came to be so seriously mistreated in this way over this last year and a half. This gatekeeping and mistreatment has had a devastating impact on F’s life for the last year and a half.
We know that F is not the only person to face gatekeeping and poor treatment at the housing office. Southwark council must take urgent action to end unlawful gatekeeping of vulnerable homeless people and ensure they are treated respectfully so that a situation like this does not occur again.
Are you homeless or facing homelessness in Lambeth? Are you making a homeless application with Lambeth council?
When you visited the housing office to make a homeless application, did the housing officer invite you to instead join the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme?
In our group, many of our members have tried to make a homeless application but instead been offered the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme. We are concerned about the confusion and stress this is causing for homeless families and how the scheme is being used to avoid certain protections that homeless families have when they make a homeless application
We always recommend that people have a buddy when visiting the housing office and with this confusing scheme, it is even more important for people to know their rights and have support through this process. It is also vital that we campaign together for better treatment, real housing help (instead of schemes like this) and for council housing for everyone.
What is the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme?
Temp 2 Settled is a scheme started in November 2014 by Lambeth Council which is being used to end or prevent a homeless assessment and therefore reduce the number of homeless duties on their records. This is done by offering people a 6 month private sector tenancy when you end your homeless assessment. The sweetener that is offered is that it will improve your chances of council housing by being placed into band B (rather than band C where households with a homeless duty are usually placed). It is mainly aimed at homeless families as they are more likely to be given a homeless duty.
The effect of this scheme can be seen by comparing Lambeth’s homeless assessment decisions with that of the similar and neighbouring Southwark council. Before the scheme was introduced in November 2014 both Lambeth and Southwark made about 900-1,000 homeless decisions each year. Since then Southwark’s homeless decisions have soared to over 2,000 a year and Lambeth’s have dropped to almost 750. Hundreds of homeless applications will have been stopped with the use of the “Temp 2 Settled” scheme, or will have been discouraged from ever being started, because homeless families have been promised that they have a better chance of getting council housing by doing this instead of doing a homeless application.
Will the Temp 2 Settled scheme help me get council housing quicker?
Not for most homeless families. Although it depends on your specific circumstances. If you are not already on the housing waiting list then you will only join the list when you go through the Temp 2 Settled scheme and you will be put in band B. If you are given a private rented sector tenancy outside the borough of Lambeth, as over half are, then you will only stay on Lambeth’s housing waiting list for 2 years (because you are now living in a different London borough so after the 2 years are up you are no longer allowed to remain on Lambeth’s housing register). This means you will have very little chance of getting council housing before being removed from the waiting list. Last year only 2% of 2 bedroom social housing lettings were made to people who had been in Band B for less than 2 years. It was higher at 22% for people waiting for a 3 bedroom home.
If you have a homeless duty with the council then you will be housed in temporary housing and will be in Band C on the housing register. As Lambeth council explain in the Temp 2 Settled letter, in band C you may never be able to bid successfully for council housing. However in their Temp 2 Settled letter the council forget to tell you that if you choose the Temp 2 Settled route, and you are new to the waiting list, your chances of successfully bidding for council housing are very little too and you will likely have been forced out of your home borough of Lambeth.
Is the housing any better on the Temp 2 Settled scheme? (for example, is the Temp 2 Settled scheme housing better than the temporary accommodation you get when you apply for a homeless duty?)
The Temp 2 Settled scheme is mainly for homeless families. There are already legal protections for homeless families with a homeless duty for example, families can only be housed in bed and breakfast or other hostel-style accommodation for a maximum of 6 weeks by law. After this, you will likely be found self-contained private sector accommodation. This is likely to be similar to the private accommodation you are offered under the Temp 2 Settled scheme.
However we have found over the last year that Lambeth are more likely to house people somewhere in Lambeth through the Temp 2 Settled scheme (42% of placements) than through temporary housing (27% of placements).
This seems like the only clear advantage to the Temp 2 Settled scheme but why are Lambeth appearing to keep private tenancies within the borough for the Temp 2 Settled scheme? Why should someone be punished by being moved out of the area for wanting to keep the protection of a homeless duty? It is deeply worrying that Lambeth appear to be reserving in-borough housing for the Temp 2 Settled scheme and are disadvantaging those who take a homeless duty with the council.
With the Temp 2 Settled scheme, you are able to view the accommodation before accepting it, so if it is not in Lambeth you could still refuse it and continue your homeless assessment.
Why is the Temp 2 Settled scheme bad?
- It causes unnecessary stress and confusion for homeless families at a time when they are already dealing with enough stress from homelessness.
- It divides Lambeth’s homeless families between band B and band C on the housing waiting list – this is blatantly unfair to give some homeless families more priority than others when they have the same high level of housing need. Another inequality is that those on the Temp 2 Settled scheme appear to have a higher chance of being housed in Lambeth compared to those who get a homeless duty. This scheme increases housing inequality amongst some of the most vulnerably housed/homeless people.
- By accepting a place on the scheme you lose your homeless duty with Lambeth Council. This means that when the private tenancy comes to an end Lambeth will have no ongoing duty towards you. You will have to start a new homeless application. You also give up other protections/rights that you have when you make a homeless duty, for example, the ability to review the suitability of the accommodation.
- Because the scheme is ‘voluntary’ it has no legal protections. If Lambeth had done these private sector offers through the channel they are meant to for homeless people then you would have an automatic homeless duty for the next 2 years and your private tenancy would be for a year minimum. You also would be able to challenge unsuitable offers within 21 days. None of these protections exist under the Temp 2 Settled scheme.
- As mentioned before, if you are placed outside of Lambeth on the scheme you will be removed from the housing waiting list after 2 years. If you have a homeless duty with the council and are housed outside the borough in temporary housing, Lambeth are legally required to keep you on the waiting list, even if it is low down on it.
- It helps Lambeth council hide the true number of homeless families in the borough because they are not recorded as statutory homeless duties.
What should we do about it?
The Temp 2 Settle scheme is clearly not in the interests of Lambeth’s homeless families as the many problems with it listed above show. We are campaigning to end the Temp 2 Settle scheme and return to the previous, fairer method where homeless families are provided with temporary accommodation, band B priority on the housing waiting list and can remain in temporary accommodation if they wish until they successfully bid for council housing. This is how Southwark council’s housing allocations policy and housing register works and it is fairly straightforward and easy for homeless families to understand.
We should not be forced to give up protections against further homelessness for a slim chance at getting council housing quicker. We shouldn’t be forced to gamble for secure, truly affordable council housing we all need.
Recent migrants (and others who do not already have housing register accounts and so have not accumulated time on the housing waiting list) should not be discriminated against and disadvantaged in getting council housing because they cannot get on the waiting list before becoming homeless. (If someone who was not previously on the housing register goes down the Temp 2 Settle route and are housed outside of the borough, then it is very unlikely that they will get council housing in the next 2 years, so when these 2 years are up, they will be removed from the list. If someone had been on Lambeth’s housing waiting list 2 years before becoming homeless and going down the Temp 2 Settle route and being housed out of borough, then they stand a better chance of successfully bidding for council housing before the 2 years are up.)
The lack of council housing should not be used to justify pushing homeless people out of Lambeth and ending all responsibility for them. The council should be building more council homes and should stop destroying and selling off what we already have.
Get involved in HASL to help us stop this scheme and help people access the homelessness support they need and deserve.
One of our members and her child were made homeless after their private landlord evicted them in order to get new tenants who would pay higher rent. She visited Lambeth council’s housing office to make a homeless application. Instead of a homeless assessment being opened as she had originally requested, The Temp 2 Settled route was offered to her. After a great deal of stress about what she should do, she decided that she wanted to take this route because the incentive of being in band B was important to her. She accepted a 6 month private tenancy in Southwark (and the landlord received a payment from Lambeth council for accepting her as a tenant). However, after 6 months, her landlord contacted her saying that he was going to evict her, because he wanted another payment from the council. She was absolutely distraught at facing homelessness again and after such a short period of time. Fortunately, it seems like an idle threat from the landlord, as he has not yet given her a section 21 (which he needs to do if he does want to evict her). However, if he were to go through with evicting her, she would have to visit Lambeth’s housing office yet again to make a homeless application. Again, she might be offered Temp 2 Settle and the cycle of homelessness would continue.
On Tuesday 21st November, a legal challenge launched by North East London Migrant Action and the Public Interest Law Unit will take on the government’s racist policy of detaining and deporting EU / EEA nationals who are rough sleeping.
Migrant and housing groups will holding a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice to show our support for those taking this legal challenge and everyone affected by this cruel and hateful policy. We need homes not borders! Let’s show the Home Office and the judge the widespread opposition to their inhumane ‘hostile environment’ policies.
Join North East London Migrant Action, SOAS Detainee Support, us, and others outside the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, 9am-12pm on Tuesday 21st November. Join and share the facebook event here.
Read more about the racist removals of EU nationals in Corporate Watch’s report from earlier this year.
Listen to people directly affected by this policy in this short video.
Support and action beyond the legal challenge
North East London Migrant Action have been co-ordinating solidarity and resistance to these racist removals. Their are lots of ways to show practical support and challenge those implementing this policy.
Legal clinic – NELMA and Public Interest Law Unit run a regular legal clinic for those affected by this policy to get legal advice and help. Please let people who may be affected by this policy know about the clinic. Leaflets in different languages can be found here.
Know Your Rights fact sheet – Important information for those affected by this policy produced in different languages by NELMA. Can you help distribute this information to those who need it?
Challenging those implementing the policy – Homeless charities (St Mungos, Thames Reach and Change, Grow, Live) and local councils are collaborating with the Home Office to detain and deport EU nationals who are rough sleeping. There have been poster campaigns and twitter storms to highlight their complicity and call for them to cut the collaboration.
Want to get involved? Contact NELMA or your local housing/migrant support group.
This year, Southwark council hold top place for the local authority with the most number of homeless households in Bed & Breakfast/hostel accommodation over the 6 week limit. As you can see from the table, this increase in families being housed in B&B/ hostel accommodation is extreme.
Your rights: Local councils should avoid using B&B/hostel accommodation for families and pregnant women. If they do have to house homeless households in B&B, then it should be for no longer than 6 weeks. If you have been housed over this time in hostel accommodation, then get legal advice from Shelter, the Citizens Advice Bureau, or your local law centre and come along to our meetings for support and action.
Being housed by the council in unsuitable temporary accommodation is a very common problem in our group. In the last year, we have seen this problem get even worse. We have met many Southwark families who are being housed for many months in unsuitable hostel accommodation where they share bathroom and/ or kitchen facilities with other families. Some families have had three different temporary accommodations in one year. Our members talk about the impact of this bad housing on their families. The hostel accommodation and regular moves that people have faced are causing their families mental and physical health problems due to the stress. The unsuitable accommodation is also affecting children’s education significantly. Unsuitable temporary accommodation is a very serious issues that is affecting people’s daily lives, their health and their welfare.
We have been in contact with Southwark council in support of a number of families in our group who have been living in unsuitable hostel accommodation or have been housed out of the borough. We hope that the council will listen to these cases and take the urgent action needed for these families. We also demand that Southwark council take urgent action to find suitable temporary accommodation and permanent council housing for all homeless households in the borough. Southwark council should be deeply ashamed to have the highest number of families living in B&B accommodation over the 6 week limit.
Here are the cases of some of our members:
- Our member E and her family have been living in hostel accommodation for the last 5 months. Her daughter is studying for her GCSEs and she has a young son as well. Before this, they were housed in another hostel accommodation for a month and a half. E is 7 months pregnant. The hostel rooms they currently live in have mice which have been causing the family enormous stress and sleepless nights. A mouse-infested room and shared facilities is not suitable for a pregnant woman and her family, especially since they have endured these conditions for over half a year already.
- Our member J and her family have lived in three different hostels since September 2016. Although the current accommodation is not suitable for the family, she would rather not leave, as the stress of moving is so great. But sharing facilities with other households for over a year has been incredibly stressful for the family.
- Another member H and her baby have lived in a hostel for over a year. She told us: “In the one room I live, I cook, I sleep…my baby is struggling to learn to walk because she does not have enough space.”
- Our member L, describes her experience. Her family have lived in three different temporary accommodation placements – all of them out of borough and meaning long journeys to school and work:
“Soy Madre Soltera y trabajo tiempo completo. Despues de una lucha de casi dos años continuos con mi Lanlord Privado para que no me desalojase De la casa que alquile finalmente la ley esta a su favor y me desaloja…el council fue informado de esto desde que me dio la primera notificacion de la corte..aun asi no recibi una respuesta positiva lo unico que me decian era que espere a que me sacara con los bayflis…pedi ayuda a recuperar mi deposito para poder o intentar buscar algo…y tampoco…que solo me ayudaban cuando estuviese en la calle…porque aun tenia techo y no era hommeles…fue asi como llegue a esta situacion….y ahora estoy en una acomodacion en Croydon despues de vivir 4 años continuos en southwark y practicamente estar con todo casi controlado desde..Hora de levantarse hora de comida tiempo de salida de la escuela de mi hija a mi trabajo..y tener una estabilidad familiar ..ahora nos vemos desplazadas de un entorno que para nosotras era casi familiar….ah sido un tiempo realmente estresante porque aunque para el council es normal que mi hija se tarde 1.30 minutos en llegar a su escuela o hasta mas cuando hay demasiado trafico….para nosotras es estresante…porque yo debo estar en mi trabajo 8.30 am ubicado en pentonville road king croos .y mi hija 8.55 am en la escuela….ya se pueden imaginar…nuestro recorrido trenes ; buses…etc…en mi trabajo me siento agobiada por tan larga jornada de transporte…y realmente me preocupa mi hija su dia a dia .. Mi hija Ama su escuela y por esto y por el tiempo que lleva en ella no la retiro…..aun asi intentando cumplir la jornada de su Escuela…ah llegado tarde porque en ocasiones me valgo de otras personas(abuela.amigas) para que me lleven a mi hija..porque no me alcanza el tiempo para llegar a mi trabajo…La Escuela me ha llamado la atencion porque no tiene el porcentaje minimo que exige la Educacion…. en asistencia. cada llegada tarde es un punto negativo para ella….lastimosamente ….veo solo una preocupacion por un numero % …..no por el niño…..fue lo que percibi…porque casi como ultimatum…que no debia llegar mas tarde ..para mi algo casi…imposible…aunque trato con la ayuda de mi madre cumplir……pero no es facil…solo es una parte de lo que nos ha afectado…porque para decir tendria mucho..mas…….Gracias..”
Of course, this problem is not limited to Southwark, last week a short film showed the appalling conditions of a converted warehouse where homeless household were living. A BBC article also looked at dangerous and cramped housing that people are forced to live in.
Using Freedom Of Information requests sent to London councils, we looked at how hundreds of homeless households are being forced out of their home communities and out of London into private rented housing or else facing destitution. You can read our full report HASL report on private sector discharge -final
The Guardian has covered the research here
We wrote about our findings for Novara Media here