Homeless in Lincolnshire
Want to add your voice? Please come along to our Spring Conference in Lincoln on March 16th.
11am at the Lincoln Cathedral Centre.
Organised by the Independent Group of the Local Government Association.
No charge but please book; email@example.com Agenda below.
As icy blasts arrive from Siberia this week, bringing sub-zero temperatures, our members, Councils and volunteers are assisting with emergency overnight accommodation across the country.
Councils have to do more since the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, a bill brought by a single MP, which came into force on April 3rd. The LGA has worked with the Government to shape the legislation to be more deliverable and secured £72.7 million in new burdens funding, £61m for this Act alone. Councils will now receive payments for preventing people becoming homeless. The level of funding and the rapid timetable for implementation still makes it a tough call. Even now, we at the LGA have a consultation out until March 13th. How close does the local connection have to be for it to count, or can the homeless person be passed to another authority?
The number of homeless people is growing. There are more families than ever living in emergency accommodation, 79,190 in the quarter to September 2017. In the same quarter, UK Councils accepted over 29,000 new applications for “statutory homeless,” according to government figures – 83% are in priority need and over 3000 are children. That is only counting the people that Councils know about.
According to the Chartered Institute of Housing, the rising tide of homelessness is tied to the failure of welfare and housing assistance to keep up with rapidly rising rents. Charities that help homeless people back to work, such as Emmaus, and some private landlords rely on directly receiving housing benefit for rent. They will struggle if the rent cannot be paid directly once Universal Credit takes over, especially if sanctions are applied. Universal Credit started in Lincoln last Wednesday. Grantham started last October and Sleaford starts in November. The Mid-Lincolnshire CAB dealt with over 600 people needing housing advice last year.
The difficulty of making ends meet financially are made worse by family break-up, drugs or alcohol misuse and abuse, mental health, poverty and lack of legal residency. Offering a roof over someone’s head, does not solve all their problems, but it is a start. Councils have always had a responsibility for keeping children safe. The number of children needing support has increased dramatically. We are also now responsible for children leaving care for longer, which includes preventing them becoming homeless.
The Council’s duty has not previously stretched to people deemed to have made themselves homeless by violence or drug abuse, for example. Now we must work with more people. Everyone who is eligible according to the Council’s criteria, and is either already homeless or threatened with homelessness must be assessed and given a plan, starting 56 days ahead. Support can be debt advice or paying a rent deposit. This is already the case in Wales.
Those in priority need are eligible for relief housing and are offered a tenancy. This includes vulnerable people, care leavers, those leaving prison, ex-armed forces personnel and those leaving hospital with impairment of mental illness. They only lose Council support if they fail to co-operate and refuse suitable accommodation which has at least six months tenancy.
Will building more houses solve the problem? The government is suggesting that if we build fast enough we will flood the market and bring the price down. However, developers are usually reluctant to do that. There are 423,000 dwellings with permission, but not built. Our group is calling for local councils to control the “right to buy”, for powers of compulsory purchase and to charge council tax, whether the houses are actually built yet or not.
We and the LGA called for a lift in the borrowing cap, so councils can buy or build more council houses. That has been granted this week with a 3% lift in the cap, enabling councils to do more, as long as it makes good business sense.
I am also raising the problem of the viability assessments from developers who come back to the Council to be let off the hook on their contributions to local services, facilities and affordable housing. Without those, I would argue, the developments are no longer sustainable. In my area, the strategic housing market assessment calculated that some 52% of new housing needed to be affordable, if we were to make any headway to meeting demand. With the introduction of the CIL payments towards a big road scheme, we have just lowered our requirements to 25% of houses to be “affordable” and our recent record of achievement from developers is nearer 10 or 15%. Worse, the term “affordable” was recently described as 85% of the average market value, but as we know, many residents have far less than 85% of the average income. So who is going to pay to fill the gap, or do we go without?
As you read this, we shall be discussing this very subject at our Spring Conference in Lincoln on Friday 16th March. With big elections coming up in May, we also have an event for people thinking about becoming a councillor. Can you bring or encourage one other person to come with you? We need good councillors focussing on getting the best for local residents. That is what our group members are good at and it is what makes us good councillors. That’s why we need more like you!
The icy blasts from the EU have also exercised us week at the LGA as we come up to the first anniversary of the government triggering negotiations. Our group members and I continue to take an important part in working to get the best for our residents.
For further reading:
- LGA briefings at each stage of the Bill: www.local.gov.uk/parliament/briefings-and-responses/homelessness-reduction-bill
- LGA’s work on housing and planning: www.local.gov.uk/topics/housing-and-planning
- LGA Housing Commission www.local.gov.uk/topics/housing-and-planning/housing-commission
- Shelter’s advice –http://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/council_housing_association/who_can_apply_for_council_housing
- Nomad Trust
- And a good general site https://www.homeless.org.uk/