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Significantly more ‘truly affordable rented homes’ needed to reduce homelessness

A lack of affordable rented homes are contributing to rising levels of homelessness, according to a new report from the national homelessness charity Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

Around half of councils across England are struggling to assist applicants into privately rented accommodation, owed in part to benefit cuts, while 64% are finding it tough to find social tenancies for homeless people.

The report, which includes evidence from 162 of England’s 326 local authorities, reveals that councils are finding it particularly difficult to house homeless young people and large families.

The report raises particular concern for the future of single young people, who are identified as being at far higher risk of homelessness than older adults due to rising unemployment, spiralling rents and, especially, declining benefit protection.

Some 94% of councils stated they anticipate greater difficulties in finding accommodation for homeless 25-34 year olds in the next two-three years.

Almost nine in ten - 89% - of responding councils also expressed concerns that the roll out of Universal Credit will further exacerbate homelessness, mainly due to the potential impact on landlords’ willingness to let to homeless people.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, lead author, said: “The combination of continued welfare reform, increasing housing pressures and cuts to local government funding, are making it even harder for low income households to find a place to live.

“The Homelessness Reduction Bill, once enacted, will enable local authorities to provide more help for all households at the prevention stage, with particular improvements for single people. But as this year's report shows more investment in affordable housing solutions are required to meet this need.”

Meanwhile, welfare cuts and Local Housing Allowance (LHA) falling well short of rents in many locations were also cited as major barriers to councils’ attempts to house homeless applicants.

LHA was described as “staggeringly out of step” with actual market rents by one council respondent from the South of England to the extent that there are virtually no properties available in the local area.

Brian Robson, policy and research manager at JRF, said: “A dearth of affordable, secure rented housing is driving up homelessness in the UK. Theresa May’s Government has been clear that rented housing has a vital part to play in solving the housing crisis but, without more action, a lack of housing will mean that increasing numbers are left at risk of homelessness.

“The government has set out welcome plans to build new homes, but these will not be within reach of families who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. We need action to make sure that new homes are available to people at all income levels, and that there is a safety net in place for those who are at risk of homelessness.

“The government is considering action to increase the amount of support available, but this will only work if there is enough funding and enough homes to cope with demand. In the immediate term, lifting the freeze on working age benefits would help to stop people’s incomes falling even further behind.”

Almost 58,000 people were accepted as homeless by their council in 2015/16 – 18,000 higher than 2009/10. Meanwhile, placements in temporary accommodation have risen sharply, with the national total up by 9% in the year to 30 June 2016, a rise of 52% compared to 2009/10.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The situation for the thousands who find themselves homeless in England is becoming more and more desperate each year. Until the number of truly affordable rented homes increases significantly, councils will continue to come under huge financial pressure, with dreadful consequences for the most vulnerable in our society.

“Private renting is often the only choice homeless people have. That’s why Crisis is calling on the Government to invest in schemes that support people into the private rented sector, such as establishing and underwriting a national rent deposit guarantee. The Government is already pouring billions into ‘Help to Buy’ support. What we really need is ‘Help to Rent’.” 

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