The critical shortage of housing is stopping councils acting earlier to prevent homelessness

Francesca Albanese, 27 June 2022

Homelessness has a devastating impact on people and communities. Yet in nearly all cases homelessness is preventable. The implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) fundamentally changed the way councils provided homelessness support in England. It was designed to put prevention at the heart of tackling homelessness and since its introduction more than 800,000 families and individuals have received help from their local authority to address their homelessness.

Four years since its implementation, Crisis has published research into the experiences of the HRA tracking its progress. Through first-hand accounts of more than 1,400 people in six areas in England, we heard that in many cases it has changed the relationship between people facing homelessness and councils to one that’s more person-centred and focused on needs to help people have the outcome that’s right for them. When this worked well, people who traditionally would have been turned away were finally able to receive the help they needed.

Yet our research shows there are still some people not getting this help. 17% of respondents got no help at all and nearly half (46%) remained homeless after going to the local authority for support. For many respondents (including those whose situation had improved) their housing outcome was not a satisfactory one. When asked how they felt about their living situation after using Housing Options (the local authority’s homelessness support service), half (50%) did not think it was secure for at least six months, more than half (58%) did not think it was suitable for their needs, and less than a third (30%) felt it was both secure and suitable.

Reasons for this included their homelessness not being resolved, accommodation being temporary, but also issues with more permanent forms of accommodation, such as affordability, poor quality living conditions and accommodation being inappropriate for their needs:

“The private sector, it’s not very helpful as well. The rent has gone high. It’s so unfair. Why has the rent gone so high? It’s like it’s not giving people opportunities to rent anymore… you have to earn three times the rent and I don’t earn that much, so I’m stuck.”

The staff in the local authorities we interviewed felt the HRA had improved how they engaged with and understood the needs of people facing homelessness in their services. However, that system is highly dependent on whether there is enough housing for people who need it, and there is nowhere near enough to meet demand. Alongside the continued use of eligibility criteria including priority need and local connection there are still many people who don’t get near a safe place they can call home.

The HRA is the first step in creating a system which is designed to prevent homelessness happening in the first place but the critical shortage of housing is stopping it working as effectively as it could do. We desperately need to start building the 90,000 social rented homes a year required to meet current demand, address the thousands of households trapped in temporary accommodation and stop more people being forced to sleep on our streets or spend night after night on someone’s sofa.