I’ve always sat on the select committee that deals with housing in its various different guises. So I’m on the levelling up housing and communities committee right now. We’ve done a year-long inquiry into homelessness in England and what was apparent to me very clearly from the beginning of that, was a lot of the evidence presented to us showed that people needed help guidance and assistance in finding a home when they were threatened with becoming homeless.
Now and I don’t differentiate this, the aim of the Homelessness Reduction Act was, not to deal with those terrible circumstances under which people are forced to sleep rough on our streets or go in a park or a park bench or somewhere, it was aimed to stop people from getting to that stage in the first place.
I mean the thing that astonished me prior to my act of parliament was if you approached your local Authority you went to Brighton Council, say they say;
“I’m threatened with being homeless, I’ve received a section 21 notice from my landlord and I’m going to be on the streets”
They will ask you very simply, they’d say to you well;
“Have you got children under the age of 16?”
“well no I haven’t no?”
“Well, are you mentally ill?” “not yet I’m not but I suspect if I’m on the streets I’m going to be”
“no, it doesn’t count” are you physically ill?”
“no, but if I’m on the streets I’m likely to degrade quite a lot, no.”
“Do you abuse alcohol drugs or other substances?”
“Certainly not he might say?”
So you might say at which point the local Authority will turn around and say well very sorry but we’ve got no duties to help you at all if you like to go and sleep on a park bench somewhere or at a shop doorway hopefully one of the housing Charities will come along and find you!
That to me in this day and age was an absolute scandal at the end of the day the stats still show that about just under half of homelessness happens because a private sector tenancy ends. The other reasons we know, are often relationship breakdowns and single homeless men have always been treated very badly by local authorities.
It meant that if someone was threatened with being homeless they could approach their local Authority the local authority would sit them down and say okay; “How do we prevent you from becoming homeless?”
At the end of the process, the aim was that no one but no one would actually become homeless because they’d be found somewhere to live. People that leave hospitals don’t have anywhere to live end up on the streets get ill again and end up coming back to the hospital, so actually, it saves the public purse quite a lot of money.
They’re also intended for prison leavers or it’s now an outrage in my view that still in this country, we release ex-offenders on a Friday, give them cash in their pocket, and pat them on the head and say don’t be a naughty boy, and to rebuild your life.
So we put statutory duties on Prison Governors to ensure that people had a safe and secure place to go and live when they left prison.
Youth homelessness hasn’t been addressed at all In this country. So the bill became an act, it took a year for the government from 2017 to 2018, to bring in advice and help for local authorities, on what to do. And there is a very helpful level of guidance on how they should all operate.
And then, of course, one of the other duties that we had under the ACT also kicked in and that’s the duty to refer. Where someone in a public body comes across someone who is threatened with being homeless, they now have a duty to refer that person to the local authority so they can be given assistance.
The whole aim of this you know was at the end of it, no one on the street should end up on the street sleeping rough.
The estimate is at the moment that some seven percent of private renters are in serious renter arrears, we are talking about 300,000 people who could become homeless literally overnight!
We do have some real problems here. We still have the challenge of even though the government have moved on I think the last stats I saw was something like 33,000 people taken off the streets and found somewhere to live, we still have a large number of people who are in hotels, particularly those that have no recourse public funds.
The government have failed to address and I have been pressing for that obviously to be dealt with.
Enormous sums of money are being allocated by the government to local authorities to deal with roughly sleeping/homelessness in general. Now how wisely that money is being spent, you know I think the jury is out on that!
Certainly in my view rent should not be raised more frequently than annually and then only by an agreed level of inflation. I think you’re absolutely right one of the things that I think should be done is to empower local authorities to borrow money to build new properties as long as it’s done on prudential borrowing.
Where they borrow the money to build properties, the rental income that they’re going to gain from the properties can then be ploughed back into repaying the debt and then if the property is brought under the right to buy then a hundred percent of the sale receipts should be ploughed back into building new properties.
I’m of the view of saying it’s far better to encourage tenants to get a job and work for a living, pay their rent from their income rather than existing on benefits because the rent’s so high that if they were to get a job they lose their housing benefit and then they can’t afford their rent.
So as you know up to 56 days before someone becomes homeless they can present themselves as being threatened with becoming homeless so basically under a receipt of a section 21 notice they could immediately approach the local Authority which gives the local Authority two months in which to provide help and assistance to get the person into a property.
That’s plenty of time in my view!
One of the problems is that some local authorities and I can’t speak about Brighton because I don’t know but some local authorities are ignoring the law and they’re still saying to people, “come back when you’re actually homeless and we’ll sort it out then.”
This means they come back with their bags packed literally and nowhere to live! The local Authority then has to put them into emergency accommodation at the cost of the authority which by the fact that it’s an emergency is much more expensive than if they arrange somewhere in the first place so you know to me, that not only is it a breach of the law but it’s also economically very very stupid for the council!
Just to cover off something that I think Daniel was raising earlier as well as what you said Jim, in terms of the staff at Brighton and Hove City Council working from home, it is a fundamental fact that the council have to provide a service. They have to provide help and assistance that’s a requirement under the law.
Now far better for me to encourage you to take legal action against your Council uh but from what I’m hearing, uh that is exactly what may need to happen because if they’re not fulfilling their Duty then that’s a statutory duty and I think you know that that’s something can be challenged and it could be challenged as Daniel said by one person not receiving the service they should go to court and challenge the local Authority for failing to provide the service. Now a strong case would be presented to the courts.
In terms of Jim what you’re saying about forcing the council?
Look you are the people that elect the council, you elect the councillors. You pay your council tax or your rent or whatever it is to the Local Authority. They are your customer, you are their customers, and they should be treating you as customers to be served.
Provided they can do the job from home now I fail to see how someone who is threatened with being homeless can actually have a proper conversation
with someone who’s working from home.
— Bob Blackman MP Speech Concluded —