The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
Cabinet Member for Housing and Homes, Councillor Peter Griffiths, sets out what the new legislation means for the citizens of Birmingham.
Over the past few years there has been a dramatic increase in homelessness across the country and this has been reflected in Birmingham. Most noticeable is the number of rough sleepers on the street – 57, at the most recent official count – but far greater is the number of people homeless or at risk of homelessness because they do not have suitable accommodation. Nationally, there has been a 60% increase in people in temporary accommodation over the last six years. Birmingham City Council has been taking increasing numbers of applications for homeless assistance and is providing temporary accommodation for record numbers of homeless families and vulnerable people.
Last year, in response to the national increase, the government passed the Homelessness Reduction Act which comes into force on 3 April 2018. This places new duties on the Council which includes:
- Providing robust advice services, so that where possible, people can be supported to remain in their current homes.
- Offering everyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness access to meaningful help, irrespective of their priority need status, as long as they are eligible for assistance.
- Carrying out prevention and relief work for anyone threatened with homelessness within 56 days (up from the current 28 days).
The Council’s Housing Options service started down the road to earlier homelessness prevention in December 2016 when it was successful in bidding for £1.7million from the government’s Trailblazer fund. This money was offered to councils looking for innovative new ways of preventing homelessness within their districts. As part of this project the service has been:
- Piloting a new case management process which ensures that the citizen sees a single case worker who can support and advise on all their housing needs.
- Developing Personal Housing Plans with citizens to explore all options to prevent and relieve their homelessness.
- Working closely with landlords to prevent people being evicted.
- Working with citizens to explore a full range of housing options when homelessness cannot be prevented.
Since the Act was passed the service has been building on this work to ensure that they are ready for the new duties on 3 April. While I feel greatly reassured by all the hard work happening there I am also acutely aware of the huge challenge that the increase in homelessness and these new duties places on the Council’s services. This is why it is as important as ever for the citizens of Birmingham and those who may be supporting them to have a good understanding of the housing situation in Birmingham at this time. The key points being:
- Housing options advice needs to be sought at the earliest opportunity. It is much better if the Council can help you to stay in your current home (if it is suitable) than it would be for you to live in temporary accommodation for what could be a long time.
- Social housing is not the answer for everyone and is allocated to those who need it most. There are over 9,000 people currently on the housing register and only 3,000 properties let in the last year. There is a particular shortage of properties for families requiring accommodation with four or more bedrooms.
- Citizens have to consider all of the housing options available to them including private rented accommodation. The Council is working with landlords to ensure that there are suitable, affordable properties available and offering financial help to assist with deposits and rent in advance if needed.