The government introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act in the UK in 2018, in response to an increasing homelessness problem. In London alone, St Mungo’s reports that 22 new people will sleep rough for the first time tonight. Eighteen months on and we are seeing the effects of the changes since the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act, particularly in the Temporary Accommodation side of homelessness.
Today an estimated 1 in every 200 people are known to be homeless in England, and the numbers are rising. Many in TA are children or displaced young people who find themselves without permanent accommodation through no fault of their own. Studies have shown that a person’s mental health can be negatively impacted by housing problems or worries. A report by Shelter stated that ‘children affected by homelessness often felt an overwhelming sense of displacement, having lost a place that felt like home. This led to a number of practical, emotional and behavioural challenges.’
What is Temporary Accommodation (TA)?
TA is an option available to local authorities when presented with occurrences of homelessness. Families that have nowhere else to go, qualify as priority need and, as suitable permanent accommodation is rarely available at short notice, TA is used as a short term solution for housing. It is worth noting that this “temporary” fix, can occasionally last over a year. Hotels, Bed and Breakfast accommodation, housing association properties, private sector lets, and available council housing stock are commonly used during this period. Although on the surface this may seem an ideal solution, the reality can be quite different. Properties can often be unsuitable. Hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation for example, do not always have adequate cooking facilities, and sharing a room and small sink between a family, can mean difficulty maintaining certain standards of hygiene. Add to that the poor sleeping arrangements, and it’s easy to see how being placed in unsuitable TA could be detrimental to a family’s health. Remaining in TA for an extended period of time could have an impact on employment capability, a child’s development, and the mental and physical well-being of all concerned.
Another factor to consider is the location of the temporary accommodation, availability can be scarce and often families find themselves having to move great distances in order to be housed. This resettling, moving away from an established community and support network, means children not only losing their homes, but also changing schools, losing friends and their sense of security. Statistics analysed in March 2019 for England saw a total of 84,740 TA households and a total of 126,020 children within those. These are sobering statistics, and TA is just one aspect of the growing housing crisis we are facing, albeit one which comes at an enormous financial cost to local authorities, not to mention an emotional price to those displaced.
This short term fix has cost local authorities in England nearly a billion pounds in the last financial year. Local governments are left to pick up the pieces of a National housing crisis and unable to recoup the money, much of which was poured into the hotel and bed and breakfast industry. The private rental sector shows a definite bias against homeless housing need, despite most cases being families with children, care leavers or pregnant women. Maybe it’s the stigma that attaches to homelessness or the lack of information provided to the rental sector that causes the bias. There is understandable fear of housing people with complex needs such as drug use, alcoholism or other mental health issues which affect many people living on the street. Perhaps it is because of this stigma that much of the rental sector refuse to house homeless people in need.
The reality is that in all cases of complex needs, local authorities have tenancy management teams in place that can care for the individual and manage finances where needed. These management teams will also ensure that the property is kept to an acceptable standard by the tenant. Perhaps private landlords aren’t aware of the level of care provided from the local authorities. The bottom line is that housing the homeless would offer them a favourable outcome, in that their property would be filled and looked after. However local authority schemes have notoriously suffered from a lack of engagement from private landlords, with most refusing to rent to the homeless. Therefore the most likely outcome is still a one room hotel for an extended period of time.
The use of Temporary Accommodation is still on the rise. Children and families will continue to be displaced as we see a growing number of applicants, paired with the reluctance from suitable landlords. As this happens the risks too will increase, as less and less suitable accommodations start to be used. The financial costs are unsustainable and will likely increase. The cost to maintain this process is staggering and likely drawing resources away from solutions to the bigger issue of the Housing Crisis. Overall the issues with TA are affecting a large group of people across the county, and Local Authorities are doing their best, but we need to change some perceptions, and address the bigger issues before we are going to bring these numbers down.
- By Charlie Fitzpatrick -