Submission: Public Accounts Committee inquiry into COVID-19: Housing rough sleepers

By: Deborah Garvie, Reshima Sharma  Published: February 2021


Summary

The government has introduced welcome financial interventions to accommodate street homeless people and to prevent further street homelessness as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Though not comprehensive, the swift action to accommodate people sleeping rough via the Everyone In initiative, the temporary uplift to the standard allowance of Universal Credit, and the restoration of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to the 30th percentile were hugely welcome and vital steps in protecting those at the sharpest end of the housing emergency throughout the pandemic.

But to meet its manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024, the government must address the structural causes of homelessness. Currently, government has focused on initiatives and limited funding pots to tackle the ‘blight of rough sleeping’, which has resulted in costly, crisis-point interventions and created a two-tier system of:

  • statutory homelessness assistance, based on rights, with an emphasis on prevention, and
  • funding initiatives to alleviate rough sleeping, which do nothing to prevent more people flowing onto the streets, and are accessed according to funding criteria, rather than rights.

The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the gaps between these two systems – which people on the streets have often fallen through. This is not sustainable for the long term and systemic issues with our housing system need to be addressed.

To protect all street homeless people from both the virus and freezing weather during and beyond this national lockdown, we are calling on the government to:

1. Direct councils to accommodate everyone at risk of the street, by providing not only adequate funding but robust guidance, clarifying the basis on which everyone at risk of the street should be accommodated.

A sustainable long-term solution to ending homelessness would see the government:

2. Introduce a dedicated pot of funding for private renters who have fallen into “COVID” arrears.

3. Suspend the benefit cap for at least one year, keep Local Housing Allowance (LHA) in line with at least the 30th percentile of market rents for future years, and suspend No Recourse to Public Funds conditions.

4. Invest in a new generation of social housing, to provide families with stable, permanent and affordable homes.