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Four-fifths of councils running out of accommodation for homeless people

Published: 2 November 2022

Councils are running out of temporary accommodation in which to house growing numbers of people who are becoming homeless, exclusive research reveals.

The District Councils’ Network insight also reveals how the cost-of-living crisis has spurred a huge increase in demand for services that protect vulnerable people from homelessness; nearly two-thirds of district councils have reported an increase in homelessness.

The figures come in a survey of district councils – the tier of government closest to local populations in shire England. It received responses from 59 district councils, nearly a third of the total.

Housing shortages

In relation to rising demand for accommodation:

  • 79% of districts said they did not have sufficient temporary accommodation to meet current demand (just 21% said they did)
  • One authority said it had been unable to find accommodation for 193 households. Two other authorities said they could not find housing for 62 and 71 households respectively
  • 63% of councils saw an increase in homelessness acceptances (28% no change, 5% don’t know, 3% decrease)
  • 67% saw an increase in temporary accommodation placements (27% no change, 5% don’t know, 2% decrease)
  • 78% of councils saw increased demand to support residents whose landlords had sold the property in which they lived (17% reported no change, 21% didn’t know).

Councils’ difficulty in finding accommodation for all who need it is exacerbated by the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) – the housing benefit rate for recipients renting in the private sector – which has been frozen since 2020 at a time inflation has hit the private rental sector.

This means that housing benefit does not reflect the reality of the housing market, and tips more of our residents closer to homelessness. The most vulnerable residents face significant rent shortfalls and are often in need of emergency assistance from councils.

One council told DCN that while residents received £850 a month from the government for two-bedroom properties, the average rent was £1,283. Another, based in northern England, said the area typically faced a £250-£400 shortfall on the LHA for properties.

This often leaves councils to help fund accommodation themselves using discretionary housing payments, eating into the money they have available for supporting residents whose accommodation cannot be funded through other means.

  • 83% of councils saw an increase in demand for discretionary housing payments (12% no change; 2% saw a decrease; 3% didn’t know).

Increasing demand for these services comes at a time when districts councils’ resources are facing real-terms cuts, limiting the support we can provide. While district councils welcome the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee, the DCN survey gave new data on how many families are already struggling to keep up with high prices for energy and other essentials.

  • 64% of councils have seen an increase in demand from first-time applicants for benefits and homelessness prevention services (17% no change, 15% don’t know, 3% decrease)
  • 81% councils have experienced an increased demand from residents with debt issues (12% no change, 7% don’t know)
  • 90% of councils reported they expected the number of residents experiencing fuel poverty to increase (10% no change)
  • 95% of councils reported they expected more residents to experience food poverty (5% no change)
  • 56% reported increased demand for services from people fleeing domestic abuse (39% no change, 5% didn’t know)

In response to the findings, Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, chairman of the DCN, said:

“District councils face a tidal wave of demand for support. Inflation and limited housing supply are driving up our costs just as the cost-of-living crisis bites for our residents and fuels demand for our vital services.

“We also expect additional pressure to find further homes and vital support for Ukrainian refugees as we come to an end of the six-month initial placements under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

“Many of our councils’ services are vital to support those experiencing hardship and in need of care – our teams work tirelessly to prevent homelessness and intervene early to support people to stay securely in accommodation. They also undertake much-needed wrap-around support in skills, money and debt advice and so much more. These services are key to sustaining our communities through this winter and beyond.

“We call on Government to work with us so we can continue working to prevent residents from becoming homeless, and ensure our residents are sustainably placed in good housing.”

The DCN is calling on the Government to act to support district councils and other housing authorities to help their local communities in the following ways:

  • Introduce an emergency flexible prevention fund allocated to all housing authorities to increase their ability to intervene earlier to help people avoid homelessness
  • Allocate further welfare support to districts, so that we can tackle current root causes of hardship such as poor energy efficiency in housing for those struggling with bills
  • Permanently unfreeze and uprate Local Housing Allowance Rates, frozen since 2020, these rates determine the housing benefit received by hard pressed renters, and should cover the cheaper properties on the market
  • Reverse cuts to Discretionary Housing Payments so that housing authorities can offer vital emergency support
  • Work with DCN members to deliver a bold affordable housing strategy, so that in the longer term we have more homes for those who need them.

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