A homeless person is generally known to be one without a settled or permanent accommodation (Tania 2001). There is also another less observed but equally grave form of homelessness, often referred to as concealed homelessness, among persons housed temporarily by friends or family; living in overcrowded environments; living in night shelters or hostels; living in health-threatening conditions; living in abusive homes; and even those who live in squats and streets. Such persons are still homeless even if they have roofs over their heads because they do not have rights to stay where they live. In England and Wales, officially recognised homeless persons or those threatened with homelessness are entitled to help from their local councils. Such help is given based on priority need as determined by the council’s evaluation. Persons who will be considered to have a priority need are those with dependent children, are pregnant, have been rendered homeless by emergencies like fire or floods and are vulnerable because of old age, mental and physical disabilities (Wilson 2013). This paper will discuss priority needs, the housing homeless persons Act, effects of benefit cuts, domestic violence, vulnerable people and the positive and negative results of government action.
In many parts of England, demand for housing is causing prices to go up and beyond what a large percentage of the population can afford. In turn, this increases pressure on the sectors of rented housing and effectively raising prices, which culminates into more citizens applying for social housing. However, the large number of applications overwhelms the availability. The local councils offer assistance to persons who meet the criteria described as statutory homelessness or meet the priority need requirements as described by the homelessness Act. However, those who do not meet the criteria and are not eligible for help are referred to as intentionally homeless and are only covered by the provisions of non-statutory homelessness. A key test aspect used in determining whether a homeless person without children may be considered as having priority need to be housed under the homeless Act is vulnerability. In terms of homelessness, vulnerability implies that a person would be more exposed to harm in the event that they become homeless than other homeless persons. To pass the vulnerability test, one is required to prove that homelessness would be of a greater injurious impact on them than it would on the typical homeless persons. Whoever is can prove that their homeless status is unintentional, are eligible for public funds and have a connection to the locality will possess priority need. In England, such persons include those aged between 16 and 17 years; those below 21 years and were previously under the care of local authorities while aged between 16 and 18 years; those aged 21 years and over and are vulnerable because of getting out of care by the local authority; those made vulnerable by leaving prison or the armed forces. In Wales, more preference is given to women with dependent children or pregnancies; those facing risk of sexual or financial exploitation; and those exposed to domestic violence (Wilson 2013). However, the Department for Transport and Local Government has regularly opined that local authorities should offer assistance and advice to all its homeless subjects under their areas of jurisdiction regardless of whether they qualify under priority needs or not (DTLG 2002).
The Homelessness Act of 2002, applicable in England and Wales makes reforms to the Housing Act of 1996 regarding homelessness and how social housing accommodation is allocated, which has been subjected to wide consultations (Harding 2004). All local housing authorities are required by law to formulate and implement strategic approaches suitable to tackle homelessness within their jurisdictions since it is a devolved service. Local authorities are charged with six obligations which are strengthening help to the homeless and those at risk; develop strategic approaches to fight homelessness; encourage new reactions to fighting homelessness; reduce the staying in hotels by homeless families that have children; sustain more than two-thirds of a reduced rate of rough sleeping; and ensure that opportunities for decent homes are available for all (Irving 2011). Through such initiatives, improved protection is supposed to be available to the homeless who are in such situations through other means than their own fault. This is achievable through the strengthened duties the local councils owe homeless persons by the removal of some strict restrictions in the procedures of acquiring council assistance (UoY 2007). The councils are also given more authority by the Act to give assistance even to those who do not meet the criteria for priority need. Such provisions were framed with an acknowledgment of the need for the integration of policies on allocating housing and combating homelessness, and were summarized in the Housing Green Paper, chapter nine, under “Quality and Choice” (Wilson 2013).
The legislation prioritises the fight against rough sleeping and provided £400 million to partners in the voluntary sector and local councils for the cause to run between 2011 and 2015. Through these laws, the government initiates efforts to tackle homelessness by offering access to job training and advice, with the intention of enabling citizens to secure jobs and qualify for affordable housing. The government has also previously fronted prevention initiatives such as rent deposits (through the voluntary sector partners) that help citizens secure tenancies by renting from the private sector (UoY 2007). Further, there have been moves to solve family disputes and cases of violence that often end up in ejecting family members. These two factors have been cited as a major cause of single, homeless persons. Another key effort is the collaboration with money advisors and lenders to make home repossession necessary only as a final resort (Wilson 2013).
However, not all the provisions of the homelessness Act are being implemented or working as effectively as required and, therefore, contributing negatively to government efforts. The enduring benefit cuts are giving rise to increased statutory homelessness, with a concentration on the most disadvantages and poorest classes of society (Irving 2011). It also affects families with children disproportionately. These groups lack the social and financial equity to handle relationship and work crises without ending up homeless. Statistics show that homeless families increased in number between 2009/2010 and 2011/2012 by over 10,000 from 40,000 53,000, with central London being the most affected. It is expected that the long term effect will be a growing number of central-London families driven to parts of the country with cheaper housing (Wilson 2013).
The most recent study by Crisis shows that by the next summer in 2014, over 8,000 children will be faced with homelessness as the benefit cuts will leave their parents unable to afford rent ( Ian 2012). Larger families will be the worst hit, and some of them have already resorted into temporary accommodation as they wait to be relocated elsewhere. The same study by Crisis has shown that such temporary accommodation ends up being more expensive in the long run, especially for those who wait for the relocation for considerably long. The monthly cost of administering the benefits cap by officials is £1.3 million, which leaves a monthly saving of £1 million. However, with the risk of the saving being used up by costs of temporary housing for the homeless, it appears as if the government is spending more money to increase the occurrences of homelessness (Wilson 2013).
- Department for Transport and Local Government (DTLG) 2002, More than a roof – a new approach to tackling homelessness.
- Harding, P 2004, Making it work: the key to success among young people living independently, The Policy Press, Bristol.
Ian, A 2012, No more leaning on lamp-posts, London School of Economics, London.
- Irving, H 2011, Homelessness, pathways to exclusion and opportunities for intervention, Northumbria University, London.
Tania, B 2001, ‘Rough sleepers unit is fixing figures.’ The Guardian, London.
- The University of York (UoY) 2007, Homelessness statistics September 2007 and rough sleeping-10 years on from the target, Author, London.
- Wilson, W 2013, Homelessness in England, House of Commons Library, London.