Content last reviewed: May 2017
Homelessness occurs through a wide range of circumstances. The Statutory definition is found in Section 175 of the Housing Act 1996. The subsequent 2002 Homelessness Act required local housing authorities to review homelessness and formulate a homelessness strategy with other agencies every five years based on the findings of the review. The Homelessness Review 2014 can be found on the Council’s JSNA website.
Homelessness is not just a housing problem. It has a deep impact on health, employment opportunities, and educational achievement. For most people who become homeless their lack of accommodation is a symptom rather than a cause of their social exclusion.
The Care Act 2014 introduced a statutory duty for local authorities to plan for the availability of preventative services that act to support health and wellbeing. The Care Act and its guidance clearly recognise the deep influence that the physical aspects of housing and the socio-cultural sense of home and community can have on the health and wellbeing of the population.
When people are not living in settled satisfactory accommodation, health and social care staff do not have the opportunity to engage effectively to provide appropriate care, including the management of long-term conditions, preventative care, routine screening and continuity of care. Therefore, supporting homeless people has huge cost implications for social care budgets as well as denying people the care they are entitled to.
“The homeless” are not a homogenous group. In many cases, homelessness will be a phase in a person’s life. However for some people repeat homelessness becomes a cycle particularly for those who struggle to maintain a home due to substance misuse problems, mental health issues or learning disability. Ex- offenders, those recently released from prison, older people, younger people (at risk, leaving care or teenage parents), migrants, refugees or asylum seekers and those experiencing or having experienced domestic violence are also more likely to become homeless . One person may fall into one or several client groups and move between groups.
It is important that people who are homeless or living in temporary or insecure accommodation have access to health and social care services. The provision of timely and appropriate care and support can be an essential part of reducing the risk of repeat homelessness. It is important that housing and homelessness agencies know how to get someone:
- registered with a general practice
- referred to mental health services
- referred to drug and alcohol services.
Whether or not a homeless person approaching the Local Authority for assistance is entitled to accommodation will depend on whether their circumstances meet the requirements set out in Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended). Under the statutory definition a person may also be homeless if they have accommodation but it is not reasonable for them to continue to live in it, for example; due to the extreme condition of the property or the impact of the property on their health.
For those who meet the statutory definition of being in “priority need”, the law provides a safety net so that they may not actually become roofless before accommodation has to be provided. Households in “priority need” include: households expecting or with dependant children; 16-17 year olds not owed a duty under the Children’s Act 1989; those aged 18-20 who, as children, were looked after, accommodated or fostered; people who may vulnerable due to age, illness or handicap; people who may be vulnerable due to fleeing violence; people who may be vulnerable due to service in the armed forces or having served a custodial sentence.
There is no requirement for the Local Authority to provide accommodation for those who are not in “priority need”. Single people who are not vulnerable are at risk of having no accommodation and sleeping rough. There is a further group of people whose homelessness may be hidden and difficult to quantify because they reside temporarily with various friends or relatives (‘sofa surfers’). Some may have no recourse to public funds.
Central Bedfordshire has specific challenges due to its large predominantly rural area:
- Private rented housing is largely unaffordable for most benefit dependant or low waged households. Research by Citizens Advice in November 2015 found that in Central Bedfordshire only 1 property out of 176 properties for rent was advertised as willing to accept a tenant in receipt of housing benefit
- Access to support services is difficult to sustain in terms of transport and cost across a wide geographical area
- Identification of housing need is difficult in areas of relative affluence.
- Rough sleeping is difficult to identify. However using the Estimate Methodology rather than ‘street counts’ (counting people visibly bedded down on the streets, or in known ‘hotspots’), in recent years has provided a more accurate picture.
- Service delivery costs for homelessness are higher when delivered across a wide geographical area.
The Homelessness Strategy Action plan 2015 to 2020 provides the focus for resources and actions to address homelessness and gaps in provision in Central Bedfordshire. Progress in meeting objectives in the Homelessness Strategy Action plan is reported to the multi-agency Homelessness Forum which meets at least twice annually.
Last updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017