The private rented sector needs to be affordable and safe for it to help end rough sleeping.
There are many routes to the streets. Over the last few weeks, some people will have stopped staying with friends due to concerns around social distancing. Some will have left prison without an address of support. Some will have been evicted from an offer that didn’t work for them. And as some people become homeless, others have been supported off the streets and into temporary accommodation.
“Due to COVID-19, and people being scared of that, people are no longer saying you can stay due to COVID, and with extra accommodation being available we are seeing extra people reaching out for help.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“People who are being released from prison, a lot of them are being released NFA (No Fixed Abode). So no phones to contact them to do assessments with, any type of treatment assessment with. No way to contact them. They’re going to be in the city, rough sleeping.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“More complex service users are being kicked out of hotels, because they’re not being able to manage or due to behavioural problems. And then they get put in another hotel. And then there’s no hotels or Bed and Breakfasts left. Where do them people go now? Member of National Advisory Panel
After a crisis response to getting people safe and off the streets, minds are becoming increasingly focussed on the different ways to support people into sustainable accommodation. Over the last decade, one of those options has been the private rented sector. The latest Government statistics on statutory homelessness evidence the private rented sector as the most common type of temporary accommodation, and the settled accommodation offer for 6,160 (13%) of homeless households between July and September 2019.
But as well as supporting people out of homelessness, the private rented sector can be a cause of people becoming homeless in the first place. According to the same statistics, around a fifth of households who were homeless or threatened with homelessness cited the end of a private rented tenancy as the reason for losing their last settled home.
If we want to reduce the number of people becoming homeless, as well as increasing the number of people leaving homelessness, then changes to the private rented sector will be needed.
“I’m concerned that we’re just going to have a load of people put out the door.” Member of National Advisory Panel
In many parts of the country there are huge discrepancies between the Local Housing Allowance and the cost of renting. This effectively makes the private rented sector inaccessible to those accessing benefits, particularly those under-35 who can only receive the Shared Accommodation Rate.
We agree with many other organisations that major adjustments need to be made to benefit levels, far beyond the recent removal of the benefit freeze, to make the private rented sector a genuinely sustainable option.
“If you want people off the street you need to give people meaningful choice and decent accommodation and some sort of security. Without that, I think the whole of the last few months will unravel pretty quickly.” Member of National Advisory Panel
“We’ve spoke to a few people. They’re concerns are they’re getting moved on and they’re not being given much of a choice. So they’re sort of getting told, there’s a bed at [LOCATION], we’re moving you there.” Member of National Advisory Panel
The recent success in accommodating so many people has in part been due to the provision of a genuine offer of accommodation, but also to the reduction in the rules and restrictions that have often been a part of traditional homeless offers. The Lodge and some of the private hotel provision have seen many people in accommodation for the first time in decades, and thriving.
There are a number of Housing First pilots and projects across the country that are also adopting this model of working and are having success – giving people genuine choice, unconditional support and accommodation, recognising peoples talents rather than deficits, and allowing people to lead the lives they want to lead. Where the private rented sector is being used as a move-on option for those currently accommodated in temporary housing, these principles should become part of the offer.
“It seems like the local authority is just coming up with a plan. They’re not talking to anyone.” Member of National Advisory Panel
If people are not involved in decisions about the accommodation type and the support that may be required to go alongside it, then given historic evidence we would expect these tenancies are highly unlikely to be maintained.
A shift in working may therefore be required in some areas to ensure that people are given genuinely control and a say in their future. Not only is this a requirement under Homeless Reduction Act Code of Guidance, but it is a practice that works, with many successful projects across the country embedding these principles and achieving successful housing outcomes. We want to see every local authority making decisions with people experiencing homelessness at the core, using our rich expertise not only at an individual level but at a strategic level - supporting our communities to ensure local responses to ending rough sleeping are effective.
If the private rented sector is to be an option to end rough sleeping, it needs to be a genuine choice.