Yet again the latest official statistics illustrate that homelessness is getting worse – particularly in London. In 2015/16, the total number of households accepted as homeless and in priority need rose by 6 per cent to 57,750. However, in London, acceptances were up by 9 per cent to 19,180.
This trend in the number of acceptances seems to be being driven by significant increases in outer-London boroughs. For example, in the last quarter alone, Barking & Dagenham accepted a duty to 227 households, Croydon 369, Ealing 187, Enfield 261, Hounslow 204, Lewisham 268 and Newham 465. Interestingly, the number of households Newham accepted a full homeless duty to in the second half of 2015/16 was around twice the number it accepted in the first half, making a total of 1,345 during the 12 months. Newham has been heavily criticised for its approach to homeless families, especially by the Focus E15 campaign. The increased number of acceptances could be a sign Newham’s practices are changing in the face of that criticism.
The only borough bucking this trend is Camden, which continues to have an astonishingly small number of acceptances – just 27 in the quarter, and 67 in the whole year. Since highlighting this in my blog back in March, I’ve been taking a closer look at the situation in Camden. Its allocation scheme for social housing offers the same number of points to those private tenants threatened with homelessness as those to whom it has accepted a full duty. Undoubtedly, that will ensure many tenants are rehoused without formally becoming homeless, which would be good. However, Z2K has also seen a letter to a homeless household implying that the formal legal route no longer exists, which is about as bad an example of “gatekeeping” as you can get.
Given the overall increase in acceptances, it is no surprise to see the number of homeless households in temporary accommodation continuing to increase too. Nationally, the total is up by 11 per cent to 71,540, including 50,970 in London. Both figures have been rising inexorably over the past five years and, unless the Government backs away from its planned cut in the Benefit Cap or the newly-elected Mayor of London finds some funding to increase the supply of new social housing, it now seems inevitable they will overtake the record highs of the mid-2000s.
On a slightly brighter note, the number of homeless families illegally in Bed & Breakfast beyond six weeks was only slightly up overall to 970. However, the figures in Croydon (89), Harrow (104) and Redbridge (86) were all much worse than in December. With most London boroughs now utilising nightly-paid self-contained accommodation to avoid prolonged stays in B&B, it is unclear why these three boroughs are still struggling with their legal obligations. Z2K highlighted this issue in our evidence to the CLG select committee inquiry into homelessness, and we really hope those MPs will challenge ministers to do more to address it, as was recommended by the recent United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child report.
Finally, in other better news, Z2K was delighted to hear that Harrow MP, Bob Blackman has decided to take forward Crisis’ proposed legislation on homelessness prevention as a Private Members Bill. As originally drafted by Crisis’ expert panel, the Bill extends the definition of “threatened with homelessness” from 28 to 56 days; introduces a relief duty to all eligible homeless people who have a local connection, including the provision of an new tenancy in the private rented sector; and emergency accommodation for those who have nowhere else to stay.
Mr Blackman came 2nd in the PMB ballot, so there is a really good chance his Bill will be debated and maybe even become law – unless of course there is a General Election in the autumn!