The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) came into force in April 2018, putting an important focus on the prevention of homelessness.
As part of the legislation, local authorities have more responsibility to support those who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, than ever before.
Local authorities now have a duty to:
- Provide free information and advice on homelessness and the support available in that area.
- Support people who are at risk of homelessness 56 days before they are likely to become homeless. This is regardless of whether they are in priority need or have a local connection.
- Assess all eligible applicants and develop a personalised housing plan. This needs to outline the actions both the council and the individual will take to access or keep their accommodation.
- Take reasonable steps to relieve homelessness by helping the applicant to secure accommodation for at least six months.
Evidence gathered through our Databank shows that 86,000 young people approached their local authority for help because they were homeless or at risk in 2016/17. The HRA will entitle the vast majority of these young people to an assessment and a personalised housing plan.
What effect could the legislation have?
To examine the potential impact this surge in assessments and support will have, we conducted a national survey of local authorities. Local authorities are concerned that welfare reform and wider housing market problems will undermine the good intentions of the HRA.
Here are the main findings from our survey:
1. 99% of local authorities say the level of housing benefit is not enough for a young person to afford a private rented tenancy.
Under 35s can claim the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR), which is based on the cost of renting a room in a shared house.
However, it’s the lowest level of housing support, either through housing benefit or Universal Credit. It’s set at the 30th percentile on a list of rents in that area, so it’s at the lower end of the range of rents.
It has also been frozen since 2016, so it hasn’t kept up with rising rents.
2. 93% of local authorities say the roll out of Universal Credit means landlords are less likely to let to young people.
With a five week wait for the first payment, and confusion about whether young people are entitled to claim Universal Credit for their housing costs at all, landlords are reluctant to let to young people.
3. 80% of councils struggle to support young people with their housing needs because there isn’t enough suitable housing.
It is not just the private rented sector which is difficult to access. Local authorities report there is a shortage of other accommodation options for young people too.
Over two thirds of local authorities said that a lack of supported accommodation prevents them from helping young people. The picture is even more concerning for the most vulnerable young people – 86% of local authorities do not have enough accommodation which is suitable for young people with high support needs.
Further challenges ahead
While the Homelessness Reduction Act is a crucial piece of legislation, the research highlights the wider challenges ahead. Without access to safe and suitable accommodation and the financial security, it’s difficult to see how youth homelessness will be prevented and ultimately ended.