The Homelessness Reduction Bill is a Bill that I support, that the Labour Party supports as it makes strides towards addressing the plight of the thousands of people facing homelessness across the country. In Birmingham alone there are currently over 3,524 cases of households who are statutory homelessness and in priority need of assistance, which simply is not good enough.
Labour supports the aims of the Bill and we want to build upon the provisions of the Homelessness Act passed by the Labour Government in 2002 in order to strengthen the duties that local councils have to support people who are either homeless or are threatened by the prospect of homelessness. The aim of the Bill is to shift intervention to a much earlier stage and expand the meaning of ‘statutory homelessness’ to include not just those who are already homeless but also to those who are threatened with homelessness with the aim of preventing it.
The Bill advocates for:
- a more rigorous duty upon local councils to assess an applicant’s case if they are homeless or facing homelessness;
- a new strengthened duty of care upon councils that requires them to ensure that suitable accommodation is always available for those in need; and
- a new assistance duty that requires Local Authorities to secure accommodation for applicants who the Authority is satisfied are homeless, eligible for assistance even if they are not in priority need
However, given the extra duties imposed on upon local councils, Labour are also calling for additional resources to be made available to enable them to fulfil these strengthened duties. There is currently a national housing crisis and we do not want to place impossible burdens on councils, especially those in high pressure areas, to deliver the demands in this bill, where there is simply not enough housing at affordable prices for them to be able to do so. This bill must not be used as an excuse to shift the blame on to councils for the Government’s failures in tackling homelessness and a lack of a national housing policy which delivers the number of homes that the country needs.
The bill also includes provisions to strengthen the ‘failure to co-operate’ rules which are aimed at toughening up on those who resist support provided by councils and other agencies to find them accommodation. We want to ensure the rules are not drawn so widely as to penalise some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Whist Labour supports the bill we will continue to campaign against the decisions by the Government that have caused rising homelessness. These include a failure on house building; soaring private rents; the bedroom tax; the loss of affordable rented homes; cuts to housing benefit support worth over £5 billion since 2010; and the proposed plan to cap housing benefit for tenants of supported housing, including homelessness hostels.