Many homeless in England have no right to real help from state – study

© Dylan Martinez
Many homeless people in England are not entitled to vital help under UK law even if they are sleeping on the streets, a damning report shows.

A coalition of social justice campaigners and lawyers fighting homelessness in Britain is calling for councils across England to intervene sooner to prevent people from ending up on the street. 

They made the demand in a review of homelessness legislation, published on Monday. The report, which was written by representatives from Crisis, Shelter, councils across England, and the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation, demands prompt legal reforms.

The study argues local authorities could and should intervene in crisis situations, and rehouse citizens deemed to be in jeopardy of losing their home.

Figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government in February 2016 revealed that the number of England’s rough sleepers soared by 30 percent with a 12-month period. In a climate of rising inequality and accusations of social cleansing, ministers are considering a policy change. Critics say it should have been implemented long ago.

As it currently stands, adults without children who are judged to be healthy, single and not particularly vulnerable are not categorized as high-priority cases by local authorities. As a result, the most councils can do is give them advice if they are threatened with homelessness.

In many instances, campaigners warn these individuals are just handed leaflets and abandoned by the authorities.

The review of homelessness legislation, published Monday, argues English law should be amended to take on dimensions of the Welsh system.

The study says local authorities should have a more robust duty to stop people from becoming homeless. It also suggests councils should have to act within 56 days of someone facing homelessness, and should be compelled to find accommodation for those who have local connections.

While these proposals differ slightly to policies currently seen in Wales, campaigners say they could be helpful in tackling England’s homelessness crisis.

Since December 2012, councils in Scotland have been legally obliged to secure settled accommodation for all eligible applicants that find themselves unintentionally homeless.
Britain’s Local Government Association (LGA) said it is vital that the government honor its commitment to replace high-value homes sold on to fund Westminster’s extended Right to Buy scheme.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said that ministers had promised £139 million to homelessness programs and a further £100 million for housing in the budget.

"This report makes interesting reading and we will continue work with homelessness organizations and across government to explore options,” the spokesman told the BBC, adding that legislation “to prevent more people from facing a homelessness” would be factored in.