From unaffordable rental properties to the under-funded implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, central government funding cuts are preventing many homeless people from being housed, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The Bedford Independent, the Bedford Homeless Partnership and advocacy charity, JustUs have partnered with the Bureau on its #LockedOut project to examine the impact this country-wide issue is having in Bedford.
Availability of affordable housing in Bedford
Research by the Bureau has identified that just 2.5% of the 200 available 2-bedroom rental properties in Bedford were affordable to tenants on Local Housing Allowance (LHA).
A staggering 97.5% of private rental homes are unaffordable to those on benefits in Bedford.
In Bedford, the LHA rate for a 2-bedroom home is £141.44 per week, but research shows that the average cost is £172.61 – a shortfall of £124.68 per month.
The Bureau collected details of 62,695 two-bed rental properties throughout the UK and found just one in 20 were actually affordable on benefits.
“If you’re on a subsistance benefit and you can’t cover your rent, you probably qualify as legally homeless,” said Mike Hyden of the charity, JustUs.
Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) is available to some tenants to cover the shortfall. DHP from January 2018 to date has cost Bedford Borough Council over £450,000.
Homelessness Reduction Act
The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) 2017, which came into force in England in April last year, has been called “the most ambitious reform to homelessness legislation in decades” by the government, which said it would help halve rough sleeping numbers by 2022.
In Bedford, the council has confirmed that since the introduction of the HRA there are 63% more households in temporary accommodation than at 31 March 2018.
Bedford is among 35% of local authorities that no longer owns any social housing stock, therefore, this huge increase in demand has been met through, ‘renting suitable properties that are being offered to local authorities on a nightly let basis,’ said a spokesperson for Bedford Borough Council.
The spokesperson confirmed that the most expensive temporary accommodation unit being used since 1 April 2018 was a nightly let property with four bedrooms at a cost of £65.00 per night.
A voice for vulnerable people
As financial pressures mount on local authorities, JustUs have identified that, ‘the solutions offered [to homeless people] are often the ones that don’t require the council to house them.’
“At every stage of the process, without an advocate, vulnerable people are much more at risk of not being housed even when there’s a legal duty,” said JustUs’s Mike Hyden.
With the help of the charity, many of Bedford’s most vulnerable homeless people – many of them victims of domestic abuse – have been able to challenge the council’s decision about their case and become housed.
JustUs case study: Danni’s story
Danni had been in an abusive relationship for years. She would be beaten up and suffer other kinds of serious abuse. But like many victims of domestic abuse, she hadn’t told anyone – she was terrified.
Safelives.org states that ‘85% of victims sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse’.
This was a statistic we quoted in JustUs’ 2017 Domestic Abuse report, which laid out systemic failures towards victims of domestic abuse. In the Council’s response it was agreed that housing staff would all receive training on domestic abuse.
But several months after the Council had committed to training its staff, Danni was subjected to a particularly terrifying ordeal where she was violently attacked and ended up fleeing her house in her bare feet.
A neighbour, who was a social worker, witnessed it and immediately called the police, who responded very quickly.
But Danni was too scared to make a statement or press charges.
Instead she rang the Council and told them what had happened and that she had nowhere to go.
By doing this, the Council had an immediate duty to provide safe temporary accommodation to Danni, but instead of following the law, the officer advised Danni that if she left her home she would be making herself intentionally homeless, and needed to return home.
Danni was referred to JustUs the next day and we immediately re-approached the Council and suitable accommodation was secured straight away. The Council has accepted that it failed to follow the Law and agreed to compensate Danni for the distress it caused her.
It is not clear how long Danni would have been homeless had JustUs not got the Council to follow the Law.
Availability of social housing
Both JustUs and the Bedford Homeless Partnership emphasised that increasing the Borough’s social housing stock would be the first meaningful step to eradicating homelessness.
It is a view shared by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness and the charities Crisis and Shelter, who said, “From the Second World War up to 1980, we were building an average of around 126,000 social homes every year.
“Last year, there were only 6.463 new social homes.”
“Bedford Borough Council must commit to building more social housing,” said Mike.
“With a safe and suitable home, most people can have a good quality of life and the cost the councils of temporary accommodation would be greatly reduced.”
MP Neil Coyle, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness, told the Bureau, “With two homeless people dying every day last year in England and Wales, the Government has a shameful record and must now tackle the problem with more vigour and results, including building more social housing.”
According to Sam Price, of the Bedford Homeless Partnership: “We’re trapping people in the system and they find it too hard to escape.”
“It’s plausible that there are more than 1,000 people in Bedford technically homeless,” said Mike Hyden of JustUs.