Local councils blame Tory cuts for dramatic surge in homelessness

Government benefit cuts are to blame for soaring levels of homelessness, local councils and housing providers have said.

The number of people being declared homeless has increased by more than a third since 2010, while the number of people sleeping rough on the streets has surged by even more: up 134 per cent since the Conservatives came to power.

A string of Government welfare changes – including cuts to housing benefit and the introduction of the benefit cap – have led to the dramatic increase, according to the organisations charged with tackling the crisis.

The findings are based on a survey of 106 councils, and more than 50 housing associations, by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the University of Sheffield.

It found that 84 per cent of local councils believe welfare reforms have made it harder for them to tackle homelessness, while 70 per cent of housing associations agreed.

According to the survey, 61 per cent of local councils and 49 per cent of housing associations also said the fact a prospective tenant is unlikely to receive enough in welfare payments to cover their rent is now the most common reason for someone being turned away for home.

It comes just days after a damning report by the National Audit Office accused government ministers of a “light-touch approach” to tackling homelessness, and concluded that benefit cuts were “likely to have contributed” to the rise in homelessness. Tackling the problem is costing the state £1bn a year, the report said.

In an attempt to get a grip on spiralling homelessness, Government ministers have placed a legal obligation on local councils to help people find homes.

Typically, this would involve helping someone into a property managed by a housing association – but cuts to benefits mean associations are increasingly having to turn tenants away.

The survey reports that 72 per cent of councils and 71 per cent of housing associations say their ability to help homeless people has suffered because of cuts to their own budgets, which have undermined their work in tackling the issue.

Some councils have faced spending reductions of more than 50 per cent since 2010, while housing associations have been hit by a reduction in government grants, and ministers forcing them to reduce the social rents they charge.

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “This research shows that welfare policy is seriously undermining the work that councils and housing associations can do to reduce homelessness.

“The government has stated its commitment to tackling homelessness and to the Homelessness Reduction Act, which comes into effect next year, represents significant progress. But it is also clear that welfare policy is directly undermining that effort.

Ms Alafat said policies like the lower benefit cap are leaving people with significant gaps between the help they get with housing costs, and their rent.

She added: “This research highlights the direct impact that is having on the work councils and housing associations are trying to do together to help those most in need.

“We know from experience that tackling homelessness is possible, but it requires a commitment from all government departments. If the government is serious about tackling the crisis, it must urgently consider how it can create a policy framework which supports, and not undermines, what councils and housing associations can achieve together to tackle this huge problem.”

Professor David Robinson of the University of Sheffield, who worked on the research, called the findings “deeply concerning”.

He said: “Councils cannot tackle homelessness on their own – they need help … These findings underline why we urgently need a coordinated effort to tackle homelessness.”

John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, said: “After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, it is now clear that government policy decisions are directly responsible for driving up homelessness.

“Labour will end rough sleeping within a Parliament, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness with thousands more genuinely affordable homes and new protections for private renters.

“We will undertake a full review of support for housing costs through the social security system and halt the government’s planned cuts to homelessness hostels and other supported housing.”

The Homelessness Reduction Act, which was passed in April and is set to come into effect next year, places a new responsibility on local councils to help prevent homelessness. Authorities will be given £61m over the next two years to help them meet the costs of their new duties.

A Government spokesperson said: “The best way to help people pay their rent is to help them into work, and employment is now at a record high.”

They added: “Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and restoring fairness to the system – Universal Credit claimants are moving into work faster than under the old system, and since the benefit cap was introduced, 34,000 households who previously had their benefits capped have moved into work.

“We continue to spend around £90bn a year supporting people who are out of work, disabled or a carer, bringing up a family or on a low income. We are also investing £550m to 2020 to address the issue of homelessness and implement the most ambitious legislative reform in decades.”

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