280,000 people are at risk of homelessness

Housing benefit cuts and sanctions are blamed for the sharp rise in people asking councils to help keep them off the streets

The number of people sleeping rough increased by five per cent last year, and the number of people asking their council for help because they were facing homelessness rose by nine per cent. That equates to 280,000 people at risk of homelessness, a figure that has gone up by a third since 2009/10.

These are the stark figures that new research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and homelessness charity Crisis have revealed today. They say that the headline figures usually cited by politicians are obscuring the gravity of the problem.

According to the study, nearly two-thirds of councils do not think that headline homelessness figures reflect local trends. This is because councils have adopted a number of informal measures to help tackle homelessness – such as family mediation, debt advice or help to stay in a tenancy – which are recorded separately.

The sharp rise has been attributed in large part to people who have become homeless after losing a privately rented home, due to having their housing benefit cut – this now accounts for 30 per cent of cases.

90 per cent of councils think that welfare cuts and changes will continue to make homelessness worse, with 53 per cent predicting that the situation will escalate over the next two years. Councils expressed particular concern about benefit sanctions, with one respondent saying:

“We have reports from our outreach officers that sanctions are having a detrimental effect on some of the vulnerable people they see and some are getting thinner as they cannot afford to eat.”

The Bedroom Tax was also cited as a risk factor for coming years; councils felt that discretionary housing payments and social landlord forbearance may have masked the effect of the Coalition’s flagship tax so far.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said:

“What this report clearly shows is that political choices have a huge impact on homelessness. As we approach the general election, we want all parties to take homelessness seriously as an issue. We want to see manifestos that commit to tackling the woeful lack of affordable housing, reviewing sanctions and cuts to housing benefit and to funding and supporting local homelessness services.”

Meanwhile the JRF’s Chief Executive Julia Unwin said:

” This research highlights the growing divergence between regions, with London and the South reporting much higher levels of homelessness than the North, confirming that structural problems in the housing system are one of the main drivers of the under-reported surge in need. “

The problem with London housing is clearly demonstrated by the rise of ‘out of area’ housing placements, where people are housed in different regions to their friends and family because no affordable home can be found for them within London. Homeless services have expressed particular concern about victims of domestic violence, who are housed away from their personal support networks, making them increasingly vulnerable.

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