Nationally, homelessness – particularly youth homelessness – is on the rise. But because of its transitory nature, homelessness is often difficult to assess. Many homeless charities note that ‘official’ statistics only reflect a part of a wider picture of homelessness, that is, homelessness acceptances by local authorities as in priority need and not instances of homelessness such as sofa surfing and non-priority single male homelessness more generally. There is also a range of preventative services – debt advice, mediation, crisis intervention and sanctuary schemes – provided by local authorities that that form a part of the P1E data submitted to the Government by local authorities.
Anecdotal evidence heard by the Northern Housing Consortium from our members pointed to rising numbers of asylum dispersal cases (before the refugee crisis of summer 2015), complications and uncertainty arising from Supreme Court judgements (such as the Kanu judgement) and their effect on homelessness acceptances as well as suggested rise in out of area placements. As a result of this, the NHC compiled an information request to all of our local authority members to find out what the scale of homelessness was in their areas and to ask specific questions about what we’d heard.
In addition to this, we have also looked at regional level data (albeit in its raw format) provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to analyse trends in the North around homelessness from official statistics.
In total, twenty five replies were received as a result of our information request from a good mix of local authorities across the North including urban and rural local authorities and local authorities of differing sizes. The information request asked for information around four key points emerging from intelligence received by members. These were:
- In light of the Supreme Court Judgement (Kanu), are you anticipating a rise in homelessness acceptances and to what extent?
- Have you seen any increase in asylum dispersal cases in your locality and are there particular geographical pressures?
- Are you experiencing any out of area placements coming into your locality?
- Any other issues?
The Kanu Judgement
The Kanu Judgement: Background
Under the Housing Act 1996 a homeless person without children is considered to be in priority need for accommodation if they are “vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside”(section189(1)(c ) HA 1996).
Because of a series of Court of Appeal decisions, a person was deemed to be vulnerable and in priority need, only if they would suffer more than the “ordinary street homeless person”.
Mr Patrick Kanu had physical problems: including hepatitis B and hypertension as well as psychotic symptoms and suicidal ideation. He was cared for by his wife but despite her care, stress was raising his hypertension to what doctors characterised as “quite dangerous levels”.
Southwark Council had accepted that Mr Kanu would be vulnerable if he was on his own but decided that as he had a wife and son to support him, he was not in priority need. The Council’s first decision that Mr Kanu was not vulnerable was quashed by the County Court. A second decision, again finding that Mr Kanu was not vulnerable was also quashed by the County Court.
The Court of Appeal allowed the Council’s appeal against this decision. The Supreme Court has now reversed the Court of Appeal and allowed Mr Patrick Kanu’s appeal. The Supreme Court found that:
1. The correct comparator for the vulnerability test was not a street homeless person, but rather an ordinary person in need of accommodation;
2. That an authority had to take great care before it could conclude that family support could adequately address vulnerability;
3. The authority had to have careful regard to the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and the equality duty in reaching its decision on vulnerability (rejecting the authority’s argument that the equality duty added nothing).
The Kanu Judgement: Response
There were some mixed responses from members regarding the Kanu judgement. Some authorities were uncertain as to how the judgement would affect the number of homelessness acceptances while others were certain that the judgement would see a higher number of acceptances.
Respondents noted that their threshold for acceptance as part of the vulnerability test was often significantly lower than designated in legislation; so those local authorities with a more flexible approach to defining vulnerabilities were already housing those that would be designated as vulnerable by the judgement. Others commented that they believed their prevention and action teams across the city were robust enough to ensure that cases presenting as homeless would not rise.
However, there were some concerns raised about other judgements aside from the Kanu judgement and the conflicting nature of these on homelessness acceptances. One of these, the Poplar HARCA vs. White judgement saw damages of £4,500 awarded to Mr White on the grounds that Poplar HARCAS, in seeking possession of a property on the ground of rent arrears, had discriminated against Mr White and were in breach of the Equality Act 2010 owing to Mr White’s mental health issues that, it was successfully argued, left him unable to manage his finances. The respondent to our information request who raised this noted “inconsistent messages from court cases … puts so much pressure on social housing and no responsibility on tenants”
Asylum Dispersal Cases
Reponses from those local authorities who had a dispersal plan indicated that the North West and Yorkshire and Humber – particularly areas surrounding Leeds and Greater Manchester – see the highest number of asylum dispersal cases. It is worth noting that the initial request for information was undertaken in early August 2015, before the Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK would take 20,000 Syrian refugees between now and 2020.
Within the minority of the responses were some interesting remarks pointing to difficulties locally for some local authorities. One local authority in the North West said that there had been “major increases” in asylum dispersal cases and as a result of “spatial issues in our poorest communities [we] have stopped accepting in certain areas”. They also noted that there was a significant use of hotels to house asylum dispersal cases throughout the borough by the outsourcing agent, with a figure of seventy or more cases being cited.
Figures from a local authority in the Yorkshire and Humber area noted that the area had the highest percentage of asylum dispersals in the region and that they have raised the volume of cases presenting “several times” with the Home Office and “constantly tussle with G4S” who manage the authorities’ asylum duties. Some authorities noted that they had been approached by the Home Office to become asylum dispersal areas and had resisted as they felt unable to offer services because of their current case work level, or were in negotiations. How this will change in light of the increase in Syrian refugees remains unclear.
Out of Area Placements
Because of the nature of out of area placements, there is no duty for the placing authority to inform the host authority that someone has been placed in the local authority area. As such, the majority of respondents said they were not aware of out of area placements in their area.
Responses from two local authorities in the North West and the Yorkshire and Humber areas raised the issue of neighbouring authorities placing people in B&B accommodation within their jurisdiction but that they were aware of this, were regularly informed about it and enjoyed a good level of cooperation on the issue.
A response from one North West local authority highlighted that they had recently had an out of area placement from a London borough to a local authority in the North West. Whether this is something that northern local authorities may begin to see more of remains to be seen.
Other Issues Arising
It is clear from the feedback received by the NHC that there is significant concern about changes to welfare and housing and their impact on homelessness. This is something the NHC will continue to monitor as part of our wider work. There are concerns that new welfare reforms will lead to more cases presenting, more rough sleeping and increased hardship. There was also concern expressed that budget cuts may affect the viability of local authority homelessness services in places.
It was also started by some respondents that people who would have often stayed ‘below the radar’ and now being pushed into homelessness through policies like the spare room subsidy – often people with multiple complex needs who now require services provided by the council. Rough sleeping also appears to be an issue and was raised explicitly by two local authorities in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber. These rises in rough sleeping reported locally certainly tally with national figures which show a slight rise.
Further concerns were raised by one Yorkshire and Humber based council raised the topic of EU migrants who have lost their entitlement to jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), housing benefit and are ineligible for homelessness assistance. They were particularly concerned about female EU migrants trapped in violent situations with no recourse to public funds and stuck in violent situations.
Homelessness in England and in the North
Statistics from the Department of Communities and Local Government collect data on the reasons for loss of last settled home. Most striking within these figures is that people accepted as homeless because of complications arising from the end of an assured short hold tenancy in England have doubled since 2010.
In 2010, an average of 14% of homelessness cases accepted to local authorities were as a result of an end of a shorthold tenancy compared to an average of 29% of cases in 2014. It remains the single biggest named reason for people being accepted as homeless. Anecdotally, it is believed that this rise is due to rising costs of renting private sector accommodation.
Other major reasons for people being accepted as homeless were relatives and friends no longer able or willing to provide accommodation and relationship breakdowns. Interestingly, the numbers accepted as homeless as a result of rent arrears has remained relatively consistent at around 3% of cases.
In the data analysed by the NHC, the single biggest reason for homelessness presentations to local authorities across the north in the past year was violence including violent relationship breakdown involving partner, violent relationship breakdown involving associated persons, racially motivated violence and other forms of violence.
In July to September 2014, the quarter with the most homelessness presentations in the year, 21% of all acceptances (457 cases out of a total of 2,215 reported) fell into the ‘violence’ bracket. Indeed, in the period from January 2014 to March 2015, there was an average of 408 cases per quarter that fell under the violence bracket out of an average of 1,999 cases presenting across the north. This represents an average of 20% – or one fifth – of all homelessness presentations in the North accounting for violence in 2014/15.
The second most predominant reason for homelessness presentations in the past year was the loss of rented or tied accommodation due to either the termination of an assured shorthold tenancy or reasons other than that.
From data collected by the NHC, we found that in the period between January 2014 and March 2015, there were 296 cases on average per quarter presenting for this reason to local authorities with vast majority of these cases being down to termination of an assured shorthold tenancy rather than reasons other than this. For the north, this represented around 15% of all homelessness presentations for the period January 2014 to March 2015.
The third most predominant reason is that parents or friends and relatives are no longer able or willing to accommodate those presenting as homeless to local authorities. This category is often associated with young people whose parents are unable or unwilling to accommodate them any longer and also represents those who have previously been part of the ‘hidden homeless’ i.e. those sofa surfing and relying on friends and relatives to house them on an ad hoc basis.
Our analysis shows that, on average, there were 288 presentations of homelessness to local authorities in the north in the period January 2014 to March 2015 owing to parents and friends/relatives no longer able or willing to accommodate the applicant. This represented around 14% of all homelessness referrals in the north in the period in question.
Where those who are accepted as homeless are placed in temporary accommodation, private sector accommodation remains the most popular place to be temporarily housed. CLG statistics show that the use of private sector accommodation (including private landlord) has almost doubled in the period between 2010 and 2015 and now accounts for around a third of all temporary housing arrangements.
The number of homeless acceptances who were housed in bed and breakfast accommodation held steady at around 8% of all acceptances but the numbers of families housed in B&B accommodation for more than 6 weeks continues to inch upwards.
In the north, these trends were largely similar. Within the data collected, it was interesting to note that many of those presenting as homeless in the north were able to remain in accommodation previously accepted or have made their own arrangement for temporary accommodation. The use of private sector accommodation, particularly hostels, B&Bs and homes in multiple occupation (HMOs) remains high across the north with a corresponding drop in the number of those housed within social housing.
Trends in age profiles of homeless households show that homelessness nationally among 16 to 24 year olds has fallen from 36% in 2010/11 (16,000 of those accepted) to 25% in 2014/15 (13,490 of those accepted). Conversely, there was an 8% rise in homelessness nationally among those aged 25-44 with this group accounting for 50% of all acceptances in 2010 and 58% in 2015.
In the north, these trends remained similar with the largest age group accounting for homelessness acceptances being those aged 25 to 44 followed by those ages 16 to 24. There were, on average in the period in question, 307 acceptances among 16 to 24 year olds across the north per quarter representing an average of 15% of all quarterly applications in the period. Among 25 to 44 year olds, the average was 694 acceptances per quarter representing on average 34% of all quarterly presentations. Below you can see the trends in age profiles across the north in comparison to homelessness acceptances in England in the same period.
Within the data, it was clear – excluding the cyclical nature of homelessness acceptances – that homelessness acceptances are on the rise in the north, albeit a very small rise. The nature of homelessness acceptances, particularly the rise and predominance of violence as a main factor in homelessness presentations in the north, is of deep concern. There have been many warnings from charities and third sector organisations that measures such as the removal of housing benefit from 16 to 24 year olds claiming jobseeker’s allowance may lead to a spike in homelessness among this age group. This is something we will continue to monitor as this measure is rolled out.
It is clear from both the information request sent out by the NHC and the analysis of the statistics pertaining to the north that homelessness services are right to be concerned about the growing complexity of their case loads. Comments we received as part of our information request foreshadowed some of the issues from within the data: particularly regarding violence and large families presenting as homeless. However, it is clear that, for the most part, many homelessness services across England are robust enough at present to deal with the work they have and ought to be commended for this.
Government figures only show recorded homelessness and only show acceptances by a local authority. They do not show the numbers presenting as homeless who are not accepted as homeless and they make no account for ‘hidden’ homelessness, that is, those people without accommodation who sofa surf, sleep rough, rely on ad hoc support from a variety of groups such as churches, friends and family and charities, or who move between boroughs. It is estimated by homelessness charities that this type of hidden homelessness masks the true reality and scale of those who are, literally, without a home or a permanent roof over their head.
Clearly from this report, it is clear that homelessness is not often a clear cut issue – there are often multiple, highly complex problems at the root of a homelessness presentation as shown by the high levels of presentations as homeless which concern violence. The NHC will, over the coming months, be working with partners across the housing and homelessness sector to identify best practice among local authorities and among housing associations to see and to share their work in tackling homelessness and its complex roots.