Where do you turn if you can’t get help?

Friday, 6 September 2013 - 3:38pm

With so many applications for housing assistance being turned down, what options are there left for those at risk of homelessness? 

Photograph: scribbletaylor (Flickr)
Photograph: scribbletaylor (Flickr)

You’re staying with friends but they need the spare room back and ask you to leave. Your tenancy comes to an end and the landlord kicks you out. Your relationship breaks down and you have to leave home. 

There is a good chance that at least one of these has happened to you, or someone you know, at some point. Thankfully, most of us can rely on the support of friends and family to help us back on our feet and support us to move forward with our lives. 

But what if you don’t have that safety net? 

According to new figures on homelessness released this week by the Department for Communities and Local Government, these are the three most common triggers that lead people into homelessness, accounting for 73% of those given help by their council.   

Over 28,000 households asked for help with homelessness between April and June 2013. What happened to them?

About half – nearly 13,500 households – were accepted as needing help with housing. Of this number, three-quarters (73%) had dependent children or someone in the household who was pregnant.  15% (2,080) were vulnerable through physical disability or mental illness.  More than 1 in 4 (3,840) were headed by someone under 25. 

Nearly 4,000 people were made homeless when their relatives or friends could no longer accommodate them (29%). Over a quarter (3,580) of households became homeless when their tenancy came to an end – a figure that has shot up by 68% over the past two years.  2,170 were made homeless when a relationship with a partner broke down (16%), of which over two-thirds involved violence. 

Over 28,000 households asked for help with homelessness between April and June 2013. What happened to them?

For most households ‘accepted’ (60%), this now means living in temporary housing like B&Bs, hostels or private flats until they can get a secure place to call their home. At the end of June there were 56,210 people in this situation, nearly half of whom (43%) were single women with young children. Of those who moved on from temporary accommodation, most (66%) stayed for less than six months, and three-quarters (73%) accepted a flat from the council or housing association. 

There is, however, another side to this story as more than half (52%) of those approaching their council for help were not accepted. Why were so many turned down?

A quarter were considered ‘not homeless’ (26%). This group may contain those who do have accommodation but still feel they need help moving on due to, for example, living in overcrowded, poor conditions that are damaging their health. 

2,140 were turned away because they were intentionally homeless – an increase of 15% on the same time last year. These were people in ‘priority need’ – those with young children, or households with older or vulnerable people – but, because they became homeless due to something they did or failed to do, they did not qualify to be supported into housing by the council. 

The final group is the most worrying. Over 5,100 households were recognised as being homeless through no fault of their own, but were not given help because they didn’t have a ‘priority need’. This was the reality for nearly 1 in 5 (18%) of those asking for help, and an increase of 10% on the number last year. 

Many are single people who just don’t have anywhere else to go, or who may face challenges with health or life-skills but aren’t considered ‘vulnerable enough’ to be housed.  In this situation, the only alternative for many is sofa-surfing, squatting, or sleeping rough. 

Above all else, these figures highlight the urgent need to tackle the housing crisis in England and ensure there is a good range of housing options that are affordable to all. Until then, we need better regulation in the private rented sector to target unscrupulous landlords who put quick profit before their tenants’ wellbeing.  

Councils are already giving advice about finding a better home to all those who are turned away. They may try to help with Housing Benefit problems or give debt advice, or help people to stay in their own home.  We need more targeted, good quality help that stops people from losing their homes, even amongst increasing pressures on councils, and better advice and support if they do become homeless. 

But unless we can get better at preventing homelessness in the first place, we will keep seeing the same figures time and again – 1 in 2 people turned away.