The Queen's speech: implications for homelessness?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 - 2:50pm

We respond to the Queen's Speech in Parliament today - disappointingly, there was no specific mention of homelessness but a number of measures in the speech are likely to affect it.

Earlier today, the Queen delivered her traditional speech marking the formal opening of Parliament. After shutting the door in Black Rod’s face, symbolising their independence from the Crown, MPs were led from the House of Commons to the House of Lords to hear the address. The speech itself is prepared by the government, outlining its proposed agenda for the coming session.

On 10 May 2016, the House of Commons Library released a briefing detailing a list of bills and legislation that would potentially be appearing in the speech. The list was extensive. Yet, in amongst the vast array topics, ranging from school funding reform to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist finance, there was also mention of a possible legislative announcement concerning homelessness.

There have long been concerns that current homelessness legislation is not fit for purpose, with particular regard to its treatment of single homeless people. For example, in early 2015, the Supreme Court issued judgments on a series of legal cases brought by single homeless appellants. The court’s judgments clarified a number of important legal points; perhaps most importantly, that the long established legal precedent commonly used to establish the vulnerability of applicants under Section 189 (1) (c) of the Housing Act 1996 was incorrect. Further research by Crisis also reveals that local authorities often fail to meet even their most basic duties to prevent and tackle homelessness, such as the provision of advice and assistance to those seeking help.

In response to these challenges, between July 2015 and February 2016, we joined an independent panel of experts to assess the strengths and weakness of the current homelessness legislation in England. This included a review of the current legislation in Scotland and Wales, especially key divergences from the English legislation around prevention and the removal of ‘priority need’ as a test of applicant’s eligibility for the allocation of a full housing duty. As a result of its assessment, the panel published The homelessness legislation: an independent review of the legal duties owed to homeless people. The review provides a strong case for reform, while proposing a new legislative model with three key aims, including the introduction of:

  • a stronger information and advice duty;
  • a homelessness prevention duty for all eligible households, similar to the legislative change recently enacted in Wales; and
  • a relief duty for all eligible homeless people who have a local connection.

Now that the Queen has delivered her speech, we know that the government intends to legislate on a number of issues, which relate to, and will impact upon, homelessness. These include the introduction of a new Prisons and Courts Reform Bill; Children and Social Work Bill, designed to improve conditions for those in care; Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, containing a commitment to build a million new homes; the extension of NHS charging arrangements for foreign nationals; and an enhanced focus on life chances. Disappointingly, however, there was no formal announcement concerning homelessness itself.

As is traditional, the Queen ended her address with the familiar caveat that “other measures”, besides those mentioned explicitly in the House of Lords today, may be laid before Parliament during the course of the current session. Homeless Link therefore looks forward to continuing its work with government, partners from the independent review and members to discuss the possibility of legislative change; taking forward the recommendations contained within our review, and securing a better deal for anyone who experiences homelessness in England.

Talk To Us

Jonathon Graham

Jonathon Graham

Jonathon was our policy officer until June 2016.