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Friday, 9 September 2011

Homelessness Up As Cuts Take Effect

Homelessness is on the rise in the wake of the recession and government cuts to housing benefit, official figures show.

In the three months to June there was a 17 per cent rise to 11,820 in the number of households accepted by local authorities as in priority need of rehousing, compared to the same quarter last year.

The figures show that on almost all measures homelessness is now rising, reversing a trend that has seen more or less continuous declines since 2003, according to Crisis, the homelessness charity.

A report commissioned by Crisis and carried out by academics at York and Heriot-Watt universities to coincide with the figures warned the “worst is yet to come” after the combined effect of the economic downturn and significant cuts to housing benefit takes hold.

“Government reforms, in combination with the pressures of the economic downturn seem certain to increase all forms of homelessness, from rough sleepers on our streets to homeless people hidden out of sight,” said Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt’s institute for housing.

The latest figures are the first since cuts to the local housing allowance for new claimants – an allowance that determines housing benefit levels – were introduced in April. There has been a big percentage rise, although small numerical increase, from 1,460 to 2,130 in the number of households accepted as homeless because a private rented tenancy has come to an end.

The report for Crisis notes that during the last big housing recession in the early 1990s, homelessness fell as lower house prices eased access for first time buyers, releasing homes for rent.

That is unlikely to happen this time, the report says, as available lettings in the social rented sector are down and first time buyers still face difficulty in getting mortgages.

On top of big housing benefit cuts, the government is moving towards more “flexible” tenancies in social housing while pushing up rents for new homes to 80 per cent of market levels. Both moves will weaken the safety net function of the social rented sector, the report says.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, called on the government to reverse the housing benefit cuts and withdraw its plans to no longer pay benefit on actual housing costs, instead providing an allowance. “We need the government to change course now or risk returning us to the days of countless lives facing the debilitating effect of homelessness,” she said.

Grant Shapps, housing minister, urged those threatened with homelessness to seek help as early as possible, arguing that a wide range of support remained available to people struggling to stay in their homes.

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