The latest state-of-the-nation report, led by Heriot-Watt University for Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has called for urgent action to address the impact of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) freeze amongst those living on the lowest incomes.
In the Homelessness Monitor: England, nine out of 10 councils warn more and more people in their area on the lowest incomes will become homeless because the freeze on LHA and other benefits means they can't afford to pay their rents.
With cuts to LHA over the past eight years – and a freeze to the benefit from 2016 – those who need it the most aren't able to cover their housing costs, leaving them living on a knife edge.
Councils are finding themselves under increasing pressure, with seven out of 10 reporting a rise in demand for their homelessness services in the last year alone. More than three quarters of councils in the North and the Midlands reported a rise in the need for their services, as well as 80% across London.
Crisis and JRF are calling for the government to urgently address the issues underpinning homelessness by restoring LHA rates in Universal Credit to ensure they truly cover the cost of rent.
In the long term, this needs to be followed by a major investment in social housing. Nearly 90% of local authorities surveyed for the report said there is not enough in their area for those who need it – including for those on the brink of homelessness.
The Homelessness Monitor: England is commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and led by Heriot-Watt University. Published every year since 2011, it includes a national survey of councils, statistical analysis, and in-depth interviews with council and national government representatives and charities working with homeless people.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “Everybody deserves a safe and stable home to build their lives in, but it's clear from councils that the growing gap between private rents and local housing allowance is leaving far too many people at risk of becoming homeless, and keeping those already experiencing it trapped in a cycle of destitution.
“This can't go on. No one should have to face impossible choices like buying food and essentials or paying their rent, or worse still, live in fear that they might never escape the devastation of homelessness.
“The good news is this can be fixed. In the long term, the Government must build the social housing our country needs, but in the short term, it must urgently invest in Local Housing Allowance so that people who rely on it can actually afford their rents and have the stability of a place to call home.”
Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “A home should be the anchor that keeps you from being swept into homelessness, poverty and destitution in hard times. For too many people, the prospect of such a stable home is a distant dream due to high rents, unstable tenancies and an income that doesn't allow you to build a better life.
“We know there is action we can take to fix the problem, starting by ensuring housing, social security and work offer reliable routes out of poverty. Local Housing Allowances need urgent investment but the government must also take action for the long term by investing in the low cost rented homes the country badly needs”.
The combination of cumulative welfare reforms and increasing housing market pressures are making it even harder for low income households to find a place to live.
Heriot-Watt's Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, from the Institute of Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research, said: “This year's Homelessness Monitor provides encouraging evidence that the Homelessness Reduction Act is enabling councils to help more people facing a housing crisis.
“However, the combination of cumulative welfare reforms and increasing housing market pressures are making it even harder for low income households to find a place to live. The research shows that Councils are seeing more demand for their services yet are faced with an ever diminishing social housing supply and very few options in the private rented sector.”
A local authority in the South of England commented: “The LHA freeze has been a huge factor in the increase in homelessness, pushing families into a position where they cannot afford the private sector.”
Another local authority in London added: “We have been a Universal Credit Area for the last 24 months and we can testify that homelessness increased due to the introduction of the Welfare Reforms and the introduction of Universal Credit.”
Crisis, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Heriot-Watt University also produce Homelessness Monitor reports for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Homelessness Monitor: England for 2019 can be downloaded here.