London Councils has declared there can be “no return to business as usual” on homelessness, as it revealed that boroughs are spending an extra £50 million on homelessness and rough sleeping due to Covid-19.
With emergency accommodation secured for almost 5,000 rough sleepers since the start of the pandemic , the cross-party group believes there is now “a golden opportunity” to end rough sleeping altogether.
However, London Councils has highlighted the need for sustained support for tackling homelessness. Despite emergency investment from the government, boroughs are increasingly worried about the funding available for rough sleeper support.
Even before Covid-19 struck, London was suffering the most severe homelessness crisis in the country – accounting for two-thirds of homelessness in England. The £50 million of extra spending in the wake of coronavirus comes on top of the approximately £1 billion annual cost of boroughs’ homelessness and rough sleeper provision.
London Councils has long warned that these costs are unsustainable – with around £200 million of the boroughs’ £919 million annual expenditure on homelessness and rough sleeping in 2017/18 not covered by government grants or councils’ housing income . This means boroughs resort to bridging the gap using their general funds (which could be invested in other council services).
To help sustain London’s homelessness services and embed the progress made on reducing rough sleeping, London Councils is calling for:
- An immediate boost to local authority funding to meet the higher support needs of rough sleepers and ensure onward accommodation can be secured. Although the government has announced a £433 million national rough sleeping fund – over a four-year period – to provide new accommodation and specialist support, allocations have not yet been confirmed. London boroughs are concerned that the number of homes being delivered through this for rough sleepers does not provide sufficient accommodation to meet current need.
- A twelve-month suspension of no recourse to public fund (NRPF) restrictions to unlock financial support for those who would otherwise return to rough sleeping. London Councils warns that at least 900 rough sleepers accommodated in London are subject to NRPF restrictions.
- Further welfare policy changes to support homeless Londoners and those at risk of homelessness, including lifting the benefit cap and abolishing the local housing allowance shared accommodation rate for single applicants under 35.
- A phased lifting of lockdown measures to avoid a cliff edge when hotel accommodation used to shelter rough sleepers returns to commercial use.
Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, said:
“There can be no return to business as usual on homelessness. We now have a golden opportunity to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping altogether, if we sustain and build on the progress made in response to Covid-19.
“Chronic housing insecurity leaves people more vulnerable to illness, which is why the government was right to introduce a ban on evictions and to help fund emergency accommodation for rough sleepers. This has kept people safe, protected public health, and brought much-needed stability for many vulnerably housed Londoners.
“But we can’t afford to squander these achievements. Without ongoing measures to help keep people in their homes, we expect homelessness rates to shoot back up again – probably to even higher levels than before the crisis.
“Among our concerns are the continuing uncertainties over how the government expects support to be provided to rough sleepers who have no recourse to public funds.
“A summer spike in homelessness would be extremely damaging to London boroughs’ finances. Even before the crisis, boroughs weren’t receiving enough funding to meet their homelessness costs. We’re now spending an extra £50 million on homelessness and rough sleeping due to Covid-19 – an unsustainable situation has become even more unsustainable.
“London boroughs share the government’s ambitions on reducing homelessness – but action is needed now.”
- In March, the government requested that councils house all rough sleepers and support them through the Covid-19 crisis. London boroughs – together with the Greater London Authority and voluntary sector partners – have secured emergency accommodation for 4,967 rough sleepers since the start of the pandemic (according to the latest London Councils data). This emergency accommodation includes commercial hotels (accounting for almost 2,800 placements), as well as shelters and hostels. Hotels used as emergency accommodation will gradually need to return to commercial use, so boroughs are working to move rough sleepers into onward accommodation (including properties in the private rental sector). Alongside key partners, London Councils is working on a ‘Next Steps’ strategy to ensure no-one placed in emergency accommodation in response to Covid-19 is asked to leave without an offer of support to end their rough sleeping. Boroughs are developing local delivery plans to support this pan-London strategy.
- Published in October 2019, research from LSE London (commissioned by London Councils) established that £201 million of the £919 spent by boroughs on homelessness services in 2017/18 was not covered by central government grants or councils’ housing income. London Councils warned that boroughs received a “raw deal” as government funding support didn’t reflect boroughs’ true costs.