London boroughs fear a ‘summer wave’ of homelessness in the capital as a result of covid-19. Councils have pointed to a series of upcoming risks threatening to significantly increase the levels of homelessness not just in London but right across the country.
Unemployment fears after the furlough scheme ends and high rent arrears from those who have already lost their jobs, threatening to push people into homelessness. Recent research from the LSE suggests 400,000 Londoners are in significant rent arrears due to covid-19. This is only set to get worse throughout England.
The government’s temporary ban on evictions is also due to be lifted on 31 May. Following this, councils are anticipating a spike in renters in high arrears facing eviction and having to turn to their local authorities for help to avoid becoming homeless. While the ban helped people in financial difficulty keep a roof over their head, there’s been no talk of additional support to help renters pay off any arrears.
There’s also a lot of uncertainty around homelessness funding. Earlier this week we issued our thoughts around councils getting funding for rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness in response to the pandemic and the government’s ‘Everyone In’ scheme. Though this was a welcome scheme, there’s no clarity on what will happen after the 21 June when restrictions are set to lift. There are also wider concerns that councils are still failing to house rough sleepers. Despite a High Court ruling that found councils have the legal powers to help those who wouldn’t be eligible for support during the pandemic.
The government said that councils have faced significant challenges in the delivery of 3300 supported homes for rough sleepers. Plans last October, laid out by the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, outlined that the government had approved more than 3000 homes for rough sleepers to keep them safe during the pandemic. In response to a recent Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report on homelessness and private renting, the government indicated that it had missed its target. Thought it didn’t disclose how many homes had actually been delivered.
The capital faces the most severe homelessness crisis in the country. Councils currently estimate that there are around 165,000 people sleeping rough in London and living in borough-provided temporary accommodation. This number accounts for two-thirds of England’s homelessness total and almost 70% of London households in temporary accommodation have at least one child. Councils now fear that with no clear support following the lifting of restrictions, new records of homelessness could be set this year unless the government steps in.
Councils are looking to the government to increase investment in homelessness prevention. They need the government to outline plans for support following the lifting of restrictions, if any, and improve councils’ resources for building social housing to make sure there are enough homes for everyone. They’re also calling on the government to restore government funding for councils’ local welfare assistance schemes and to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments to begin.
There are already vast numbers of families on social housing waiting lists. These numbers are only set to grow when private renters lose their homes. Councils need more investment in housing and more resources to make decisions on the types of houses they build. Too many councils stick with traditional house building methods but they aren’t quick to build and planning processes are notoriously difficult. This means people often end up in hotels or cramped in one or two rooms, living on top of each other. It also means that local authorities and councils are spending a large part of their budget on hotels. This ‘summer wave’ of homelessness could be avoided but only if a resolution is found quickly.
We can relieve councils and local authorities across England and provide a solution for their housing needs with ‘meanwhile housing’. Temporary housing, that doesn’t compromise on space or quality. It sits in vacant spaces until it’s needed for more permanent housing and saves money on unsuitable B&Bs. People can live in these homes temporarily while getting access to further support to gain work or until they’re able to find a more permanent home.