The Homelessness Act celebrates its first birthday today (31 July)
– the date by which all English councils must publish a strategy to
deal with local homelessness.
Strategies, when effectively implemented, are fine. The very idea
that local authorities should think “proactively” about
homelessness is a big step forward and will hopefully signal an end
to councils just simply “reacting” to what is still a significant
Among the most important elements of the act for Centrepoint is the
extension of “priority need” categories to young people aged 16 or
17, which means that local authorities are now “obliged” to offer
them some form of accommodation.
A good move in theory, but evidence suggests that housing this
client group is proving increasingly problematic for local
councils. A lack of emergency accommodation, difficulties in
granting a tenancy, among other problems, have resulted in
vulnerable young people being housed in unsuitable bed and
The government has pledged to move families with children out of
B&Bs by 2004. Rooms can often be cramped, unclean and isolated.
So why move this client group out, only to replace them with young
people who are at even greater risk? We know of children who have
been placed in B&Bs for over a year, isolated from family and
friends and without any kind of support. Is it any surprise that
they talk of depression, drop out of college and maybe become
involved in antisocial behaviour?
Local authorities should not be blamed for using B&Bs. A
well-resourced housing department would not consider B&Bs an
option but in the absence of alternatives, are often forced to.
Our priority must be prevention. Centrepoint research has shown
that most young people leave home due to family problems. In these
cases, family mediation, not housing is surely the answer.
Education is also key: many 16 and 17 year olds have no idea how
difficult independent living can be, so we should let them know.
Only as a very last option must we subject a young person to
B&B accommodation, and only then for a short period of time and
with the right support. If local authorities are unable to provide
the latter, then partnerships with agencies that can are vital. By
working together effectively at a local level, we can provide the
right support and allow clients to access the resources they need.
It’s the least they deserve.
Anthony Lawton is chief executive of Centrepoint.