news analysis of how councils are coping with new definition of homelessness

English councils must have thought Christmas had come early last
month when the government handed them more than £13 million to
tackle and prevent homelessness.

The deputy prime minister’s office awarded local authorities the
money when the Homelessness Act 2002 came into effect on 31 July.

Significantly, it requires all English councils to expand their
categories of homeless groups in priority need of housing to
include 16 and 17-year-olds, young people leaving care, people
forced to flee their home because of domestic, racial and other
forms of violence, and individuals leaving institutions.

Although the act applies to both English and Welsh local
authorities, Welsh councils have had a mandatory requirement to
make these homeless groups a priority since March 2001.

Under the act, every council with housing has a duty to conduct a
homelessness review and use it to formulate a homelessness strategy
within 12 months of the act’s commencement. Councils have to update
their homelessness reviews and strategies every five years.

The government allocated two sets of grants: £3.3m went to 79
English councils that bid for it to support their homelessness
strategies over nine months. Welsh local authorities will receive
funding from the National Assembly for Wales to support their own
homelessness strategies on 30 September.

The remaining £10m was shared with every council in England as
part of the Homelessness Priority Need for Accommodation Order
2002. Each council was awarded funding on the basis of the
additional demand the government expects them to experience because
of the extension of priority need categories.

The largest paid out from the £3.3m grant went to Bury
Council, Lancashire, to support seven schemes. Jane Broughton,
homelessness team leader, says although the authority did not get
the £220,215 it applied for, it is delighted with its
£197,725 grant. Of this, £65,000 will go on providing
emergency night-time accommodation for young homeless people.
Broughton says the council is identifying a social housing property
to use for the scheme and expects a voluntary sector organisation
or housing agency to manage it.

The council is also investing £42,725 on developing a
do-it-yourself scheme to recruit volunteers to teach homeless
people decorating and gardening skills. Broughton says the service
will also perform DIY tasks for disabled people.

Manchester Council received the second highest grant,
£103,056. Keith Davies, head of homelessness services, says
the money will be divided between two projects: £55,000 to
finance the council’s rent deposit scheme for homelessness people
and £48,056 to cover the recruitment of two domestic violence
outreach workers.

The rent deposit scheme aims to reduce Manchester Council’s
reliance on bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families
by increasing the number of private sector landlords willing to
accept homeless tenants.

Of the 1,521 families that presented to Manchester Council as
homeless between 1 April 2001 and 31 March 2002, 40 per cent had
suffered domestic violence. The two new workers, who start in
September, will identify and support women who have already
presented as homeless because of domestic violence on three
occasions during a 12-month period.

Davies says the council is consulting with other agencies,
including service users, on what else its homelessness strategy
should contain. “We can’t solve homelessness on its own and have to
link it in with the social inclusion agenda,” he says.

North Kesteven Council in Lincolnshire is also using its
£12,000 grant to develop a rent deposit scheme to help
homeless people who are unable to raise a deposit when privately
renting. Housing services manager Peter Campbell says £5,000
will set up the project and £7,000 will part fund a worker’s
salary, which the council will match.

The £34,000 which Havant Council, Hampshire, received will
finance a private sector tenancy support scheme to give advice and
support to private landlords to set up tenancies, choose tenants
and claim housing benefit. And £16,000 of this will fund a
rent in advance scheme for homeless people taking out private

Housing needs manager Dominic Thompson says the council put in a
bid to fund the scheme because Havant does not have enough social
housing to meet demand. “If the pilot is successful we hope to get
funding for two more years,” he adds.

Cherwell Council in Oxfordshire is setting up an emergency
supported housing unit with its £80,000 grant. Senior housing
officer Mark Godwin says the scheme is a partnership between the
council and Chiltern Hundreds housing association, which will
provide a suitable property, and Bromford Carinthia housing
association, which will provide the support. The scheme aims to
help homeless people move into permanent supported housing.

Three projects will benefit from the £85,000 which Charnwood
Council, Leicestershire, is to receive. The grants will support a
domestic violence outreach worker, a mediation service for homeless
16- and 17-year-olds and their families and a “second chance”
support service for young people whose social housing tenancies
have failed.

Principal housing officer Gill Taylor says all the council’s
schemes will be delivered in partnership with local agencies,
including Bridge Housing Advice and the Loughborough Night

Worthing Council in West Sussex received the second smallest
allocation in the country – £5,200. The authority plans to use
the money to extend its housing association leasing scheme to
increase the number of private sector properties for homeless
people. The council works with six preferred partner housing
associations in the borough and is talking with some of them on how
to expand its scheme.

So why did Worthing bid for so little? Is homelessness not a
problem in the area? Housing services manager Mary McBride says
this is not the case – the council has 22 households in
bed-and-breakfast accommodation. “That is not an acceptable number
for a borough of this size and we are working hard to reduce the

While the Homelessness Act fills gaps created by the Children
(Leaving Care) Act 2000 by making homeless 16 and 17-year-olds a
priority need, the councils awarded funding for homelessness
strategies generally already consider this group a priority. Many
have joint protocols with social services to consult and work
together on meeting the accommodation and support needs of young
homeless people, regardless of whether they have just left

It is clear that England is taking decisive action to tackle
homelessness, but what are the other countries in the UK doing?

As well as creating its own mandatory priorities for councils, the
Welsh assembly has put together a national homeless strategy and
action plan that is currently out for consultation. The Welsh
assembly’s director of housing John Bader says: “We want to ensure
that Welsh local authorities’ homelessness strategies are reflected
in the national strategy and vice-versa.”

In Scotland, the Housing Act 2001 came into effect last October.
Similar to legislation in England and Wales, the act requires all
Scottish councils to draw up strategies to prevent and alleviate

In March, Iain Gray, the then social justice minister, announced
that the Scottish parliament would introduce homelessness
legislation in the autumn. While detail on the legislation’s
contents is scarce, Gray has pledged that every homeless person in
Scotland will be entitled to permanent accommodation by 2012.

The Northern Ireland assembly is conducting a housing inquiry. A
second report, published by its committee for social development in
June, recommends the assembly’s first minister, deputy first
minister and 10 department heads work to co-ordinate appropriate
homelessness legislation.

The report says: “The committee calls on the executive to
demonstrate political leadership and direction in promoting a
joined-up approach to dealing with, and committing resources to,
the issue of homelessness.”

All four UK countries have taken steps to tackle homelessness, but
time will tell whether combating it remains a priority.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.