MPs angry at councils’ approach to homelessness

    Councils that reject too many homelessness applications may be
    bending the rules and should be reported to the Audit Commission,
    says a new report by MPs, writes Craig
    Kenny.

    The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s select committee
    found it ‘extraordinary’ that the homelessness
    legislation is interpreted so differently in various areas.

    In London last year, 44 per cent of applications for
    homelessness status were successful, compared to just nine per cent
    in Doncaster.

    ‘Statutory definitions are being inconsistently and
    carelessly applied; authorities seem to look for reasons to turn
    people away rather than help,’ says the report.

    ‘There are suspicions that “gatekeeping” is
    getting tougher to keep the number of acceptances down because
    authorities cannot cope with demand.’

    Evidence that some social services departments
    ‘offer’ to take children into care when families are
    decreed ‘intentionally homeless’ leads MPs to call for
    more explicit guidance on this issue.

    The report also urges clearer guidance on the definition of
    vulnerable persons, particularly for those with mental health
    problems or learning disabilities

    Criticism that the government is not doing enough to reduce the
    numbers of homeless people in temporary accommodation had already
    been defused by the announcement of more ambitious targets by the
    ODPM earlier this week.

    Earlier plans to reduce the numbers in temporary accommodation
    by 30,000 by 2016 were called ‘embarrassing’ in the
    report. New targets set this week will cut the numbers by 50,000 by
    2010.

    MPs’ opposition to any extension of the Right to Buy
    scheme also appears to have been heeded. Instead, the ODPM is
    extending the Homebuy scheme, allowing housing association tenants
    to buy ½ to ¾ shares in their homes. Housing associations
    will have first refusal if the tenant sells up.

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