Nick Benson

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Thousands of homeless ‘at risk of eviction from hotels at end of June’

Thousands of homeless people in hotels could return to the streets at the end of the month if the Government does not provide councils with urgent funding, a charity is warning.

Crisis said contracts between local authorities in England and hotels are due to terminate at the end of June, due to current Government money running out.

Almost 15,000 people are housed in emergency accommodation such as hotels, according to the latest Government figures, after local authorities moved people into safe accommodation during the coronavirus outbreak.

But Crisis director of policy Matt Downie said the vast majority of contracts between local authorities and hotels in London are due to expire at the end of June and believes it is a similar picture for the rest of the country.

He revealed that Crisis has received “no indications at all” from the Government that more money is forthcoming to extend the Everyone In scheme.

The Government said any suggestion it is rowing back on its commitment to support rough sleepers is untrue.

Mr Downie said: “The exceptional arrangements are due to come to an end, because they were exceptional, and there is no plan yet to make sure that every single one of those people is accommodated and that there’s money to deliver it.

“The Government announcement last week was that over the next 12 months, 3,000 units of accommodation will be made available through funding.

“This is very welcome, but there are 15,000 people in hotels, and they are all at risk of eviction at the end of this month.

“So you can see there is a clear disparity between what is needed and what the Government has planned.”

The charity estimates the Government will need to invest hundreds of millions of pounds to keep everybody in safe accommodation for a year.

The Government allocated £3.2 million in March specifically to address homelessness, but Crisis said this would have been spent by councils within days.

A larger pot of money has been made available, but local authorities are facing competing claims on their resources, and Crisis said councils have told them this is not being used to address homelessness and is insufficient to do so.

Mr Downie continued: “We will take one of two paths here: one is that 15,000 people are permanently helped out of homelessness through the amazing Everyone In scheme, or we will see a massive increase in rough sleeping in this country just at the point when we thought it would be possible to avoid that.

“It’s within the Government’s control to make decisions so that doesn’t happen, for example to either continue hotel schemes or to give alternative arrangements to local authorities and individuals.”

In addition, more than half of 150 frontline services are seeing an increase in people becoming homeless during the outbreak, a survey by Crisis found.

The number of rough sleepers and those sofa-surfing has risen since the lockdown, but it is not yet known by how much, with services increasingly encountering new forms of homelessness directly driven by the economy and unemployment.

Crisis is calling for the Government to introduce and fund a new duty for councils in England to provide emergency accommodation for a year to everyone who becomes homeless during the pandemic, as part of its Homes for All campaign.

This should be introduced through an emergency homelessness bill and determined regardless of immigration status, local connection and whether an individual is considered “intentionally homeless”.

It has only been possible to help so many people into safety so far because these legal tests have been abandoned, Crisis said.

It said there should also be changes to the UK welfare system, such as lifting no recourse to public funds restrictions, funding to help renters keep up with rent arrears, and legal provisions for judges to prevent evictions.

And the Housing First pilot should be rolled out across England over the Government’s current term so 16,500 units can be used to properly support rough sleepers with complex additional needs.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said a monumental effort was made to rapidly house homeless people but councils are now experiencing an urgent need for more accommodation as people continue to face homelessness.

David Renard, LGA housing spokesman, said: “While the recently announced funding for councils to support rough sleepers is positive, we still need clarity from government on what additional practical support will be available to councils to help them move people out of hotels and temporary accommodation and into housing.”

A spokesman for London Councils, which represents London’s 32 borough councils and the City of London, said it had been “assured by Government officials that there are no immediate changes to national policy on rough sleeping” and that “no-one receiving this support is being asked to leave their accommodation at this time”.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing and planning, said there was an “unprecedented opportunity” to build on the progress made in reducing rough sleeping in London since the start of the pandemic.

“Boroughs need urgent clarity on the Government’s planned next steps for funding and other support measures. We hope ministers will continue to work with councils on this crucial agenda, because together we can achieve our shared ambitions on tackling homelessness,” he said.

A Government spokeswoman said: “Any suggestion we are rowing back on our commitment to support rough sleepers is untrue and we are clear that councils must continue to provide safe accommodation.

“Our new rough sleeping taskforce will ensure as many people as possible who have been brought in off the streets in this pandemic do not return. We have accelerated plans for new services – backed by £433 million – which will ensure 6,000 new housing units will be put into the system, with 3,300 available in the next 12 months.”

The Government has also introduced measures to stop people getting into financial hardship or rent arrears, including strengthening the welfare system, she added.

Picture: A homeless person lies on the pavement during rush hour on the Strand in Westminster, London on 26th March 2020, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Victoria Jones/PA).

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OTHER NEWS

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