Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that significant success has been achieved on key Government homelessness targets. There have been large falls in the numbers of people sleeping rough and families with children living in Bed & Breakfast accommodation as an emergency response to homelessness. But more work remains to be done, as reflected the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s recent 5-Year Plan, to address the number of households seeking help and the rising numbers placed in temporary accommodation. In order to reverse this trend, more effective ways are needed to deal with the wider causes of homelessness and to prevent it wherever possible.
Rough sleeping, use of Bed & Breakfast hotels to accommodate families and, more recently, new cases of homelessness have been falling. But there are currently around 100,000 households who have been placed in temporary accommodation by local authorities under the homelessness legislation, although over 80 per cent of these are in self-contained homes.
Since March 2002, when a formal target was set, the number of families with children in Bed & Breakfast accommodation has fallen by 80 per cent, and the number residing for more than six weeks has fallen by 96 per cent. It is now enshrined in legislation that families with children should only be in Bed & Breakfast accommodation as an emergency measure, and even then for no longer than six weeks. Such accommodation is an expensive option, and many local authorities have saved money by switching to other forms of temporary accommodation. The Homelessness and Housing Support Directorate should help local authorities build on this experience so that, where appropriate, other homeless people can be moved out of Bed & Breakfast accommodation. This should be accompanied by guidance to address the variable quality of temporary accommodation.
The recorded number of rough sleepers has fallen by over 70 per cent since 1998. The target was exceeded in 2002, and reductions have been sustained in subsequent years. Having a target clearly helped to stimulate new local approaches to the problem and vulnerable adults are now better identified and supported by homelessness services. But there needs to be better information about “move on” arrangements for ex-rough sleepers.
The requirement for local authorities to have a homelessness strategy has raised the priority given to homelessness services. It has also improved the liaison between local authorities, the voluntary and community sector, and other agencies. But the Directorate needs to do more to identify the cost benefits of successful initiatives and spread good practice.
Bringing together a number of units into a single Directorate dealing with homelessness issues has led to a more coordinated approach to the problem, and the Directorate is sponsoring a number of promising initiatives in collaboration with other government departments. There is still a need for more hard data to inform the development of policy, particularly on programmes to prevent homelessness.