England: Welfare policy undermines efforts of councils and housing associations to tackle homelessness

Terrie Alafat
Terrie Alafat

The vast majority of councils and housing associations in England believe government welfare policy is hitting their efforts to tackle homelessness, according to new research.

The research by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and the University of Sheffield, launched today, reveals 84% of the 106 councils and 70% of the 50 housing associations (which run 39% of the total housing association stock in England) surveyed, think welfare policies like the lower benefit cap are impacting negatively on their work together to tackle homelessness.

Meanwhile nearly half of the housing associations surveyed during the research, conducted as part of the Crook Public Service Fellowship, said households being unable to pay their rent due to limited welfare assistance was one of the main reasons they had to refuse a nomination.

Terrie Alafat, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “This research shows that welfare policy is seriously undermining the work that councils and housing associations can do to reduce homelessness.

“The government has stated its commitment to tackle homelessness and the Homelessness Reduction Act, which comes into effect next year, represents significant progress. But it is also clear that welfare policy is directly undermining that effort.

“Policies like the lower benefit cap are leaving people with significant gaps between the help they get with housing costs and their rent and this research highlights the direct impact that is having on the work councils and housing associations are trying to do together to help those most in need.

“We know from experience that tackling homelessness is possible but it requires a commitment from all government departments. If the government is serious about tackling our homelessness crisis it must urgently consider how it can create a policy framework which supports, and not undermines, what councils and housing associations can achieve together to tackle this huge problem.”

Professor David Robinson, from the University of Sheffield, who worked on the project, said: “The introduction of the Homeless Reduction Act has been widely welcomed. The act gives councils important new responsibilities and powers. However, councils cannot tackle homelessness on their own - they need help. Evidence that the vital role that housing associations traditionally play helping councils to reduce homelessness is being undermined is therefore deeply concerning. These findings underline why we urgently need a coordinated effort to tackle homelessness.”

The Chartered Institute of Housing and the University of Sheffield worked together on the research project which circulated a survey to all 353 local authorities and 449 housing associations across the UK to explore the challenges they face working together to tackle homelessness.

A total of 106 councils and 50 housing associations – the latter of which run 39% of the total housing association stock in England, responded to the survey in which 71% of housing associations and 72% of local authorities also said changes to funding levels were undermining the contribution they could make to tackling homelessness.

When asked the most common reasons for housing associations rejecting nominations of homeless households, 49% of housing associations and 61% of local authorities said limited entitlement to welfare assistance, meaning someone would be unable to afford their home, was the most common reason.

The project is supported by the Crook Public Service Fellowships at the University of Sheffield and the Economic and Social Research Council Impact Accelerator fund (ESRC IAA).

Professor Craig Watkins, vice president and head of the faculty of social sciences at the University of Sheffield, said: “The Crook Public Service Fellowships at the University of Sheffield are providing future leaders in the public and third sectors with unique opportunities to join our social sciences academics, to engage in new and innovative thinking, which can help improve their sector, and potentially wider society. We are really proud to host the scheme and to be seeing the findings of the research projects come to fruition.”

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