The Government has been urged by a cross-party group of politicians to help councils give more support to homeless people.
The report, from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Select Committee, claims that a rise in homelessness is being driven by the cost and availability of affordable housing.
The group includes Kevin Hollinrake, the Chairman of estate agent Hunters and MP for Thirsk and Malton.
In the hard-hitting report, the MPs call for a renewed Government-wide strategy to better deal with homeless people across the country.
The Select Committee’s inquiry found that council staff treat many homeless people shamefully. Those considered not in priority of need are often sent away without any meaningful support or guidance, it says.
The committee is sponsoring a new Private Members’ Bill – the Homelessness Reduction Bill – to be presented next month by one of its members, Bob Blackman.
It is virtually unheard of for a select committee to sponsor a bill on the back of an inquiry.
The DCLG Select Committee is calling on the Government to monitor councils and reinforce the statutory code of practice, to ensure the levels of service that local authorities must provide are clear.
It also recommends that the Government should consider setting a statutory duty for local authorities to offer meaningful support to single homeless people, after the inquiry found that many receive little more than a list of local letting agents.
The report highlights that a shortage of social housing means that many people rely on the private rental sector to avoid or escape homelessness, but often, the financial barriers or instability of tenancies are too great for them.
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The Select Committee is also calling on the Government to work with local authorities to deliver homes at affordable rents, adding that local housing benefit rates should be reviewed to more closely reflect market rents.
The Chair of the DCLG Select Committee, Clive Betts MP, insists: “No one should be homeless in Britain today, but the reality is that more and more people find themselves on the streets, in night shelters or going from sofa to sofa to keep a roof over their heads.
“They are often driven there by the availability and cost of housing, and have been failed by front-line support services along the way.
“The scale of homelessness is now such that a renewed Government strategy is a must. It needs to not only help those who are homeless, but also prevent those vulnerable families and individuals who are at risk of becoming homeless from joining them.”
He explains the strategy: “All departments will need to subscribe to this common approach and contribute to ending homelessness.
“Local authorities also have a big part to play. The committee recognises that they face a significant task with funding pressures and legal obligations, but vulnerable people are too often badly treated, being made to feel like they are at fault, and offered ineffectual and meaningless advice.
“We want the Government to monitor local authorities and help them achieve best practice. The committee has made a number of recommendations and we plan to follow up many of these issues in a year’s time to see what progress is being made.”
The prevalence of mental health problems among homeless people, in particular those that sleep rough, is also highlighted in the report, with ministers urged to produce a detailed action plan.
The report also suggests that housing benefit recipients should have the option to have their benefit paid directly to their landlord, to reduce the likelihood of rent arrears and increase landlord confidence.
It adds that landlords should be encouraged to offer longer tenancy agreements to avoid instability for renters.
Charity body Homeless Link has welcomed the report and urged the Government to act without delay.
The Chief Executive, Rick Henderson, insists: “The report must not be allowed to gather dust; the clock is ticking for many people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness.”
Official statistics show that the single biggest cause of homelessness is the ending of a tenancy in the private rental sector.
Landlords, what can you do to help protect those at risk of homelessness?