Committee scrutinises Homelessness Reduction Bill

Wednesday 19 October 2016

The Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17 has been scrutinised by the Communities and Local Government Committee ahead of it's second hearing at the House of Commons.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17 is a Private Member's Bill aimed at tackling the injustice of homelessness. The Bill was sponsored by Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East and looks to implement some of the recommendations made by the Committee in it's original report on homelessness, published in August 2016.

The Bill will amend sections of the Housing Act 1996 to make new provisions for reducing homelessness.

In their report published on 14 October, the Communities and Local Government Committee said they support the Bill's requirement for the Government to provide a mandatory code of practice for councils and for local housing authorities (LHA) to carry out assessments of all homelessness applications they receive.

They were also widely supportive of most other measures in the Bill and they praised its ambition, but also made several recommendations for amendments. 

Here are just some of the points raised by the committee in their recommendations:

Definition of 'threatened homelessness'
Section 175 (4) of the Housing Act 1996 says: A person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that he will become homeless within 28 days.

The Bill makes provision for this to be increased from 28 days to 56 days, which was endorsed by the committee saying: "We believe that the longer period will enable more effective work to prevent instances of homelessness from occurring."

Domestic Abuse
Clause 2(4) of the Bill makes provisions for ensuring local housing authorities implement their service to meet the needs of particularly vulnerable groups such as people with learning disabilities or young people leaving care. 

The Committee would like to see victims of domestic abuse added to the list saying:  

"We recommend that those who have experienced, or are at continued risk of, domestic violence and abuse should be included in Clause 2(4), to reflect their complex needs and increased vulnerability."

Cost shouldn't be the only factor
"The provisions of the Bill will undoubtedly make a significant call on the resources of local authorities: however we believe that it is not acceptable to refuse support to vulnerable people on cost grounds alone. The Department for Communities and Local Government should ensure that the costs of new burdens on local authorities are fully taken into account in future funding and in arrangements for the 100% retention of business rates by local authorities."

The duty of the local authority
184C(5) of the Homeslessness Reduction Bill provides that 'where the local housing authority is satisfied that the applicant has a priority need, the circumstances in which the duty at section 184C(2) comes to an end are: 

Where the authority is satisfied (whether as a result of the steps it has taken or not) that suitable accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant for a period of at least 12 months;

The Committee have asked for this time to be reduced, commenting: "We acknowledge and welcome the intention of the 12 month requirement and the increased stability that it would provide. However we are not convinced that it will be workable. We therefore recommend that section 184C(5) and 184C(7) be amended to require councils to help secure accommodation for a period to be set out in secondary legislation. We would expect this initially to be six months, but believe that it is important to have the flexibility to extend the period if the market changes."

56 days of emergency accommodation
There is a requirement in the Bill to provide 56 days emergency accommodation for those with nowhere to stay. The Committee called for the duty to be revised to restrict the duty to those whose safety is at risk to reduce the burden on councils. 

Removal of Clause 12 - local connection
The Bill makes provision for an amendment to Section 199 (Local connection) of the Housing Act 1996. The Committee do not support these amendments as saying "We do not believe that there is a consensus for changes to the local connection rules. We therefore recommend that the Clause be removed from the Bill."

The committee also called for a revision to the definition of non-cooperation, making it clearer and more compassionate to the needs to homeless people with complex needs.

>> READ THE COMMITTEE'S FULL REPORT <<

The Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17 is due to have it's second reading in the House of Commons on 28 October.