Although it was too early to draw firm conclusions from homelessness statistics published today, the minister stressed that housing returns would be kept under close review and further steps to strengthen safeguards for homeless people would be considered.
The minister was commenting on the publication of Statutory Homelessness Statistics*, covering the first six months of this year.
These are the first homelessness statistics published since the general election and they indicate a drop of ten per cent in the number of households accepted as homeless under new rules which came into effect in January, compared with the same period last year.
'Tackling homelessness and improving the supply and quality of social housing are key elements of the government's agenda for tackling discrimination and disadvantage.
'We are providing£174m this financial year, and£610m next year, in extra resources under the Capital Receipts Initiative, to renovate and provide more social housing.
'As soon as possible after taking office we restored the link between homelessness and the allocation of long term social housing. The new regulations we introduced this summer add homeless households to the list of persons who must be given reasonable preference when social housing is allocated. These come into effect on 1 November,
so that local authorities will then be able to give homeless households the priority for housing they deserve.
'We have also taken steps to ensure that, before local authorities can discharge their homelessness duty by assisting a household to obtain private accommodation for themselves, authorities must be satisfied that the accommodation will be available to the household for at least two years.
'We have pledged to place a new homelessness duty on local authorities and we will do so as soon as parliamentary time allows.
'Today, the first homelessness statistics under this government have been published. They cover the first few months of the changes to the homelessness provisions introduced by the previous administration. They indicate that fewer households were accepted as 'statutorily homeless' during the first half of 1997 compared with the corresponding period in 1996.
'It is too early to come to any meaningful conclusions about these early statistics, or about the effect of the changes to the legislation introduced by the previous administration. A drop in the homelessness figures is always welcome. But there were ten per cent fewer decisions and acceptances, and we are concerned that this may be in part due to changes in legislation introduced by the previous administration, deterring people in genuine need from looking for
help from local authorities.
'When the Housing Act was debated we said that it would weaken the safety net then available to households who are homeless through no fault of their own, and who are vulnerable. This is a vital issue. We will continue to monitor the homelessness statistics closely and will consider any other steps which might help strengthen safeguards for homeless people.'
1. Definition of statutory homelessness
Under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 (introduced by the last administration) local housing authorities must provide assistance or
accommodation for people who are eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and who fall within a priority need group.
The priority need group includes households which include dependent children or a pregnant woman and people who are vulnerable in some way eg because of mental illness or physical disability. Where a main duty is owed the authority must either provide sufficient assistance to enable the household to obtain suitable private accommodation in the district or, if this is not available, the authority must secure accommodation for the household for at least two years.
2. Legislative changes introduced by this government From 1 September, SI 1997 No 1741 will require that before a local authority can discharge a main homeless duty by assisting a household to obtain accommodation itself in the private sector, the authority must be satisfied that the accommodation will be available for at least two years. From 1 November, new regulations (SI 1997 No 1902, made under Part VI of the 1996 Act) will require local housing authorities to add people owed a main homelessness duty as a new category of people to whom reasonable preference must be given in the allocation of social tenancies though the housing register.
3. * Information Bulletin No 413/ENV, published today, sets out Statistics of Local Authority Activities under the Homelessness Legislation in England during the first and second quarters of 1997.
4. The minister's comments are extracts from a speech delivered on her behalf to the Chartered Institute of Housing today. Full copies of the speech are available from LGCnet on 0171 833 7324/5.