A “lack of support and leadership shown by government” is putting at risk councils’ abilities to properly undertake new legal duties to tackle homelessness, local government minister Marcus Jones has been warned.
“Urgent concerns” have been expressed in a letter to the minister by London Councils executive member for housing Sir Steve Bullock (Lab) who said the government had not yet told local authorities how much they will receive to implement new burdens resulting from the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
Guidance outlining exactly what councils are expected to do under the act, which comes into force in April 2018, has not yet been issued either.
With just seven months to go, councils have not been able to recruit additional staff as they are not clear about what exactly is required, said Sir Steve.
The act extends help with homelessness prevention services beyond the most vulnerable people and provides a duty to help people from 56 days before they would become homeless.
The government initially offered councils a share of £48m but that pot was increased to £61m in a bid to help councils provide interim accommodation for households awaiting a decision on their status. LGC reported earlier this year how councils are far from convinced the amount of money being offered by the Department for Communities & Local Government will be enough. London Councils have warned that the capital, in which 70% of homeless households are based, would need £77m a year extra.
Mr Jones said in January allocations would “reflect differing need in different authorities” and added that a small transitional fund could be available in high-pressure areas.
In his letter Sir Steve warned it would be “an outrage” if the reforms “failed to reduce homelessness due to a lack of proper planning and unrealistic funding arrangements from government”.
Sir Steve, who is also elected mayor of Lewisham LBC, said: “The lack of support and leadership shown by government as we move ever closer to implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act is already hitting London boroughs and other local authorities hard and could mean that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to help thousands of vulnerable homeless families is missed.”
He warned it “may already be too late” to make some of the changes required to successfully start reducing homelessness from 1 April next year.
Sir Steve called on the government to issue its guidance and detailed funding allocations “as a matter of urgency, or consider delaying the [act’s] implementation until September 2018”.
He also asked the government to ensure there is enough funding for all councils to deliver the services required under the act. Sir Steve suggested removing the cap on the local housing allowance as “it is increasingly insufficient to meet the cost of renting in London even at the lowest end of the market” and “has itself been a significant driver of homelessness”.
LGC has contacted DCLG for comment.