The Homelessness Reduction Act is due to come into force in just over six months – yet there are major doubts among council chief executives and senior officers that the legislation will have the desired impact.
Councils are still waiting to be told how much of a share of the £61m funding pot made available to fund new duties they will receive, while the Department for Communities & Local Government has not yet issued guidance outlining exactly what councils are expected to do under the act, which comes into force in April 2018.
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LGC reported this month that London Councils executive member for housing Sir Steve Bullock (Lab) wrote to local government minister Marcus Jones warning a “lack of support and leadership shown by government” is putting at risk councils’ abilities to properly undertake new legal duties to tackle homelessness.
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In LGC’s latest Confidence Survey of 251 council chief executives, service directors and senior managers, 58% predicted the act would not achieve its aims given the amount of funding being made available for the new duties they will have to undertake.
One officer said their council had modelled the act’s impact on their area and concluded the funding being made available was only a tenth of what was required.
“The additional burden is not being adequately funded,” they said. “We will raise expectations of those presenting as homeless and increase the levels of dissatisfaction with council services.”
A handful of respondents bemoaned the “extra red tape” and added bureaucracy the act would place on councils while one officer who works for a local authority which owns and manages its own homes said “we do not possess the stock to be able to achieve” the aims set out in the legislation.
There is also a feeling among officers that the government would be better off making changes to welfare reforms and giving councils greater freedoms to build more social housing. “Without that people will continue to become homeless or lose homes,” said one.
”The Homelessness Reduction Act has been woefully underfunded, the preparation has been amateurish and the engagement with local government inadequate”
Another officer summed it up by saying the act was “yet another vignette of how not to develop policy” and added “the inevitable balls-up will be yet another opportunity for the feckless DCLG to attempt another cack-handed attempt at blame-shifting. Depressing.”
Communities secretary Sajid Javid has made tackling the housing crisis his number one priority.
Councils receive, on average, about 486,500 planning applications each year but 79% of respondents said not enough homes were being built in their area, with many highlighting particular concerns in relation to affordable housing. The most commonly picked barrier to building was private developers’ deficiencies (58%), followed by a lack of available land (40%).
Despite that, there was only limited support for building on the green belt from those who have it in their areas – fewer than half were in favour (47%) while more than a third (36%) opposed such an approach.
One officer said: “There is plenty of available land, but not land which I agree should be developed on… There is a lack of housing, especially affordable, but other services are also suffering, such as transport, health and education.”
LGC Survey: Officers warn of homelessness act 'balls-up'