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MPs take evidence on homelessness bill as minister hints at funding

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Lack of resources, not legislation, is the main factor inhibiting the effective prevention of homelessness, housing officers have told the Commons communities and local government select committee.

Giving evidence on the Homelessness Reduction Bill, a private member’s bill tabled by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, representatives from Camden LBC, South Cambridgeshire DC and Brighton & Hove and Liverpool city councils, stressed lack of cash was the main barrier they faced in helping residents keep a roof over their head. 

Brighton and Hove’s housing options manager, Justine Harris, said: “The current stumbling block to reducing homelessness isn’t in the legislation necessarily, but in the resources”

Frank Hont (Lab), Liverpool’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We’ve got a knowledgeable team, a resilient team. Our main worry is any additional pressures on our resources.”

Mr Blackman’s bill seeks to increase the responsibilities of local authorities to intervene early when dealing with those facing the threat of homelessness, in part through giving councils a duty to help if a resident is at risk of homelessness within 56 days, rather than 28 days as at present.

Earlier in the session, housing charity Shelter’s Head of Policy Kate Webb said she believed the extended time period would help instigate a necessary “cultural shift” in the way councils respond to homelessness.

Monday’s evidence session came after housing minister Gavin Barwell declared homelessness in the UK a “moral shame” and hinted that the government had a responsibility to resource any impending changes to the duties of councils to those facing homelessness.

Speaking at an event in his Croydon constituency on Saturday, Mr Barwell said of the bill: “At Westminster we will be looking at, in a few weeks’ time, some proposed changes to the law in relation to the duties that are put on councils and the responsibilities of government to deal with those problems, and we will be talking about it at that level,” adding that, “absolutely there is a responsibility on government in terms of resourcing this important work.”

The bill is set for its second parliamentary reading on 28th October.

The government has been contemplating its own homelessness legislation. LGC reported in April how local government minister Marcus Jones said the government was “looking very carefully” at introducing legislation which would place a statutory prevention duty on councils in England but a bill was not included in either the Budget or the Queen’s Speech. In June he said more analysis was needed before the government would legislate. 

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