The Department for Communities & Local Government’s “light touch approach” to tackling rising homelessness “cannot be considered value for money”, according to the National Audit Office.
The impact of welfare reforms on homelessness have not been evaluated in any detail, said the NAO while it added the government has also failed to make sure the money given to councils has been used effectively to address homelessness.
There were 77,240 households in temporary accommodation in England in March 2017 - an increase of 60% since March 2011. Of the £1bn spent on homelessness each year, £845m goes on finding households temporary accommodation - £638m of that is funded through housing benefit.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “It is difficult to understand why the [DCLG] persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money.”
While DCLG does not have a published cross-government strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness, it plans to improve the data it holds on homelessness. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is also due to come into force next April, although LGC reported this week how councils in London feel a “lack of support and leadership shown by government” is putting at risk their ability to properly undertake the new duties in the act.
Martin Tett (Con), the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, said rising homelessness was “a huge challenge for councils” as temporary accommodation costs have “tripled in the last three years”.
He said: “Councils are working hard to tackle homelessness and are focusing on preventing it happening. We now need the government to support this local effort by allowing councils to invest in building genuinely affordable homes and providing the support and resources they need to help prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.”
Meg Hillier (Lab), chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said it was “a national scandal” that homelessness is increasing each year and added the government’s approach “clearly isn’t working”. She added: “Its plans for the future merely seem to shift more responsibility and cost to local authorities at a time when they are already stretched.”
A DCLG spokesman said “tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution” but added the government will be investing £550m to 2020 to address the issue.
The spokesman defended welfare reforms saying they “restore fairness to the system with a strong safety net in place to support the most vulnerable”, including £24bn in housing benefit.
He added: “There’s more to do to make sure people always have a roof over their head and ministers will set out further plans shortly, including delivering on our commitment to eliminate rough sleeping entirely.”