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Select Committee Evidence – PlaceShapers response

PlaceShapers is the national network of community-based social landlords formed in 2008. Currently comprising 119 members of varying types and sizes, between us we own or manage nearly 900,000 homes, with over 70,000 more in the pipeline to 2022.

We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to this enquiry. Our members are key partners for local authorities across the country in providing housing for homeless households and rough sleepers. We offer a broad range of support, including tenancy sustainment. Many are involved in delivering Housing First services across the country.

How effective has the support provided by MHCLG and other Government departments in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on those in the private rented sector, rough sleepers, and the homeless?

Our evidence only relates to rough sleepers and homeless people. The Everyone In initiative sparked a huge collective effort across the sector to find accommodation and immediate support for people sleeping rough and those threatened with homelessness. Our members’ staff were proud to be part of this.

We are now beginning to look to the future and how we can make long-term housing offers to the people who were housed. Our members want to work collaboratively with central and local government and charities to play our part in ensuring the progress made as a result of this unprecedented initiative is not lost.

Many members are questioning if local connection and usual CBL policies are still to be followed during this time. It would appear that MHCLG guidance, published 27th April supports making changes during these ‘exceptional times’:

“It is a matter for local authorities to determine whether to make any exceptions to normal qualification criteria to help safeguard those most at risk during this time and offer tenancies they feel are most appropriate.”

Further support from MHCLG where necessary to enable us to work constructively with local authorities to offer void properties to highest risk groups, including rough sleepers, would be very welcome 

Further, we recommend that any temporary change to allocations policies should open up further discussions about choice-based lettings policies in future. Choice based lettings is not working well in lots of areas for applicants, local authorities or social landlords and this is a real opportunity to review how needs are assessed and priority awarded. We need to look at more effective systems that enable sequences of moves to support several households meet their housing needs for example transfers as well as homeless nominations. 

What problems remain a current and immediate concern for these groups?

For many there is huge uncertainty about when they will be asked to leave their current accommodation.  We recognise that there is no fixed ‘end date’ for lockdown. But individual hotels are unwilling or unable to negotiate with housing associations and local authorities in different areas about how long rough sleepers can stay in their hotels. Government centrally needs to negotiate with big hotel chains like Travelodge to put together a realistic timetable for people being moved out. This way, housing providers and local authorities can plan together for when and how to move people into alternative accommodation. This process must be staggered so that local authorities are able to manage the volume of moves and ensure appropriate support is in place for people with complex needs.

Another concern is the breakdown of many of the placements that were made. The Guardian has reported that 20% of those rehoused in Manchester are homeless once again, and our members are reporting similar figures in other parts of the country. South Yorkshire Housing Association in Sheffield found that many people rehoused have been targeted and “cuckooed” – typically by drug dealers and criminal groups. This underlines why people must be offered not just accommodation but the type of intensive support provided by the Housing First approach.

What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts for these groups, and what action is needed to help with these?

It is estimated that the Government is currently offering direct support to 5,400 people, some of whom have struggled to engage with support for years. When the lockdown is lifted permanent homes and tailored ongoing support will be vital if they are to sustain their tenancy. Providing this will be a huge challenge, but we have a huge opportunity to meet the Government’s manifesto commitment of ending rough sleeping during this time.

PlaceShapers members want to play a key role in meeting this challenge.

Our members will work to offer vacant properties to rough sleepers and others in the highest priority need. As already noted, this may mean a suspension of choice-based lettings policies for a period of time as lockdown eases. Greater Manchester housing providers have committed to letting all void properties for six months to rough sleepers and victims of domestic violence. Similar commitments will be required in other areas, especially cities with high numbers of rough sleepers.

We recognise that this will result in other households having to wait longer for social housing. To help us house the homeless people currently in hotels or other temporary accommodation we recommend that the Government offers additional funding to social landlords so we can acquire additional properties.

These homes can be: unsold shared ownership homes owned by housing associations, shared ownership homes under construction and about to be handed over to housing associations, unsold market sale properties owned by housing associations and properties purchased on the open market including new unsold homes purchased from housebuilders.

In addition to funding to acquire properties, we need funding to meet the support costs for this group. 

Many PlaceShaper members already provide services preventing homelessness as well as supporting new tenancies and coordinating between specialist services to support people going forward. We can easily scale these up.

In some areas, we have found that local authorities were unable to take up our initial offer of accommodation due to the tenancy sustainment costs. Rough sleepers were instead housed in hotels. Our members can provide initial support to people they offer tenancies to but require revenue funding guarantees so that this work can continue.

Crisis estimate the cost of support for the estimated 5400 rough sleepers will be around £63,000,000 for 12 months.

We recognise this is a substantial sum. We must recognise the high support needs and associated costs, including a multiplicity of substance misuse problems many rough sleepers face.

We must recognise too that the direct investment now will bring longer term savings to the public purse as well the positive economic and social impact this initiative will bring.

We also need to work together across government, housing providers and the voluntary sector to ensure that any homes offered are furnished. Rough sleepers and hidden homeless won’t have anything when they move into vacant homes and we need funding for white goods and furniture. A public appeal to support this could be considered alongside government funding.


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