My Lords, it is a great honour for me to pilot this ground-breaking Private Member’s Bill through your Lordships’ House. I declare my interests as on the register, including as chair of the council of the Property Ombudsman for the private sector, as a past president and vice-president of the Local Government Association, as a member of the Crisis external advisory board and from nearly 50 years of working with housing charities and housing associations.
The Bill, which has been guided so expertly through the other place by its sponsor, Bob Blackman MP, is indeed ground-breaking because of the fundamental change it brings to the way that homelessness is tackled in this country, but also because it has followed a unique route through Parliament. The story began two years ago with a report from an inquiry initiated by the well-respected housing charity Crisis, chaired by the leading academic in this field, Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick. This report showed that very many of those becoming homeless were not receiving the help they needed and that some people were being treated very badly.
The Select Committee for Communities and Local Government in the other place, chaired by Clive Betts MP, took up the story and made proposals for action to stem the rising tide of homelessness. By great good fortune Bob Blackman, who as a London MP has a keen interest in this issue, secured second place in the ballot for a Private Member’s Bill and, working with Crisis, choose the homelessness theme. Most unusually, under Clive Betts’s leadership the CLG Select Committee then undertook full pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill. Important changes to the original version were agreed on a cross-party basis. Next came the all-important decision of the Government to back the Bill in principle. All this was just the start because an extensive and robust Committee stage followed the lengthy debate at Second Reading, with its 39 Speeches. With its seven sittings and 15 hours of discussion, the Bill Committee agreed amendments which returned for a five-hour Report, with a further 21 amendments, and Third Reading with speeches by 20 honourable Members. I suspect that no Private Member’s Bill has ever had quite so much attention and scrutiny and, ultimately, so much cross-party support in the other place.
What was achieved was the reconciliation of the conflicting interests and concerns of all the key parties. The list of these different bodies is extensive. First, there were the charities representing the interests of the homeless people they serve: alongside Crisis, there was St Mungo’s, Shelter, Centrepoint, Homeless Link and others. Secondly, there were the vital local government interests, represented by the Local Government Association in particular. Local authorities will have responsibility for implementing the new legislation and, naturally, councils have been anxious about taking on new duties and the cost of paying for them. Thirdly, there were the interests of the organisations representing private landlords, since the private rented sector is now the source of homes for so many households, having doubled in size since 2000. Fourthly and finally, there were the interests of central government, which must find the funding for the extra burdens placed on local councils. Here the lead was taken by the DCLG Minister Marcus Jones, who has proved immensely skilful—not least, I feel sure, in difficult behind-the-scenes discussions with HM Treasury.
The end result of all the negotiations is a Bill which delicately balances the interests of these different parties. It has proved acceptable—this is pretty remarkable—to all the political parties, to central and local government, to the housing charities and to the landlords’ representative bodies. I congratulate Bob Blackman, Crisis and all involved in this mammoth effort. I believe that the Minister will shortly spell out the new measures in the Bill in more detail but perhaps I could briefly summarise what it aims to achieve.
Exactly 40 years on from the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, a landmark in itself, the Homelessness Reduction Bill seeks to build on that foundation. It reaches out to the homeless people who have not been helped by the earlier Act because they have not been deemed as in “priority need”, mostly because they are single or in childless couples with no specialist problems. For these people, a new duty on councils is introduced to provide them with the advice and support that can get them off the streets or prevent them ending up there in the first place. For those families and vulnerable people who are regarded as in priority need, for whom the 1977 Act has been invaluable in requiring councils to find them somewhere to live, the Bill now goes further: it ensures the process of assisting them starts earlier, two months before they seem quite likely to become homeless, most often because they have been given notice to quit by their landlord. Again, the aim is to prevent homelessness rather than to pick up the pieces too late in the day.
In so far as prevention succeeds, the Bill will bring down the cost of homelessness in terms of human misery, as well as in hard cash. Costs follow directly from a priority household having to be found temporary accommodation and indirectly from a non-priority household being forced to sleep rough with all the attendant health and social costs that brings. These measures bolster the Government’s important homelessness prevention programme, for which extra funds have recently been found.
Some exemplary local authorities are already engaged in strenuous efforts to help potentially homeless households. I recently saw the work being done by the London Borough of Lambeth against almost insuperable odds. Lambeth has a big team dealing sensitively with heart-breaking cases, as I know from sitting in on interviews there. The caseworkers will refer those who are non-priority cases to specialist support services; they will mediate with landlords, maybe helping tenants with a deposit or organising discretionary housing payments to top up inadequate rental entitlements; sometimes they will even pay off some rent arears; and always they will treat people in trouble with respect.
Sadly we know there are also councils that seem to do as little as possible to assist people before a real crisis strikes. Bad practice too often takes the form of telling those tenants who have been served notice that they cannot be helped until that notice has expired, until court action against them has been taken, or even, in the worst cases, until the bailiffs are at the door. A family that has been forcibly evicted will find it virtually impossible ever to secure a new tenancy elsewhere. The trauma and disruption will stay with them, particularly for children, for years to come, and then follow the cost and distress of temporary accommodation, perhaps in an awful, unsafe bed-and-breakfast hotel.
Sometimes, moreover, it has seemed that certain local authorities have used the excuse that someone has failed to co-operate, even if they have only failed to attend an interview, maybe for very good reason, to refuse them any further help. For some councils, a whole cultural shift is needed to go from finding reasons for doing nothing to making efforts to help people pre-empt, prevent and avoid homelessness, with proper assessment of their requirements and a formal plan for their future. The Bill includes a provision for new codes of practice, which would be the subject of extensive consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, to up the game of everyone.
There is no denying that this Bill places extra burdens on local authorities. It will cost millions to implement even if, in the longer term, a reduction in homelessness leads to savings. I congratulate the Minister, Marcus Jones, on securing £61 million, which represents the Government’s estimate of costs over the next two years, but many in local government, while not wanting to avoid the new duties the legislation will bring, believe actual costs will be a lot more. Pressure from the Local Government Association and the Opposition Benches in the other place has led to the Government agreeing to a full-scale review before the initial two-year funding runs out. This is a very important commitment by the Minister. With councils suffering badly from inadequate resources, particularly for social care, it is extremely important that this funding is at the right level. If costs turn out to be more than the Government anticipate, I would certainly expect additional resources to be forthcoming, since that is the commitment which this Bill implies, but I realise the Treasury will make no promises for a period more than three years from today.
It is not for me to try to unpack or disturb the agreed content of the Bill after all that has gone before, but this is an opportunity to air some wider thoughts about homelessness in the UK, about the context for this new legislation and about the issues yet to be resolved alongside the implementation of the Bill. This brings me to two wider policy points, and I feel sure other noble Lords will add their broader comments on issues of homelessness.
It is obvious that problems of homelessness will continue so long as there are not enough homes to go round. Addressing the chronic housing shortages with which we are now all so familiar is clearly a prerequisite. I commend the Government’s determination to get far more homes built, and I think the housing White Paper takes us in the right direction, not least in its central recognition that new homes to rent are needed as well as new homes to buy.
Increasing supply to match demand is a five to 10-year project that calls for all hands on deck, no longer relying on a handful of big housebuilders but backing councils, housing associations and build-to-rent developers as well as smaller building firms, retirement housing providers, self-build, custom housebuilding and new garden villages and garden towns. We cannot conquer homelessness or even reverse its alarming growth while, year after year, we have more new households formed than new homes built. The Bill can give councils new responsibilities to guide, advise, help and support but, if there are not the homes available, we will still see families moved to other areas, people sleeping in doorways on our high streets and people impoverished by their housing costs. It will take every new measure in the housing White Paper and more to tackle this underlying, abject deficiency in this country’s housing system.
If my broader comment is one of encouragement for the direction being taken by the Department for Communities and Local Government, I am afraid that is not the case for the actions of the other key government department, the Department for Work and Pensions. In its understandable but unrealistic efforts to cut the cost of housing benefit, the DWP is busy undermining the efforts of the DCLG and local authorities and, indeed, of this new Bill.
Our Shelter briefing on this Bill says that:
“Housing Benefit is one of the best tools to improve affordability and prevent homelessness by allowing those on low incomes to house themselves without having to turn to their local authority”.
Cuts to housing support accelerate and exaggerate current homelessness problems because they block off opportunities for accommodation in the private rented sector. I must leave on one side the DWP’s unfortunate plans to limit rents charged for specialist supported and sheltered housing where, in theory, DWP funds via local authorities will top up local housing allowance payments. That issue is a big worry in the homelessness sector, but I have a bigger concern about rent ceilings, benefit caps and freezes on the local housing allowance. These cuts mean fewer and fewer landlords will take in anyone who relies on government help with housing. Increasingly, there is a widening shortfall between the rents which landlords can obtain from those not reliant on any housing benefit and the rents which housing benefit will cover. Shelter figures show that, by 2020, the local housing allowance will not cover rents for even the cheapest properties in over 80% of local authority areas.
These real-term rent reductions come on top of the hazards for landlords from the difficulties poorer households face in finding deposits and rent in advance, as well as the DWP’s insistence on paying housing support to the tenant not the landlord. The result is not simply that, in seeking to prevent homelessness, councils and charities will find fewer and fewer landlords willing to accept the people they want to assist; the bigger problem is that, gradually, more and more existing tenants will find their landlords ending their current shorthold tenancies because reduced housing benefit support means those tenants can afford a rent only well below that available on the open market. As Shelter says:
“By far the largest cause of homelessness is people being unable to find somewhere else to live when their private tenancy ends”—
out goes the mother with two children; in goes the two-earner couple or even the three students. It seems quite likely that over the next couple of years, we could see a large proportion of the 800,000 or so households who are currently in the private rented sector and receiving housing help from the DWP being asked to leave. This will create a crisis indeed. I simply ask DWP Ministers to recognise that they cannot buck the market: if the least affluent are to be housed in the private rented sector—as they must be, because there is a woeful lack of available council and housing association accommodation—then the DWP must return to paying the same rent as the landlord can get from other tenants. The freeze on local housing allowances must go.
The Bill is not going to end homelessness. That will require, first, massive efforts to ease housing shortages—on which an important start is being made, I hope—and secondly, a better understanding by the Department for Work and Pensions that it is creating the problem, not the solution to homelessness. Nevertheless the Bill can, and I believe will, reduce homelessness, reduce the numbers suffering the horrors of living on our streets and reduce the far greater numbers of people who, in the absence of relatively inexpensive guidance and concrete support, are forced into hidden homelessness—sofa-surfing or living in ghastly conditions. Although this occasion brings the opportunity for us to put our wider concerns about the housing scene firmly on the record, I hope very much the Bill receives strong support from your Lordships. I warmly congratulate Bob Blackman and all those who have brought this ground-breaking Bill before us. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interest as the chair of the organisation Housing Justice and thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his sponsorship of this Bill in your Lordships’ House. I also add my thanks to Bob Blackman, the Member for Harrow East, for his initiative in bringing forward the Bill in the other place. Before turning to the specifics of the Bill, I will echo the final points made by the noble Lord about the connection between the wider issues of housing supply and housing finance and the sharper end of homelessness which we see on our streets and in other manifestations. It would be such a tragedy if some of those wider matters were not tackled and frustrated the good intentions of this Bill.
I particularly welcome in the Bill the extension and redefinition of the duties laid on local authorities around prevention, relief and referral. These new duties should significantly extend the reach of support, care and help for those who are homeless, not least those such as the single homeless, already referred to, who hitherto have tended to fall through every net that there is to fall through.
I also welcome the Government’s commitment of £61 million of funding. Clearly, where local authorities and other public bodies are being given new duties to undertake, they need to have the resources to do so. But there is the question of the unknown demand for advice, advocacy and support services which may result from the Bill—hence the commitment by the Government to a review after two years, which is very welcome. Slightly pre-empting that review, I will dare to express the hope that the Government might do something which we might not always associate with a Government of any hue, which is to be generous and, when the time comes, to make sure that in future spending rounds—to pick up another point that has already been made—all local authorities are resourced in such a way that they can operate at the level of the best, and thereby ensure that we are working together to tackle these issues.
Legislation provides frameworks, and the Bill will greatly improve the framework around which we deal with matters of homelessness. Local authorities and other public bodies have duties and, as we have already heard, new duties will be given as a result of this legislation if the Bill is passed. The reality on the ground is that much of the provision often comes from voluntary and community organisations of one kind or another, ranging from the big national organisations, some of which have already been referred to, to little local initiatives in particular communities. That will continue to be the case: indeed, that provision may even need to increase as new possibilities come forward through the Bill.
I know my right reverend friend the Bishop of Southwark will refer to some specific projects and initiatives in places which illustrate this, and the importance of partnership between statutory agencies and voluntary and community organisations in helping to end homelessness, and I suspect that other noble Lords will, too. Had I been minded to bring forward an amendment—I assure the noble Lord that I will not be doing so, because that would risk frustrating the passage of the Bill—it might have been around a clearer duty on local authorities to work in partnership with voluntary and community organisations. In the best places, that works really well—but that is not universal, and we need again to encourage all to aspire to what is done by the best. It is often the voluntary sector bodies that are providing those services, sometimes referred to as non-commissioned services, which are vital if we are going to achieve our intentions of reducing homelessness and even—it would be wonderful—ending it.
The organisation I referred to which I chair, Housing Justice, is a coalition body for a range of Christian and church-related organisations working in the homelessness and housing sector. Following a symposium at the end of last year which we convened across the road in Millbank, we published a statement in January, on the occasion of Homeless Sunday, which affirmed the commitment of the Christian homelessness sector to work with energy, enthusiasm and everything that we can bring to end homelessness in our country. We believe that the sector has resources to offer, not least in the form of people of good will who bring time, commitment and energy. We know that if the contribution of church-related organisations was taken out of the homelessness sector, we would all notice it. So we reaffirm our offer to be a resource and the offer of our experience, energy and commitment to work with central and local government to seek solutions to homelessness wherever it is found.
Alongside the affirmation of the offer, we also in that statement encourage both central and local government, at the different levels, to produce comprehensive and long-term strategies to end homelessness. It seems to me that the Bill provides a good framework within which that might happen. I encourage those statutory bodies to actively seek out partners in their particular area with which they might develop such strategies in order to give effect to what the Bill seeks to bring about.
I assure the Minister of the commitment of the sector that in a sense I represent, and of the willingness of the Christian homelessness sector to be part of the solution to these issues. I also affirm my continued support for the Bill as it passes through this House, and I very much hope to see it enacted. I therefore welcome it. I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his sponsorship of the Bill, and trust that it will have a smooth passage through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, like my colleagues on these Benches, I wholeheartedly support the Bill and congratulate Bob Blackman and the noble Lord, Lord Best, on their work on it. I congratulate the Government on their support and the DCLG Select Committee, chaired by Clive Betts, on its pre-legislative scrutiny. It is rare in this place that we view something that has been through a proper process of due diligence in the Commons. Today we have been served not the usual dog’s breakfast from the other place but a hale and hearty dinner, lunch and high tea, with a cheeky cocktail thrown in, too. It deserves a fair wind, full support and a speedy process in this place.
The new duty to assist those threatened with homelessness within 56 days and the prevention measures that are included are a historic step forward for those of us who have campaigned in this area for too many years to mention. At a time of so much division, that this issue crosses party divides and has consensus is further evidence that Jo Cox was right when she said that,
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/15; col. 675.]
The people who will be served by the Bill need our consensus and united purpose now more than ever.
Part of that achievement is the work of Crisis, its independent expert panel and the backing of Centrepoint, DePaul, Homeless Link, Housing Justice and St. Mungo’s. It was on a visit to St. Mungo’s in Shepherd’s Bush that I met a couple in their mid-20s who had been rough sleeping. They were far from the borough they started out in and therefore had little chance of help in a place that did not want to take on the burden of their problem. I am delighted that the Bill, particularly Clause 2 with its duty to provide advisory services, will start to tackle those kinds of issues.
I am sure that most noble Lords would agree that it is crucial to know who is homeless in order to identify how best to help them, which is why I am so concerned about the continuing failure of DCLG to be robust in its analysis of levels of homelessness. Last August the DCLG Select Committee published a report on homelessness and expressed serious concerns about data collection and robust information. It sought reassurances from Marcus Jones, the Minister for Local Government, that data would be robust by the end of the year, as he had received, frankly, a bit of a ticking-off from the UK Statistics Authority a year earlier. He was unable to give that commitment.
At the end of last year I was so concerned about the use of DCLG statistics regarding homelessness that I made a complaint to the Statistics Authority, which published its result this week upholding my complaint, which is available on their website. What transpired from its inquiries as a result of my complaint was that statements were being published, without proper clearance in DCLG, making the claim that homelessness was currently less than half its 2003 peak. Those statements were made without placing them in any context. I praise the Minister for using much more cautious language in this place than any of his colleagues have.
The reason why I believe this is important is that, first and foremost, data should be robust. When Howard Sinclair from St Mungo’s and the DCLG Select Committee ask us to consider the strong recommendation that CHAIN, the multiagency database, should be used across the country rather than the current methodology of a snapshot survey, we should listen.
Secondly, the highly political use of the reference to the 2003 peak suggests a level of complacency on the part of this Government—complacency that is not borne out by their backing of this Bill—about how many people are sleeping rough. Frankly, you would struggle to walk through the streets just outside this building currently and make that argument. The CHAIN database records information about rough sleepers and the wider street population of London. The DCLG’s figures on rough sleeping are based on rough-sleeping counts and estimates carried out on one night in October and November each year. At the time when the estimates were introduced it was progress, but technology and recording have moved on. CHAIN is a continuing record, with different categories of all contact by outreach teams, every day of the year.
In the Select Committee report, the CHAIN projection between April 2015 and March 2016 was that there were 8,096 people seen sleeping rough in London compared with the 940 reported in the DCLG’s equivalent figure. I say to the civil servants behind the Minister and back in the department that I hope my complaint to the UK Statistics Authority will result in greater power for you to put your foot down when the numbers cannot be defended. When Ministers make decisions about funding and support for the Bill to the total of £61 million, I worry about which estimates they are using. I worry that DCLG is underestimating the problem, and I can see no evidence to argue against that. When London Councils argues that the £61 million will not go very far and Lewisham estimates that the additional burdens will cost it £2.4 million, I sincerely hope that we are listening.
Shelter says that the Bill must be implemented but cannot be seen in isolation from the necessary resources to back it up, which includes help for private tenants—tenants who according to the new White Paper the Government will champion. So in tandem with this Bill I ask the Government to look again at local housing allowance rates, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, described, to ensure that they reflect actual housing costs, and use that as a powerful tool to prevent homelessness alongside the Bill.
I am also delighted with the recently announced intention to ban tenants’ fees from lettings agents. I believe that will alleviate an up-front burden for many on the cliff edge of homelessness in the private rented sector. I particularly welcome the commitment by the Government to review the implementation of this legislation and its resourcing two years after commencement of the main clauses.
This is all about the future so I thought I would share with the House a letter written by a schoolgirl from St Patrick’s primary school in Sheffield, asking us to give our wholehearted support to the Bill. She says:
“I am writing to you because of the appauling amount of innocent people living on the dusty streets!”.
So she sees the problem just as we do. Her name is Minar Khan. She expresses a very nice vision of the future, as does the Bill.
I have expressed concerns about the robustness of the data in particular, and I would like to hear the Minister’s response to that. However, I conclude by saying I have no hesitation in expressing our full support for the Bill going through unamended. I congratulate all who have been involved in campaigning for it and I hope that we can get on with it as soon as possible.
My Lords, this is a very welcome Bill. It gives me great pleasure to support it, and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Best on introducing it so ably to your Lordships’ House.
Some nine years ago I was at a small seminar at Lancaster House, chaired by the then British Foreign Secretary and the American Secretary of State, in preparation for a joint visit that they were about to make to Afghanistan. I was asked on that occasion to introduce and lead a discussion on the aspirations of Afghan civilians. Of course I had to start by saying it was not for me to speak for Afghans; I did not live in their country, I was not of their religion and I came from a very different cultural background. However, I continued, many years of experience in diverse parts of the world had persuaded me that the desire for certain basic needs was common to the great majority around the globe, whatever their location, history or circumstances. First, they wished to be secure in their persons and their property. They wanted assurance that their lives, their well-being and the possessions they had accumulated, no matter how meagre they might be, would not be ripped from them by predators. But second only to this, and pertinent to our debate today, they wanted to be able to provide a roof for their heads, a fire for the hearth and food for the table—a roof for their heads, my Lords.
In that meeting, we were discussing the pressing needs of the people who were part of a society that was in many ways still medieval and was riven by decades of war. It was perhaps unsurprising that home and hearth were such fragile aspirations for them. How much more embarrassing, then, that here in the UK, in the 21st century, we have so many citizens who face a similar plight?
No human society can ever be perfect, and I doubt whether we will ever reach the stage when we have totally eliminated poverty and homelessness, but it is surely our duty to maintain the struggle, to continue to reach for perfection, even if we know it will continue to elude us. The Bill does exactly that. It will not eliminate homelessness, as is apparent from its very title, the Homelessness Reduction Bill. It will advance the struggle, it will make practical changes that will have a real impact on this terrible problem. It will, crucially, put prevention at the forefront of our efforts to tackle the issue—and who can doubt that pre-emption is so much to be preferred over treatment? But where pre-emption fails and people are left homeless, the Bill extends the duty of care beyond the narrowly defined group that is perceived to be hardest hit and brings so many more within the ambit of local authority assistance.
These are important improvements to the current position and seem to me more than ample reason to support the Bill, but I have a narrower, more personal motive for speaking on its behalf. The homeless in our nation are not, as some might imagine, simply people from the fringes of society who contribute little, who are somehow inadequate and whom we should help just out of some sense of condescending charity. They have fallen on hard times for all sorts of reasons and they come from diverse situations and backgrounds. Among them, I regret to say, are veterans of the UK Armed Forces. I am encouraged to see that the number of these ex-military homeless has fallen in recent years, not least because the Ministry of Defence and the service charities have put a great deal of effort into addressing their plight, which in itself goes to show that more effective action can yield results, but they nevertheless exist. They are not, in the main, homeless because of their experiences in the military. A small number suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and many more suffer from wider mental health problems, but the factors that have driven them to their current situation are, by and large, the same as those that affect the wider population. In that sense, they are no different from their fellow sufferers.
How ought we as a society to respond to such a situation? How ought we to feel when some of those who have served their country, often in the most difficult and dangerous conditions, are being allowed to languish on our streets without a roof to their heads? Ought we not to say to ourselves, “We cannot allow this to continue—not just common humanity but our own sense of obligation commands us to act”? Of course we should. I therefore welcome the Bill’s specific acknowledgement of this particular group.
I do not mean by this to suggest that the homeless who have no military background are somehow less deserving. They all have their stories, they all suffer, they all deserve our help. My point is that the presence of veterans among their number demonstrates clearly that this is not a problem afflicting others, it is a problem afflicting all of us. It adds yet more weight to the urgency of the challenge and the need to address it with ever more vigour. The Bill is a valuable and very welcome step forward in that regard, and it has my full support.
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in this matter. I chair an organisation called Changing Lives, which is active in this area of work and based in the north-east of England, although we work way beyond the north-east. I am also involved with Lloyds Bank Foundation. We fund a number of small charities which work with the homeless.
I am delighted to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, Bob Blackman, and those charities, particularly Crisis and St Mungo’s, who have been driving the changes in the Bill. I am also delighted to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. When I was responsible for tackling rough sleepers between 1997 and 2001, far too many were ex-service people. It was clear that that was not something that the Armed Forces had been thinking about before discharge, particularly for squaddies who had struggled a bit before they got into the Armed Forces and might find life difficult once they left. We had a particular programme for that. The Ministry of Defence Minister with responsibility for veterans used to come to all our planning meetings on tackling rough sleeping, and the head of the Rough Sleepers Unit, as it then was, went especially to Catterick to work with the Army on how it could use preventive methods before a problem arose. I know that, since then, lots more work has been done. I was always grateful that we could engage actively with the Ministry of Defence to consider those issues.
The Bill is very important. It will put on the statute book measures to help to tackle homelessness. Prevention and advice for all, including the single homeless, is very important; the Bill provides new support to those who are not entitled to assistance under current legislation, particularly the single homeless, which is the area in which I have the most knowledge and experience. Inevitably, services have grown up to tackle single homelessness but, too often, they pick people up when they are already sleeping rough and facing a whole range of problems.
The new prevention duty in the Bill, which extends to 56 days the period for someone being threatened with homelessness, is also very sensible. It will give local authorities time to plan and work with landlords and others to try to ensure that eviction does not take place, as well as introduce measures to deal with the family or individual if it comes to pass. The new duty on other public bodies that encounter those threatened with homelessness or who are homeless to refer them to local authority homeless teams is also important. When I was Minister for social exclusion in 2007-08, we mapped those individuals with multiple needs in one London borough and, unsurprisingly, found that they would turn up at a range of organisations from A&E to mental health services, from addiction services to the police, as well as the homeless services. Most of them were without long-term accommodation, but no service took overall responsibility. It was out of that scoping work that we developed the programme that we called ACE—government is really good at all these acronyms; it stood for adults with chronic exclusion, if I remember rightly—to find more effective ways to work with people in a more holistic way. That work has subsequently been taken up by the Big Lottery, which is funding about 12 programmes around the country called Fulfilling Lives that are about helping local services to address the needs of the most excluded in a more holistic way. The charity which I chair is running one of those programmes.
The Bill will not solve this, but it will at least mean that agencies talk to one another about accommodation needs. Most of us could give horrendous examples of people who are in need but are turned away because they have not turned up at the right service that day. We have to change the way in which services deal with someone who is homeless, addicted or whatever and treat them as a whole person, recognising that they have to bring together the services that they are going to need.
I welcome the Bill and will work for its speedy passage. But—there is bound to be a but—in terms of the scandalous rise in homelessness and rough sleeping in recent years I find it modest. Its provisions will be important, but much more needs to be done in a structural way. Homelessness has not risen because the Bill was not in place: it has done so because of decisions that have been taken, many of which the noble Lord, Lord Best, spoke about. These need to be addressed in order to ensure that homelessness really is a thing of the past. Are Ministers asking themselves about the effect on homelessness of the withdrawal from some local authorities of the fund for supported housing and supporting people who are vulnerable in housing? Three authorities in the north-east have now withdrawn the fund since the Government increased cuts to local authorities and stopped ring-fencing it. Our experience is that many people are now being pushed into the city areas because the services they had been used to in their own local authorities are simply not available any more. This rise in homelessness in the cities is putting real pressure on them.
Are Ministers asking themselves what effect the changes in local housing allowance will have on the availability of rented accommodation to those who are struggling? Not all of them will be seen as vulnerable, but many will be struggling because rent levels are becoming so high and landlords will pull out of offering housing to those who depend on public support. Why are so many housing associations pulling out of supported accommodation and asking the voluntary sector to take over those responsibilities? I am a bit scared by the number of housing associations that are coming to the charity I chair saying: “We are going to pull out of this because we cannot afford to do it. Will you take it on”? The Government tell me that I have to be absolutely sure that the board which I lead appreciates the challenges of funding and does not undertake things if it does not know it will be able to fund them, so I am a bit anxious. We spent some time last Friday looking at this. Our chief executive is always enthusiastic and optimistic, which is great, but we had to say to him that there has to be very good due diligence. If the housing association is saying it cannot afford to do it, will we be able to?
We also know that the market will not step into much of this work. When the funding was earmarked in George Osborne’s last Budget, all the money allocated to voluntary, not-for-profit organisations for bringing empty homes back into use was put for developers to use. Surprise, surprise, the programme virtually stopped. It was suspended by the Homes and Communities Agency in terms of giving grants to not-for-profit organisations, in the hope that developers would take this on. However, this was not their priority or what they wanted to do, so the HCA has now reinserted and ring-fenced some money and reopened that programme. However, this has slowed down my organisation’s work of recovering and bringing back into use empty homes, which our service users help to refurbish and then move into. That affects our business model, but we will try to get into it again. We have been developing this area of housing partly because we know that enabling the single homeless—even those with multiple needs—to go straight into independent tenancies works, if they are properly supported. That is another reason why I am asking the Government to keep an eye on what is happening to the supported housing fund. If that is withdrawn, people who are put into independent tenancies will struggle.
It is also because local authorities are saying to us that they are finding it more and more difficult to meet the cost of hostel provision. They are sort of giving us warning that this area may have to go, in the cuts that they see coming down the road. My own local authority has just announced another £65 million of cuts for this year. They know that more will come next year. With an ageing population in the county of Durham, more and more money has to go to social care. This is not part of that priority, so hostels will begin to be more difficult to fund effectively. That is why we need more independent housing for the most vulnerable, but that is also becoming hugely challenging. I know that the Government have been exploring social investment bonds to deal with some of this, but I urge caution. Experience of these bonds has so far led all the charities that I am talking to to approach them with caution because they are proving exceptionally difficult to develop. Even though the strength of the SIB is that it will be there for six or eight years, it is challenging for charities, particularly smaller ones, to get involved in this.
In this period of local government cuts, the extra money is welcome, but is it going to be enough? I support others who are saying that the two-year review of the Bill will be very important. I hope that in that time the Government will look honestly at what it costs to prevent someone becoming homeless and really keep an eye on it so that it is kept at a level that ensures local authorities can develop. I hope this is not just a move to put all the blame on to local authorities. I am sure that it is not; I am not that cynical. However, we have to demonstrate that that is the case.
The Bill is welcome and, as I say, I enthusiastically support it. However, it will not be sufficient to end homelessness. I have raised some issues. Other Members have raised and will raise others. I hope that the Government recognise that there is very wide support across this House to tackle homelessness and, indeed, to end it. I believe that we can virtually end homelessness. From my period in government, I know what needs to be done about rough sleeping and what you can do to bring the number down to many fewer people than is the case at present. Many people in this House have experience of both historic developments and current activity. If the Government are wise, they will harness that experience—dare I say expertise, or are we still saying that we do not need expertise? I hope not. I hope that the Government will harness the expertise and the experience in this House to tackle homelessness in that more holistic way which is essential if we want to get anywhere near ending it.
My Lords, in common with the sentiments already expressed, I strongly support this Bill with its emphasis on the reduction of homelessness. Like others, I am heartened by the cross-party work that has been done, not least by the Government, to bring this important legislation to this point. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, on his sponsorship of the Bill and, in another place, Mr Bob Blackman, the Member for Harrow East. I trust that we will expedite matters at all stages of the Bill and fully endorse what was said by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester.
Under no circumstances is homelessness an easy or positive expression of living. There is also the twin malady in a country where housing provision, especially in the capital, is often at ruinous expense. Homelessness is always born of crisis and once embarked upon rapidly erodes physical and mental well-being. I particularly welcome, therefore, the expansion in the Bill of the rights of single homeless people, to which the previous speaker alluded. Too often people go to their councils for help, are turned away because they are not considered to be in “priority need”, and end up sleeping rough. It is a dreadful scenario to which the appropriate solution must be remedial action: relevant services, including housing provision; and a relational response, which often comes from voluntary and community organisations.
Across my own diocese, a number of projects respond magnificently to the need. In Greenwich, operating out of 10 church venues an ecumenical endeavour runs a night shelter every night of the winter, staffed by 120 volunteers. Meanwhile, 28 churches in the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, through a project called Robes, have welcomed 70 guests for the night each winter, with the help of over 400 volunteers. I declare my interest as a patron. I myself participate in the annual sponsored sleep-out in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral to raise money for this project. Last year it raised over £100,000, which has funded the project and provided for a full-time support worker. In Wandsworth, churches do similar work with a charity called Glass Door. Again in my diocese, the ecumenical Croydon Churches Floating Shelter was set up in 2004, a partnership of 22 churches offering overnight hospitality to guests, from November to March each year. Your Lordships will be familiar with the inspirational work of Street Pastors, also an ecumenical endeavour, which brings a non-judgmental encounter and help throughout the night to the streets of our cities and plays a significant part in reducing crime.
Only last Sunday on my visit to the Church of St Peter Norbiton, I was able to see for myself the offices of Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness, and in particular the Joel Community, operating in what was until recently the church hall, offering shelter, food and friendship and accommodating over 70 people a year experiencing homelessness. The aim is a fully tailored service for each person. A repeat factor in the story of many of those experiencing homelessness is isolation, which is in itself soul destroying. In response, the Joel Community seeks to provide a focus of welcome and hospitality within a community setting. This, in common with all the examples I have cited, but in a still more focused manner, is a relational approach seeking to bring people through the crisis of homelessness to a better place. It can be life-saving. Thus, this Bill, if implemented effectively, should ensure that more individuals will at last receive meaningful assistance to prevent or relieve homelessness.
One group of individuals whom I hope are already covered by the existing definitions of priority need are military veterans. I support the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on this matter. The Armed Forces covenant, to which the Church of England nationally is a signatory, signals important considerations in this area. Veterans, for whatever reason, still form a disproportionately high element among the single homeless. I pay tribute to Veterans Aid and its work housing such veterans in New Belvedere House, a stone’s throw from my old rectory in the parish of St Dunstan’s, Stepney, in the Diocese of London, where I served in the 1990s, and to Alabare, founded by the Reverend John Proctor, a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clifton, which also works among homeless veterans and others.
Changes in legislation will not be enough on their own. Legislation will avail us little if suitable accommodation is not available in areas where there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing. On the structural level, like the noble Lord, Lord Best, I pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government for making available £61 million of additional money to local authorities for the years 2017-18 and 2019-20 to meet the costs arising from the Bill. However, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, said about the London Borough of Lewisham, your Lordships may wish to know that London borough councils alone estimate that their additional burdens under the Bill will be £77 million in the first year. It is important that new demands be properly funded. None the less, I remain of the conviction that our endeavours in this critical area will fail without the necessary relational approach.
I have a further concern as regards regulations due to be laid by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which restrict entitlement to the housing costs element of universal credit for some 18 to 21 year-olds. For many young people the financial support provided through the benefit system to cover their rent is all that stands between them and homelessness. I hope we may hear about this during our deliberations. I trust we agree that the Bill be read a second time, and that it may proceed without amendment.
My Lords, I support this important Private Member’s Bill. I place on the record a declaration of interest, in that I have a number of properties in the private sector. I start by congratulating my honourable friend Bob Blackman MP for bringing forward this very important legislation. I am delighted to see Bob here today. He has been present from the start of the debate.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for continuing to aid the Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House, and for his excellent speech outlining the steps leading to the Bill and the scrutiny it has already received.
Last but not least, I also congratulate the Government on fully supporting the Bill and on the extra £61 million funding they will make available. I also thank the charities such as Crisis, St Mungo’s, Centrepoint and Shelter, which do such invaluable work to support the homeless and the most disadvantaged in our society. I was also delighted when the Evening Standard’s Young & Homeless Appeal smashed through the £3 million barrier a few weeks ago. That money will enable the creation of Centrepoint’s Young and Homeless Helpline. As an ex-trustee of the NSPCC, I know how important a helpline can be—a lifeline.
Through my work in the NHS and the charitable and legal sectors, I have seen the devastating effects on people and families who become homeless. They are individuals fleeing domestic violence or abuse, those with mental health problems, and people who have difficulty just keeping their heads above water. Food, shelter and warmth are all basic rights of humanity, yet so many people have difficulty in fully accessing these necessities—not in some war-torn country but here in the UK. This is unacceptable, particularly when employment is at a record high and we are the fifth richest country in the world. It is to our huge discredit that there should be even one person sleeping rough, in the bitter cold, exposed and vulnerable to the many dangers on the streets of our country. Of course, homelessness is a very complex issue, and there is no single silver bullet to remove homelessness overnight. However, the fact remains that rough sleeping has doubled since 2010, and more will need to be done to tackle it.
In autumn 2016 there were an estimated 4,134 rough sleepers in England—the highest figure since 2010 and an increase on the previous year—of which 23% were identified in Greater London. Sadly, an increasing number of women are sleeping rough. Interviews with homeless women conducted by Crisis showed that over 20% become homeless to escape violence from someone they know, with the majority—70%—fleeing violence from a partner. Homeless women are also more likely than men to have greater levels of mental illness as a result of physical and sexual abuse. Statistics show that in 2015, 112,330 people made a homeless application, with 54,430 accepted as homeless and in need of assistance. But these figures are likely to be significantly higher, as has already been stated, as many people are in overcrowded accommodation or sofa-surfing. I am therefore pleased that the Government have announced a package of measures costing £40 million to tackle rough sleeping.
It is right that the Bill seeks to change the culture in local authorities and the point at which they provide housing support to vulnerable people. Currently, many local authorities act only when someone is literally on the streets or indeed sleeping rough—when an individual is in crisis. But crisis management cannot be the answer any more. It is failing too many individuals and causes huge distress and despair to those in need. Crisis management can also come at a huge cost to the public purse if individuals or families must be placed in expensive temporary accommodation in an emergency. The ONS report of 30 September 2016 stated that a total of 74,630 households were in temporary accommodation.
The Bill, along with the promised extra government funding, will promote prevention and enable a change in the culture of many local authorities by enabling them to provide proactive support to people who find themselves in difficulties before they are in crisis and become homeless. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that everyone, irrespective of whether they have drug or alcohol addictions or other priority status, will be entitled to receive free information, advice and support 56 days prior to becoming homeless. Local authorities will have a duty to provide a focused personalised plan which will highlight steps to prevent the person becoming homeless. Clause 1 is important.
The Bill will also aid better co-ordination between key public services because there will be a duty on public bodies such as the NHS to ensure that anyone who is identified as homeless is reported to their respective local authority so that it can take the most appropriate action for the individual concerned. I also welcome that the Bill creates a power for the Secretary of State to introduce a statutory code of practice, which will provide further guidance on how local authorities should deliver their homelessness prevention duties, particularly as there are variations in the standards of service given by local authorities. Some are very good while others, sadly, are less so. However, it will be important for the Government to make sure that they put in place proper monitoring arrangements to ensure that this duty is being met. Perhaps the Minister will say how the Government will assess this duty to ensure that it is being met.
Another aspect of the Bill will enable local authorities to check private sector accommodation to ensure that it meets both safety and suitability criteria before it is let to individuals. This will help to remove and sometimes improve the appalling and dreadful conditions and unsuitable accommodation that some people are forced to live in. This is to be hugely welcomed. The Bill is a compassionate response to a growing problem. It is a good start. I of course recognise the priority of ensuring more affordable housing, particularly as rents are high and becoming increasingly out of reach for some of our most disadvantaged people. Indeed, for working people like teachers and nurses who live and work in places such as central London, it is becoming increasingly difficult to rent or afford to buy accommodation without sharing or receiving significant financial help to get on the property ladder. I therefore welcome the Government’s White Paper, which seeks to address these issues. While increasing the stock of affordable housing or inducing lower rents is welcome, it is not the purpose of the Bill, although it adds to the wider government strategy on housing.
As I and other noble Lords have said, the Bill is about moving from a crisis-management response to a focused preventive strategy by local authorities—a significant cultural driver for change. Although there were up-front costs, Wales has already instigated such a strategy, and some figures show that in some 65% of cases in Wales, homelessness has been successfully prevented when at-risk households have been helped by local authorities sooner.
I urge the House to support this Private Member’s Bill as drafted because, should noble Lords put down any amendments, it may fall due to lack of parliamentary time. As Crisis and other charities have stated, the Bill,
“could transform the help available to homeless people, and if passed could represent one of the most important developments for homelessness in nearly 40 years”.
I fully support it.
I am pleased to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill. In the 25 years that I have been involved with the Big Issue I have rarely seen the word reduction—or even prevention—used in relation to homelessness. Reduction and prevention are, of course, not the same. Prevention is a science that we have not yet arrived at. The elements that make up homelessness are not yet defined adequately and scientifically enough so that we can begin the process of dismantling it even before it manifests itself.
What is so interesting about Mr Blackman’s Bill and the work of my noble friend Lord Best is that at last we have before us a mechanism for embracing that beautiful word “prevention”. But we have to go even further and start preventing in the schoolroom and in the ghetto, and we have to prevent people being bullied and pushed out because they are gay, black or Gypsies, or because their mum and dad have problems with drink and drugs. I look forward to that process beginning not just in this House but in the other place. We have to fall in love completely with the idea of social transformation. I shall not talk too much because your Lordships are all incredibly eloquent and have all the facts and figures before you.
I am reminded of that wonderful song by Ian Dury, which I will not sing: “There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever”—I will say “Bar stewards” rather than the word he used. Listening to the right reverend Prelates, the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, and everyone else, it is clear that we are all able to intervene in the lives of the poor and come up with some very astute observations and methodologies, but prevention is where we need to start.
I started the Big Issue 25 years ago with a man called Gordon Roddick, who, as your Lordships know, started the Body Shop with his wife. The Big Issue was a business response to a social crisis. We wanted to prevent people continuously falling into trouble. We did not look at what the 501—there are now over 2,000—homelessness organisations in London were doing; we said that we were going to stop people falling back into crime again and again, as that just complicated the problems.
What is so beautiful about the Bill is that it will prevent quite a number of people ending up selling the Big Issue. I thank Mr Blackman and my noble friend Lord Best for that because we have too many people doing that. But the real politics will be preventing Johnny, who is now three years old, living a disfranchised life and becoming a Big Issue vendor or a drug user in 20 years’ time. That is the big issue—that is where we have to move on to—and I am glad that we have started the process of dealing with prevention, bringing it forward in this House and out into the world, so that we can make progress on it.
Noble Lords will forgive me for stopping for a drink of water—I was out with a number of homeless people last night and got to bed very late.
I have developed something called PECC, which I have mentioned before. It stands for prevention, emergency, coping and cure. When you look at the vast amount of money that we spend socially on emergency and coping and at the very small amount we spend on prevention or cure, you can see that we live in a topsy-turvy world. Mr Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill is a step in the direction of making “prevention, prevention, prevention” the best course that we can all follow. I am glad that he is following the work of the Big Issue. I am not saying that we are the great leaders—we are still learning—but now we really do need to move the argument on and become vitalised by the wonderful idea of stopping children becoming homeless 20 years after the seeds of discontent and problems enter their lives.
I declare an interest. I was homeless at the age of five because my mum and dad were enemies of the rent man when there was no Crisis, Shelter or SHAC, or all the other 501 or 2,000 organisations that there are now. We have to start defining the causes of homelessness. Some of it is self-perpetuating and some of it is to do with not being able to budget, but a lot of it is to do with the fact that the mechanisms that lead to you receiving a Section 21 notice can drive you into homelessness—an area where you need not be. That is the beauty and magnificence of this Bill. I am so pleased that we are debating it today and I am 150% behind it. God bless you all.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bird. He has the advantage over most of the rest of us in that he can say with authority and conviction that he has done something himself to ameliorate the situation. His experience is valuable to this House.
We encourage him to continue with his enthusiasm and flair in addressing this important problem.
I start by paying a special tribute to the sponsor of this Bill. Mr Blackman is a man whom I salute. I do so because I was the modest author of two small Private Members’ Bills and I piloted them through Parliament in anticipation of the Freedom of Information Act a long time ago, so I know how precarious these Bills are. The noble Lord, Lord Best, is absolutely correct to say that this is a signal parliamentary moment. I have never come across a Private Member’s Bill that comes armed with a money resolution and the prospect of money. In my experience, that is unique and it is not achieved easily. So I admire Mr Blackman’s professionalism and application. The noble Lord, Lord Best, gave him an appropriate tribute and I want to add to that, because it is very special for him to have achieved his Bill being debated this morning.
I want to go back to 1977. The noble Lord, Lord Best, was right to say that the last time we really addressed this issue was on a Private Member’s Bill in the hands of Mr Stephen Ross—a man of sacred memory and a valued former Liberal colleague. That was 40 years ago. He did not get the money and, apart from the glory of introducing a Private Member’s Bill, he did not get very much else. It was an important Bill. It did not quite have the advantages of prevention that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has so eloquently spoken about, and that is a significant difference. There is a real danger that this Bill will suffer the same fate as the one introduced by Stephen Ross—I hope not—but Mr Blackman must not give up with his application.
Prevention is very important. It has a much wider application across public services more generally and it can save money for the public purse. If it works—the next two or three years will be fundamental in establishing that—it should be a model, considered for application in other areas of public policy.
I want to say two things: one about context and one to reinforce what has already been said about the social security environment. To a large extent, the situation that we face has to be estimated using forecasts. I say up front that forecasts can be wrong and that things can change, but you do not have to be an economist to understand that the impact of inflation, lower exchange rates and things of that kind do not make things any easier.
Noble Lords will probably know that the bible for those who follow the arguments surrounding living standards is the Resolution Foundation’s Living Standards report, which comes out annually. It was produced earlier this month. The executive summary looked at the regressive nature of future income growth, which I agree is a real matter of concern. It would be out of order for me to go into living standards at any great length but let me, if I may, share with the House a quote from page 10 of the executive summary that caught my attention. In looking at differential growth across income distributions, the Resolution Foundation said:
“The result is that the parliament from 2015-16 to 2020-21 is on course to be the worst on record for income growth in the bottom half of the working age income distribution”.
It goes on to say that,
“we project the biggest rise in inequality since the 1980s, with inequality after housing costs reaching record highs by 2020-21”.
The context in which we are applying this Bill is not auspicious, and that has to be recognised and taken into account by the Government when they are coming to the costings.
I applaud my noble friend Lady Grender for her valuable work in straightening out the data. I never believed the figures, and the work she has done will bear fruit in the future. We should congratulate her on that.
It is not new, but noble Lords will not be surprised to hear me say that the £12 billion cut in social security that we will experience between now and 2020 will have a massive impact on the cohort of our population that might be subjected to the horrors of homelessness in the future. I want to mention five cuts, which are known to the House. The four-year freeze on most working-age benefit rates will save around £5.2 billion. That will have an impact on homelessness. The new two-child limit will save £1.1 billion. In big families, that will also have an impact on homelessness. Cuts to universal credit of £2.7 billion will have a direct impact on homelessness. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark mentioned the impact that universal credit can have, and there is the additional impact of the long waiting times before people can get the housing element of universal credit, which is currently causing such a problem. Cuts in employment and support allowance for the work-related activity group will save £0.4 billion. That will particularly affect those in our community who are disabled or incapacitated. Finally, the reduced household benefit cap will save £0.4 billion. These cuts are significant not just because of the money they will save but because of the impact they will have on the group of people we are discussing this morning.
I am also particularly worried about the tightening benefit cap, council tax increases and the effect of the local housing allowance. The noble Lord, Lord Best, is right: the private rented sector is a significant worry and we need to pay attention to it.
There will be regional variations in the application of this policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, was quite right to give us her experience of what is happening in Durham. Homelessness is not just a London problem. I know that the incidence is high in London, particularly around temporary accommodation. However, it affects the rest of the country, particularly low-income areas. In the future, local authorities will struggle to fund any sensible services.
I strongly support what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said about veterans. They are one of a number of specifically disadvantaged groups, and that includes those with mental illness more generally, which is a problem we are all struggling to face up to sensibly. I have mentioned families with a larger number of children, and some ethnic-minority communities have particular difficulties. Another group is young people in single households, whether they have had military experience or not. These are all particularly vulnerable cohorts of the population to which we should be giving time and special attention.
There are examples of good practice. Coming from where I do, the House might expect me to say, for example, that Scotland abolished the idea of priority housing need in 2012. A lot is going on also in Wales, where prevention ideas are being piloted in the new housing Act. I hope the Minister will accept the need to keep dialogue going across all the jurisdictions to make sure that best practice is shared and we all know what one another is doing. That ensures that there are no unintended consequences and is beneficial and positive.
As has been said, the long-term solution is obviously building better supply. It is astonishingly disappointing to me that we will be spending public money to the tune of £1 billion on discretionary housing payments. That is an enormous sum of money to shore up a system that is failing. The system is failing because there is no supply, particularly in relation to supported accommodation and social rented accommodation at affordable levels.
I have spent most of my public life looking at social security and social policy areas and there is one thing I am sure about. Low-income households are more robust and resilient than we imagine—the noble Lord, Lord Bird, is a good example of this perhaps. They can deal with a £5 cut here or there in innovative ways, but what they cannot do is survive homelessness—the family unit has nothing around which to build security and to develop. We all know that children learn to be poor and insecure by the time they are three—although the noble Lord, Lord Bird, survived until he was five. Addressing the needs of the homeless community is therefore a very serious issue. It is not only in their interests but in the national interest that we pass this Bill and get it on the statute book with all due speed.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register as a property owner and as a vice-chair of the Local Government Association. I thank Mr Blackman for enabling the Bill to come to the House and for seizing the opportunity available to him in the Commons. I also thank my noble friend Lord Best for introducing the Bill and taking it through this place. As a former director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and chair of a housing association, he obviously has so much experience in this area. His introduction today reminds me of how valuable this House is because of the depth of expertise of its Members in many areas.
I thank the Government for supporting the Bill today; in particular, for the £60 million in financial support and the review they have undertaken to carry out in the next two years to ensure that local authorities are not out of pocket as a result of the Bill. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for drawing attention to the fact that the Government are also funding to the tune of £40 million their work on rough sleepers. The noble Baroness gave a very vivid example of why this Bill is so important. One can become callous. One sees people on the streets, day after day and year after year, and can take it for granted. The noble Baroness highlighted the fact that we are the fifth-richest nation in the world, with one of the highest levels of employment, yet we cannot get this right. I found what she said very helpful.
In the referendum last year, I was disappointed by the decision that was taken. But one of the very positive things that came out of it is a growing recognition that large sections and areas of this nation have been left behind and forgotten. I am grateful to the Government for recognising this and for taking these steps to ensure that the forgotten—those who have been left behind—are properly taken into account and for introducing measures to ensure that their needs will be better met in future.
I am particularly grateful for the impact the Bill will have on young, disadvantaged people, who are perhaps managing without a family. Let me give the example of a young person I met in December of last year. The Drive Forward Foundation is a charity which works with care leavers to help them into professions. A number of its ambassadors came to Parliament to meet with me and to discuss their experiences. I was introduced to a young black woman in her early 20s, about five foot tall, who had a disability. She had secured an apprenticeship in a City firm, at great sacrifice to herself because of the complexities of how things work with housing benefit. For many care leavers there is a disincentive to enter work because, as long as one is on benefit, one is fine. However, as soon as one starts getting an income one’s housing benefit drops and one has to perhaps seek a new home—as she did—in order to be in employment. She just managed to meet her rent each week and was eking out a living in order to do this apprenticeship which was important to her.
She had to lie to her landlord because, as we have heard, more and more private landlords do not wish to accept people on housing benefit. She did not tell him that she was on housing benefit but he found out and decided that she must go. I had an e-mail about a week after we had met to say that this young woman was about to become homeless and asking if I could do anything to help. Thankfully, through her own resourcefulness, she found another room.
I was also told that, as she was a care leaver, her local authority owed her certain duties. Her local authority said, “Wait until the bailiffs arrive and then we will come and help”. Her situation highlights the importance of the early intervention that the Bill offers. The last thing this young woman needs is to have to worry about her accommodation. By enabling early intervention to help people through the transition, the Bill will be a great help to disadvantaged young women like her who are ambitious to make a good job of their lives.
I have another request for the Minister. It would also be helpful to young men and women in her position if the Government were to respond to the requests in the Crisis campaign to ensure that, first, there is a proper mortgage guarantee for people entering private landlord accommodation; and, secondly, that help-to-rent supports both the private tenant and the landlord to give them confidence that things will progress well. There should be a mortgage guarantee and support for the tenant and landlord so that it becomes more attractive for private landlords to take on tenants such as this young woman.
Perhaps the Minister will write to me outlining what progress has been made in responding to the Crisis campaign in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has raised this matter in the past and I would be grateful if the Minister would write to me about it.
In closing, I say that I am grateful to Mr Blackman and my noble friend for bringing the Bill to this House and for the Government’s response. Listening today to broadcasts about the recent by-elections, I heard one woman say, when asked about her vote yesterday, “I feel forgotten. I do not think it matters which way I vote”. Another resident of Stoke-on-Trent said, “For 40 years nothing has been done here. I feel that no party has taken any interest in my area”. So I am therefore grateful that the Government are taking steps such as these to reach out to people who may have been left behind in the past. I wish the Bill a speedy journey to the statute book. I certainly will not seek to make any amendments to it.
My Lords, like all other noble Lords, I strongly support the Bill. It is wonderful that Bob Blackman MP should have got it through with all the amendments in the Commons. It is hugely to his credit and that of the Government that that happened. We are fortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Best, opened the debate today with an excellent speech. We need to congratulate the Government, as others have done, on supporting the Bill—and not only supporting it but supporting it with finance, which is probably the first time that that has happened in many generations.
I will draw the attention of the House to two vulnerable groups of people about whom nothing has been said so far this morning. They urgently need priority housing. I declare my interests as vice-chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation and a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. The first group consists of overseas trafficked victims who come to this country and go through the national referral mechanism. They have 45 days-plus of accommodation organised by the Salvation Army. They are looked after during that period. If they do not have conclusive grounds, they are rejected and after two days—after 48 hours—they have to leave the secure accommodation. If they are found by the national referral mechanism to be conclusively victims of trafficking in this county, they have to leave after two weeks and absolutely nothing is done for them unless one or other of the charities comes in to help them.
They are to be contrasted with asylum seekers, who have a number of rights. Many of them are pushed into the asylum process, which does not offer the sort of help that they need and which they begin to get by going through the national referral mechanism. They have no status and no rights, and many of them go on the streets. That is why I am referring to them today.
On the streets they may well be re-trafficked, with the women, and some men, going into prostitution in order to survive. This is a scandal as a national referral mechanism set up by government has identified them as victims of trafficking and identified that they have been slaves. Then they go missing. Speaking as a former lawyer, I say that this is a side-effect of some importance, because it is more difficult for the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to prosecute successfully to conviction because the victims do not have accommodation and the police cannot find them. That is the first group.
The second group consists of the British victims of slavery and trafficking. I do not know how many noble Lords know—I only learned recently—that soup kitchens are good places for traffickers to target those whom they wish to make slaves. In Westminster there is a soup kitchen which, as the Shadow City report of 2013 pointed out, has traffickers targeting it two or three times every night.
In 2008, the Swedish police sent seven dossiers on British people who were slaves in different parts of Sweden. This was particularly taken up in the Connors case. The Connors were a number of English Gypsies in Bedfordshire who I am glad to say are now serving long sentences of imprisonment. They picked up a number of English men at soup kitchens and took them to the north of Sweden. We are a source country, not just a country of destination or transit, for some reason particularly for workers on construction sites in Sweden. It was only because one of a group of Swedish slaves in northern Sweden managed to get to Stockholm and report this to the Swedish police that the police travelled 500 miles north, banged on the door of the caravan where a number of these men were locked in, got the door open and said to them, “Do you realise that you are slaves?”—because they did not. The reason I know about this incident is that I had been working with Frank Field MP and the then MP Sir John Randall on an inquiry for the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, and one of the victims from Sweden came and gave evidence to us. It is interesting to note that we are also a source country. We have homeless English people on the streets who are being targeted and find themselves becoming victims both in this country and abroad.
Hugely to his credit, the very active Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, commissioned a report from an NGO, The Passage, which reported in January this year. It made a large number of important recommendations, one of which was about awareness. A great many social workers have absolutely no idea that the people they see on the streets can be the victims of trafficking and slavery. But the consensus of the report was how enormously important it is to provide support of all sorts, including housing of course, for the victims of trafficking who are found on our streets. So there is a clear need for priority housing and free advice for these two groups of very vulnerable people.
An example of what can go wrong is mothers with children who are moving from one form of temporary accommodation to another or are indeed homeless. I learned about one mother who had had to move house and so had two children in school in one London borough and one child in school in another borough. That is not a helpful situation for someone who is a trafficked victim from overseas.
The Bill should, could and, I hope, will do something about these two groups. I am acutely aware that the noble Lord, Lord Best, does not want any amendments, much though I would like to put down an amendment to deal specifically with the victims of trafficking and modern slavery. But perhaps I may refer to Clause 2(2), which states:
“The service must be designed to meet the needs of persons in the authority’s district including, in particular, the needs of … any other group that the authority identify as being at particular risk of homelessness in the authority’s district”.
I hope and expect that the two groups about which I have spoken will be seen as coming under that provision.
It is interesting to note that in November last year, before the Bill came to this House, Bristol City Council recognised that there was a local authority responsibility to provide welfare support for the victims of trafficking and modern slavery in order to avoid breaching Articles 3 and 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as, I am glad to say, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the EU directive on human trafficking. I hope that the relevant national and local authorities will listen and that the Bill will help those two groups.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and to pay tribute to her work to stop human trafficking. I am the 12th speaker in the debate and I am pleased to note that the first 11 have all been strongly supportive of the Bill. I should remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The debate has demonstrated the wide expertise and experience in this House, which has been brought to the fore in the detail on the clauses of the Bill. It is a vitally important Bill and I too pay tribute to Bob Blackman MP, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the Government for their support, to the charities and the voluntary sector, and all those who have undertaken such an enormous amount of work to make this Bill what it is. It has benefited from a lot of scrutiny before it reached your Lordships’ House. That has come through in terms of the clarity with which the policy changes are proposed. The Bill rightly identifies the importance of extending more help to homeless single people, and seeks to do something practical about the problems caused by Section 21 notices.
We have heard a great deal about the large number of voluntary organisations that assist to ameliorate homelessness and I was particularly pleased to hear the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who mentioned Street Pastors. In the early hours of a Saturday morning a few weeks ago I accompanied the Street Pastors in Newcastle upon Tyne in order to meet those who were sleeping rough. Two things struck me. The first was that the rate of rough sleeping in the city was clearly rising, and the second was that a number of those who were sleeping rough had recently been discharged from prison. We heard earlier about those who have left the Armed Forces, and it should not be the case that people are discharged from an institution and have nowhere to go.
We have seen the impact of this problem both in the numbers of those sleeping rough and in the Government’s own homelessness figures, which show that in December there were nearly 75,000 households in temporary accommodation, including 125,000 children who were homeless at Christmas. Three-quarters of the households in temporary accommodation are in London, but it is a general problem nevertheless. I am particularly pleased that the Government have recognised this, and I pay tribute to the work that Ministers have been doing. It is hugely helpful to have a sense of common purpose on an issue as important as this.
Much has been said in the course of the debate about why homelessness is rising. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope and most other speakers identified the consequences of the reform of welfare, some of which were forecast, I have to say. It is clear that the welfare reforms have had an impact. We have not been building enough homes for social rent in this country. I think that the housing White Paper may help in that regard and I am pleased that the Government seem to have altered course. It is pretty evident to me and to most noble Lords that it is vital to build more homes which people can rent at a social rent, because otherwise it is very difficult to see how homelessness will be reduced.
Falling security for private tenants has been a factor as well. I was particularly concerned to hear during the debate that this may get more difficult unless the supply of homes increases. Of course, we have had the impact on supported housing. We heard from a number of speakers that it has made it more difficult for a number of voluntary organisations and housing associations to manage supported housing. This is a question that successive Governments have not faced up to: a recent report by the Chartered Institute of Housing pointed out that the Government are investing some £45 billion in housing up to 2020-21, but only £2 billion, or 4% of that, is for housing below market rent. There is a very big strategic issue here for the Government to address: subsidy is going into owner-occupation, which is understandable in many ways, but I believe that the Government have got the balance wrong. We need to give extra support to social rented housing.
Quite a lot has been said about the costs of homelessness. The issue for local government around the initial costs of prevention is clear and evident and will become more evident over the two years of monitoring. Can local authorities manage to fulfil the terms of the Bill? I very much hope that they do and they all need to try. Evidence from Wales shows that the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 has led to a 69% reduction in the number of households owed the main homeless duty. If figures of that scale can be produced it indicates that if the public sector invests properly we will save money later. I commend what has happened in Wales and I hope that, with the huge financial burden which is about to occur in London, for example, which has some three-quarters of homelessness, the investment will enable savings to be generated further down the line.
Very close monitoring is important. Crisis’s research is impressive and indicates that public spending could fall by around £370 million in England if 40,000 people were prevented from homelessness for one year. These are very large sums of public spending. I mentioned the importance of close monitoring of what happens over the next two years. A number of noble Lords talked about this. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, reminded us, in her closely argued case on statistics, that we have to understand the numbers. They have to be right or it is very difficult to draw conclusions. I pay tribute to her work on letting agents’ fees: that is equally helpful in assisting those, particularly in the private sector, having to move very frequently who have been confronted by regular payment of letting agents’ fees.
The contributions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, stressed the importance of all councils engaging with the voluntary sector and brought together the issue of local working. It is vital that all public agencies work strongly together to deliver the solution that we all want. I have two or three very brief final comments. I was very struck when reading the Bill by the amount of written correspondence that there is going to be as local authorities are required to do more for individuals. That is essential. One consequence of that will be an increasing role for advocacy, and the voluntary sector may have a key role in helping. There will be a need for advocacy support in terms of personal planning, reading and writing letters for those who are disadvantaged. I very much hope that part of the monitoring will relate to how individuals are helped, because official procedures can be daunting.
The issue of co-ordination between the DWP and DCLG was mentioned several times. It is difficult when different Whitehall departments have different objectives. The noble Lord, Lord Best, reminded us that cuts to housing support can prevent the help that individuals need. I entirely support his call for the freeze on the local housing allowance to cease. I wish the Bill speedy progress through this House. It is not a solution on its own but it is part of the solution. I finish with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who said, “At last, there is a mechanism for embracing prevention”. I think those are probably the most important words we have heard in the last two hours, because the mechanism contained in the Bill will enable many other things to happen.
My Lords, I preface my remarks by referring noble Lords to my interests in the register: I declare that I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We support the Bill and wish it safe passage through your Lordships’ House. The Opposition Front Bench will not be tabling any amendments and I urge all other noble Lords not to do so.
I very much agree with the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and I associate myself with them. She made important remarks about the data used by DCLG, which I fully endorse. I will look more closely at figures we get from the department on different areas in the future. I pay particular tribute to Crisis, which is the national charity for single homeless people and has supported and championed this legislation. It has worked hard to get the Bill to this point and is to be congratulated that in its 50th year of campaigning for single homeless people it is on the verge of bringing about a major positive change in the law. It is a campaigning organisation that works all year round as well as providing services to homeless people at Christmas. I also pay tribute to Bob Blackman MP for steering the Bill so ably through the House of Commons.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark highlighted the fantastic work undertaken across the diocese of Southwark by volunteers and voluntary organisations who work to combat the nightmare of homelessness, the physical and mental harm and the constant presence of danger and risk of violence that living on the street brings. The Bill before us today, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Best, seeks to refocus the efforts of local authorities on the prevention of homelessness. It carries new duties for local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness and to take steps to secure accommodation for those who are homeless. I very much agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who spoke about the emphasis on prevention and the dramatic effect that can have.
Homelessness is something that no civilised society should have to put up with. It is very likely that noble Lords passed homeless people as they travelled to this noble House. They are outside every railway station in the vicinity: Charing Cross, Waterloo and Victoria. They are sleeping in Westminster tube station, near the entrance to the Palace. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, also referred to this. There are people sitting in doorways facing another cold night on the streets, and this has not been the coldest winter we have experienced in recent years. The situation is truly appalling. It is a national disgrace and a personal tragedy for the people who are homeless that we have arrived at this situation.
The situation has got worse since 2010 and the blame for that lies squarely at the Government’s door. According to the Office for National Statistics, local authorities accepted that 14,930 households had been statutorily homeless between 1 July and 3 September 2016. The ONS also reported that the total number of households in temporary accommodation as of 30 September 2016 was 74,630, a 55% increase from the figure of 48,010 on 31 December 2010—a record the Government should be truly ashamed of.
My noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top referred to the welcome measures in the Bill. The new duties in the Bill that will become the responsibility of local authorities include: an extended period in which an applicant is to be treated as homeless, increasing from 28 to 56 days; strengthened advice and information obligations on housing authorities to prevent homelessness; and a new duty to assess and agree a personalised plan, which will require a local authority to carry out an assessment of the applicant’s case. The prevention duty will require local authorities to ensure that suitable accommodation does not cease to be available to applicants who are threatened with homelessness. Further, the relief duty requires local authorities to help secure accommodation for all applicants who the authority is satisfied are homeless and eligible for assistance.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, made a powerful plea to help veterans who have found themselves homeless after service to their country in some of the most difficult and challenging circumstances imaginable. The specific provisions in the Bill are most welcome in that respect. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made telling points about the plight of care leavers and I agree wholeheartedly with his comments. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, told the House about the particular plight of people who have been trafficked and have no rights or status and often find themselves on the streets, as well as the risk of British people being taken into slavery after being targeted at soup kitchens. I was not aware that we had become a source of slaves for other countries. That is a truly shocking revelation.
There are problems with the Bill and, of course, they start with the funding. Originally, the funding announced was £48 million, which was allocated on the basis of £38 million in the next financial year and the remainder the following year, and from then on nothing at all—not a penny provided to local authorities. As a result of amendments passed in the Commons, a further £13 million has been allocated to cover the additional new duties. It is important to note that the new money goes with new responsibilities. There has been no increase in the original sum of money to fund the items in the Bill before it was amended. This sum of money is just not enough to fund the new duties that will be placed on local authorities. Local authorities need to be fully funded to provide what will be required of them. London Councils, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to, estimates that in the next financial year £77 million will be spent by local authorities in delivering this new duty in London alone. That is £16 million more in one year than the entire funding so far provided by the Government for England and Wales for two years. We risk a serious funding crisis.
I am aware of the commitments given in the other place by Marcus Jones MP that the legislation will be reviewed within two years. I welcome that and ask the Minister to repeat that assurance in the House today. But I go further and ask the Minister to tell us when the review will happen within the two years. What happens if after only a few months it becomes clear that the Government’s own figures—their allocation of resources—are woefully inadequate? What urgency are the Government going to place on this review to establish what the real costs are and what funding is really needed? These are serious matters, dealing with vulnerable people. Let us be clear: in itself, legislation will not significantly reduce homelessness if it is not properly funded. Without that being addressed, we run the risk of unlawful decisions; repeat homelessness, with damaging consequences for children and families; and a lack of meaningful outcomes for single people at the end of the process. That is good for no one.
The Bill and its possible effects must also be considered in a much broader picture. The fact is that budget reductions in a whole range of areas have an effect here and you cannot change the law in just one area and hope to solve the problem. Let us take local housing allowance as an example. If the freeze in local housing allowance continues until 2020, councils will struggle to pay rents for the cheapest properties in 80% of local authority areas. The noble Lord, Lord Best, set out the problems here and called for the Government to take action; otherwise, the problem will get worse. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester made important remarks concerning the housing supply and housing costs. I agree with him that this well-intentioned Bill must not be allowed to fail due to policy differences in other parts of government. A much wider effort is needed to tackle homelessness across a range of services, properly joined up to deliver the changes we all want to see. To date, we are not seeing that from the Government and that is what they need to focus on to tackle the horror of homelessness.
Looking at the Housing and Planning Act 2016—a truly awful piece of legislation from the Government—the forced sale of high-value council homes is only going to make trying to deal with homelessness more difficult. I support people wanting to own their own home but the ham-fisted measures in that Act are at odds with the aims of this Bill. Those include: the obsession with starter homes; the lack of support for local authorities to build more council homes; and the other obsession, the unaffordable “affordable rent model”, when we should be delivering more social housing. That is the key to a lot of our problems but the Government just do not want to go there. We need an increased supply of housing, especially social housing, with a long-term objective of reducing housing benefit expenditure. But the freezing of local housing allowance by the DWP risks undermining a policy and a measure put forward by the DCLG. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, made telling points about the growth of income inequality. He also referred to cuts to various benefits and the effect they have on homelessness. I agree wholeheartedly with his comments. This is not an example of good government or joined-up thinking. It is an example of a Government using money to alleviate the homelessness they have created.
Homelessness should be eradicated in one of the richest countries on the planet. It can be done and it should be done, but it will not be achieved by the passing of this Bill alone. It is a well-intentioned piece of legislation, which can make a real, positive contribution to ending homelessness, but it will be truly effective only as part of a much wider approach to tackling the problem that cuts across government and is seen as a priority for the Government to deliver on. I hope the Government are going to do that and for that to happen there will need to be a raft of other changes across numerous government departments. I wish the Bill well. It is an important first step. As I said at the start of my remarks, I want the Bill to become law. To assist in that, the Opposition Front Bench will not table any amendments and I urge all noble Lords to do the same. In conclusion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his sponsorship of the Bill and look forward to it becoming law in the next few weeks.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this Second Reading. I give a strong thank you to my honourable friend Bob Blackman, who has done sterling work in the other place; as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, his has been an extraordinary success, not just in steering the Bill through the Commons but in achieving what he has in financial terms. Notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, suggested about the Bill coming without money, it has come with a significant amount of it. I congratulate my honourable friend on what he has achieved and thank him for being here today—it is good to see him.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for giving a masterful exposition of the position in opening the debate on the Bill. He gave the unanswerable case for it, which I think all noble Lords have accepted without exception. I thank noble Lords for stating that they do not want to see any amendments coming forward, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who is opposite. I am very grateful as this is the way to ensure that this becomes law, which is what we all want.
This debate has shown the House of Lords at its best and made an unanswerable case for it, with all corners of the House and all political parties coming together for the common good. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, made the point very movingly about the things that unite us, so in addition to the political parties we have had the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Southwark and the Bishop of Rochester, and then, speaking on behalf of the armed services and others, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. There was then a powerful speech from somebody who really understands this area because he has lived it in a way that the rest of us have not: the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who has vast experience and wisdom on this area from the Big Issue and many other aspects.
From the legal perspective, we heard from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and from a ministerial perspective, the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, spoke of when she was in charge of exclusion policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, of course led Shelter and my noble friend Lady Manzoor has vast experience in law and health. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, spoke of his experience in the other place and of private Members’ legislation. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has, I know, vast experience and wisdom in this area. I am very grateful for the support that my Front-Bench colleagues, the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Kennedy, bring to the task of ensuring that the Bill gets on to the statute book.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, opened with a helpful overview of the Bill and why it is needed. As I say, I thank him for sponsoring such important and much-needed legislation, which is clearly supported by all parts of this House. I am proud that the Government have given their full support to the Bill. I say this tentatively now in view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, said, but I believe that the number of statutory homeless acceptances is down from its peak in 2003. I will write to her, if I may, in relation to the data issue, copy that to all noble Lords who participated in the debate and put a copy in the Library. I could not agree more that we can operate as an evidenced-based Government only on the basis of reliable data. That is certainly what we want to do.
Mention has also been made of the role of other groups. Faith groups were mentioned, quite rightly, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who I know has taken a lead on this in the Church and done much in relation to homelessness shelters. On a recent visit to Peterborough, I was pleased to meet some of those providing support as part of the network he referred to. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark also spoke, for example, of his experience of what is happening in Wandsworth and Croydon. I thank them because, whatever happens today, there is always a role for faith and voluntary organisations to come together. They are trusted, familial and responsive. They are a vital part of the fabric and mosaic in this area.
This important legislation will reform the support offered to everyone at risk of homelessness. People need a roof over their heads, a phrase which I think was used by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, about this basic human need. Local housing authorities will have a duty to provide support to all those affected, not just those covered under existing legislation. Services will focus on intervening earlier and working with people before they reach a crisis point. People facing a homelessness crisis will get quicker help to resolve it.
I particularly draw your Lordships’ attention to Clause 2, which was referred to elliptically and once or twice directly during the debate. This clause and its new section extend the duty on local housing authorities to provide or secure the provision of free advisory services. Services must be designed to meet the needs of particular groups including: in new subsection (2)(b), care leavers, who were mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and, in new subsection (2)(a), ex-offenders—I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who referred to people coming out of prison and youth detention. Victims of domestic abuse, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Manzoor, are referred to in new subsection (2)(d), as are those leaving the Armed Forces, who were mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and others, in new subsection (2)(c).
On the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I got the answer ready as she was going through her speech; she then presented the answer in reference to new subsection (2)(g). I agree that that subsection at the end of the new section should encompass the cases of overseas trafficked victims and victims of modern slavery. I would like to pick up that point in a letter, if I may. I will have a general letter to noble Lords who participated in the debate to pick up the various points made and any that I might miss—although I hope I do not.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, spoke of the new duty to prevent homelessness, which requires local housing authorities to help eligible applicants who are likely to become homeless within 56 days. This doubles the prevention period set out in existing legislation and, for those who are already homeless, the relief duty means that local housing authorities will work with them for up to 56 days helping them to relieve their homelessness, regardless of whether they are in priority need. These are essential sections—or clauses—of the Bill and demonstrate the potential that it holds to change the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, and he was echoed by others, the collaborative spirit in which the Bill has been taken forward is unique. I would like to share some detail on the positive outcomes that have been achieved through that approach. When the draft Bill was first published, the DCLG Select Committee and local authorities highlighted some areas of concern about the cost and burden on local housing authorities. Many of them were addressed in the Bill when it was introduced—for instance, removing the requirement to provide 56 days’ emergency accommodation for anyone who needs it, which was thought to be unworkable. The Government remain committed to helping those sleeping rough through our £50 million homelessness prevention programme and, in particular, the £20 million rough sleeping prevention fund, which was referred to by many noble Lords during the course of the debate.
This approach allowed the Government to support the Bill from an early stage and, critically, it ensured that local authorities are now supportive of the Bill. The collaboration has continued throughout the Bill’s passage in the other place with close engagement between my honourable friend Bob Blackman, the Government and other key stakeholders. Crisis was quite rightly praised for its role in relation to this legislation.
Mentioning Crisis leads me to say in relation to point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about Crisis, financial support and security that I will write him into the write-round letter so that that point is covered.
The importance of voluntary organisations, as well as faith bodies and the third sector, in support was mentioned. I shall not go through the list, other than mentioning Crisis, because it has played a special part in this legislation, but there are manifold examples up and down the country of local support from voluntary organisations, as well as the bigger names, if I can call them that, which do sterling work across the sector. I know we are all very grateful for what they help us to achieve and for tackling the scourge which this legislation will help with.
Groups representing landlords and local government were concerned about Clause 1. It tackles the bad practice whereby some local housing authorities—certainly not all of them—advise tenants facing eviction to remain in properties until the bailiffs arrive, which is clearly bad advice. Landlords were concerned that flexibility included in the original drafting could be misused by some local housing authorities to delay their obligations to help tenants. They and the LGA were concerned that the clause was too complex and could be misinterpreted.
The Government and Bob Blackman worked with landlord groups, the LGA and homeless charities to simplify the clause, while retaining the core principle that any applicant with a valid Section 21 notice that expires in 56 days or fewer is to be treated as threatened with homelessness. This should ensure that valuable opportunities to prevent homelessness are not lost and that households are more likely to get the help they need at the right time. We have also committed to working closely with stakeholders on the guidance around this clause and, indeed, all clauses in the Bill. Alongside this we will work with stakeholders to improve our understanding of the scale and nature of the issue and use that evidence to consider whether further action should be taken.
Clause 7 contains provisions to incentivise applicants to co-operate with their local housing authority and allows the prevention and relief duties to be ended where an applicant deliberately and unreasonably refuses to co-operate with steps in their personal plan. Following discussions, this clause was amended to remove wording that presented a wider formulation of the circumstances in which a notice could be given. This ensures that the bar is set suitably high and does not disadvantage vulnerable applicants who may find it difficult to engage with services in the usual ways.
To ensure the Bill contains the right incentives, Clause 7 was also amended to ensure that where an applicant refuses a suitable offer of accommodation at the relief stage, the relief duty will end and the applicant will not progress to the main homelessness duty. However, alongside this change further amendments were made to safeguard the protections for those with a priority need, including requirements and checks for the accommodation offer and a right to review the suitability of the offer. Where an applicant requests a review of the suitability of the accommodation they have been offered, in circumstances where the main duty does not subsequently apply, the duty to provide interim accommodation will continue until the applicant has been informed of the review outcome. As noble Lords will appreciate, this has been quite a complex issue to work through, but through active and constructive engagement Clause 7 now provides the right balance between incentives and safeguards.
Finally on changes to the Bill, during the Committee in the other place’s consideration of its detail, Members raised concerns about Clause 12, which extends the requirement to carry out additional checks to ensure that property secured with a private landlord under the new prevention and relief duties is in reasonable physical condition, safe and well-managed. As drafted, this protection was not extended to certain categories of those in priority need, including families with dependent children or pregnant women. In response, the Government amended the clause to cover all those with a priority need.
Turning to matters raised today, noble Lords asked valid questions about funding for local housing authorities. Let me repeat the commitment made by the Minister for Local Government, Marcus Jones, in the other place: the Government will provide funding of £61 million to local government to meet the new burdens costs associated with the Bill in this spending review period. We will also work closely with the LGA to develop a fair distribution model for the funding, reflecting the different need in different areas and the additional pressures and costs faced by councils in areas such as London. The final new burdens assessment will be published once this distribution formula is agreed and the Bill has completed its passage through both Houses.
The Minister for Local Government, my honourable friend Marcus Jones, also committed the Government to reviewing the implementation of the Bill, including its resourcing and how it is working in practice, concluding no later than two years after commencement of the substantive clauses of the Bill. I gladly repeat that commitment. In relation to Private Members’ Bills, I think these provisions are unique. Bob Blackman has done extremely well in negotiating them and they take us forward in an agreed away. I hope this provides assurance to noble Lords who have spoken today about the costs of the Bill and its implementation.
Noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bird, also talked about the underlying causes of homelessness and the importance of preventing it at a very early stage. That indicates how this is very much a cross-government issue. It is not confined to DCLG, as noble Lords reflected in contributions. It is far more wide-ranging than that. The Bill will certainly make a considerable difference, but nobody, including those participating today, believes that this is a silver bullet that will completely crack the issue of homelessness in our society, which is something all of us in such a wealthy country share responsibility for.
The Bill will reform the support offered to people facing the threat of homelessness or already at crisis point. The Government are also responding through the housing White Paper published by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 7 February. Key matters are out for consultation until 2 May, as noble Lords will be aware. The importance of the White Paper was mentioned by many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, in opening. In it, the Government acknowledge that the pace of housebuilding has been too slow for decades—this is not a problem that suddenly happened but one for which we all share responsibility—creating a housing market that is failing too many. When I say housing market, this is not just about purchase of houses, as the housing White Paper makes absolutely clear. There is a range of measures, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, correctly said: self-build, custom build, an emphasis on rental which did not exist previously, the need for council house building and so on. There are many weapons in the armoury to tackle the scourge of homelessness and we should not shun any one of them. As I say, I encourage noble Lords and others, through this debate, to participate in the open consultation.
As I say, the White Paper includes a number of measures that address homelessness. We are working with the British Property Federation and National Housing Federation to ensure that family-friendly tenancies of three years or more are made available, which is important. We will consult ahead of bringing forward legislation to ban letting-agent fees to tenants, which will reduce up-front costs. I pay tribute to the pioneering work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, which exemplifies the importance of looking at what is happening in the rest of our country and learning from the devolved Administrations. Reference has already been made to Wales, and to Scotland in the case of letting fees. Within the department I have set up a forum which looks at devolved issues and in which representatives of all four parts of the country discuss issues. I will try to ensure that this is on the next agenda, although it is for Northern Ireland to put it together, as we have already had one meeting here in London. It is important to learn from devolved areas and to share our experiences as well, of course.
In implementing the Bill, the Government will also take the opportunity to learn from our existing programmes, particularly as we review and update the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, working with local housing authorities and others with the appropriate interest and expertise. The Government are committed to building up evidence and good practice through our £50 million homelessness prevention programme, which I have already mentioned. We are supporting 84 projects across all regions of England, to ensure that more people have tailored support to avoid becoming homeless in the first place and receive the rapid support they need to make a sustainable recovery from homelessness.
I referred to the need for all Governments to work across departments. Reference has been made to the Ministry of Defence and its success with the military covenant, which has certainly helped here. Noble Lords also raised concerns about the impact of the Government’s DWP-led welfare reforms. I will perhaps cover some of the detail of that by writing round, but will take up some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, about the local housing allowance policy and supported housing. We are of course ensuring that supported housing is not affected until I think April 2019 and then looking at a new funding model. I am very happy to offer to engage with the noble Baroness on this—I know we have previously had meetings on housing. I will try to pick up some of the points about social investment bonds and so on in the write-round letter. It is a point well made, and I am not disputing the importance of ensuring that if one government department does something, we are all marching in the same direction. That is entirely fair.
There are many reasons for homelessness, as I said earlier, and housing itself is only part of the solution. That is why I am pleased the Government are giving their full support to the Bill, because it is part of the solution. This important legislation rightly puts the focus on prevention and on working with people before they face a crisis. I apologise for mentioning the very old cliché that prevention is always better than cure, but it is a point that has been widely shared across the Chamber.
I think the noble Lord opposite is keen to get in, and I will finish by repeating my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for sponsoring this legislation so effectively and thanking the many organisations that have contributed to its scrutiny and improvement. I also thank my honourable friend Bob Blackman in the other place for seizing this opportunity with his Private Member’s Bill, and for doing such unique and pioneering work on an issue on which I think the whole country is in agreement. I certainly believe the House of Lords is. On behalf of the Government, I give their support to the Bill and discourage any noble Lord from putting down amendments.
I thank the Minister. I did not want to intervene but on his second point, I want to be absolutely clear that I did not say the Bill comes with no money. I said it does not come with enough money. I based that on the figures from London Councils and contrasted those with the Government’s funding today. I refer the Minister to the Hansard report of today’s debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. The point I was seeking to make, although perhaps I did not make it as elegantly as I might have done, is that this situation is unique in terms of private Member’s legislation coming with any government money at all. I know the noble Lord welcomes that; equally, I understand that, speaking as he did as the 13th speaker, his welcome for it was perhaps always going to be muted. I accept his cry, which I suppose is usual from all opposition parties, of, “Let’s have some more money”.
My Lords, I think I get two minutes to say a few closing words. I thank my colleagues all around the House for 14 enthusiastic and supportive speeches that are deeply appreciated, especially with the harsh discipline of no one being able to put down any amendments, for which I am deeply grateful as we must get this legislation through. I am especially grateful to the Front Benches.
Special thanks go to the Minister for his summing up, which has covered all the ground we have covered and has therefore saved me doing that. Having been a Minister for one day, so to speak, in handling this Private Member’s Bill, I have to say that Ministers have to work incredibly hard. Yesterday the Minister was being very helpful to me with an amendment on the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, and we are all going to be discussing the White Paper with him next Thursday. In handling this Bill I have also discovered that the civil servants do an incredible job, far more than one realises up front, and I am deeply grateful to them. The real credit for the Bill, though, goes to Bob Blackman in the other place, who has had God knows how many meetings with all the different factions and elements in this field and managed to hold things together, with helpful support from the Government.
We have come to the end of the road here. With grateful thanks to all the participants and to Crisis, which started the process and saw it through to the end, it remains only for me to say that I beg to move that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.