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Volume 834: debated on Monday 18 December 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of people who will be homeless this Christmas; and what plans they have to reduce the number of people who have no home of their own.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, the latest available statistics are for April to June 2023; data for December 2023 will be available in the spring. We are providing significant investment to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping—more than £2 billion over three years. This includes more than £1 billion to support local authorities to prevent homelessness, with a further £120 million secured at the Autumn Statement for next year to relieve homelessness pressures.

I thank the Minister for her reply. She will be aware that at least 300,000 people will spend this Christmas without a home, including 140,000 children, which is a 14% increase in one year. Is the Minister aware that the number of households trapped in temporary accommodation reached a record high last year, yet only 9,500 social rent homes were delivered? What work are the Government doing to increase the supply of social rent homes to reach the 90,000 required each year to end homelessness?

My Lords, I acknowledge that those figures are too high. Our focus as a Government has been on preventing people falling into homelessness. That is what a large part of our budget has focused on. The noble Lord is also right that we need to increase forms of affordable housing. We need social rent, yes, but also all forms of affordable housing. That is what we are doing through our affordable housing programme, which is delivering large numbers of additional affordable housing into the system each year.

My Lords, there is plenty of time. Can we have the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and then my noble friend Lord Naseby?

Are the Government aware that for every person who falls homeless—they are not all out on the streets—the cost of running that homeless family or individual is two or three times higher than if you keep them in their homes? Has the Treasury done any serious work looking at how to keep the costs of homelessness down by keeping people in their homes?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. That is why we passed the Homelessness Reduction Act and why more than half the support we have put directly into tackling homelessness is around prevention. That is funding to local authorities to work with landlords to prevent evictions, for example, before people find themselves in the position of needing to seek out temporary accommodation.

Does my noble friend realise that it is just over 50 years since the last new town was designated: Milton Keynes? Part of the concept of new towns was to relieve inner-city homelessness and to provide decent homes for young and old couples who did not find them in the city. Will my noble friend look again at bringing back a new, modern—possibly garden—city concept so that this major problem can begin to be addressed?

My Lords, this Government embrace the building of the right homes in the right places; that includes new towns. It also includes greater densification in parts of our cities that are well connected to transport opportunities and jobs. We need more homes across the board, and that is what we are committed to delivering.

My Lords, I did not expect to hear the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, promoting Labour Party policy, but well done. On current trends, almost 6,000 households could be threatened with homelessness in the final quarter of 2023, covering this Christmas and New Year period. This is driven by a chronic shortage of decent, secure and affordable housing and accelerated by a storm of rising rents, the cost of living crisis and a refusal to ban no-fault evictions. I urge the Minister to bring forward amendments to the Renters (Reform) Bill to end no-fault evictions so that fewer families will be at risk next year.

My Lords, the Renters (Reform) Bill contains proposals to do exactly that; it will end no-fault Section 21 evictions. It is part of a suite of housing reforms that this Government have brought in to drive up standards in both the private rented and social rented sectors. We look forward to discussing that Bill when it reaches this House next year.

My Lords, like many places, Nottingham is suffering from the cost of living crisis, fuel and food poverty, a decline of social housing and a growing shortage of private rented sector properties, which is compounded by the shortfall between the local housing allowance and rents. Framework Housing Association and Emmanuel House do exceptional work, together with the city council, in seeking to help the 10,000 people on the waiting list with an unmet housing need, alongside the street homeless. But the rising demand for social care and increased homelessness have contributed to the council issuing a Section 114 notice. If His Majesty’s Government agree that the charitable and voluntary sector is such a key partner in addressing these needs, can the Minister offer more direct funding to help the homeless in cities such as Nottingham?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate mentioned many different factors that go into this problem. One was the affordability of private rented sector accommodation, so I am sure he will welcome the fact that in the Autumn Statement we committed to increasing local housing allowance rates. Charities and other organisations do great work in this sector, and we will also continue to support them in their work.

My Lords, more than 300,000 people, including 140,000 children, are homeless in England, one of the wealthiest countries on this planet. Can the Minister tell the House why the Government’s policies continue to fail to reduce the number of homeless people in England?

My Lords, this problem requires many different responses. I have talked about the work we are doing to prevent homelessness, for example through working with landlords, and what we are doing to increase local housing allowance rates to make the private rented sector more affordable. Ultimately, we also need to increase the supply of housing. We are doing that through building more houses. We have delivered larger numbers of houses in recent years than in many years before and are delivering the right mix of houses built for rent, for social rent and for affordable ownership, as well as houses in the private sector.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the scheme that Westminster City Council has run for the last few years whereby there is a 24-hour helpline? Anyone who sees a rough sleeper can call that line and an experienced outreach worker will go out, contact that rough sleeper and try to persuade them to come into a hostel and help rebuild their life. Should not this sort of scheme be replicated throughout the country if the Government are to hit their target of ending rough sleeping by the end of next year?

My Lords, I am aware of the scheme. In fact, I have been out with some of the charities that respond to those reports and go and seek out people the next day and offer them further help and support. I think it is a very effective scheme, and I am sure we would want to look at what can be done to see it spread further if it is not available in different forms across the country.

My Lords, the District Councils’ Network is reporting that some councils are now spending between 20% and 50% of their total budgets on meeting their statutory obligations to provide temporary accommodation but that the subsidy given to them to do so has not increased since 2011. Is this something the Government will look at?

My Lords, there are currently no plans to change that amount but we are looking to help local authorities with these pressures in a number of different ways. I have mentioned the change to the local housing allowance rate. Something else that the Government have invested substantially in is the local authority housing fund, which allows local authorities to increase their supply of good-quality temporary accommodation to relieve some of the pressures on them. We announced in the Autumn Statement that there would be an extra £450 million going into that fund over the next two years.

Does this Question not take us right back to the price of land for affordable housing? In Nijmegen in Holland, the Waalsprong urban extension of 11,000 homes is being built on 3,000 acres of land acquired at agricultural prices. Similar is happening at Hammarby, near Stockholm in Sweden. Why do we insist on paying landowners inflated land compensation prices when the country needs to house our growing population? We need new thinking on land for affordable housing—it is quite simple.

My Lords, the issue of land ownership and transparency is one that we have debated before. One measure that the Government have taken forward in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act is greater transparency over not just land ownership but the contractual controls over land that allow councils, developers and other people seeking to build more affordable housing to have a better idea of what land is available and in whose control it is, so that they can take forward their plans and be more effective.