Homelessness charity issues warning over new government rules on social housing

Centrepoint fears a “one size fits all” approach will leave local authorities being unable to make the right decisions to end youth homelessness in their area

credit Timon Studler via Unsplash
credit Timon Studler via Unsplash

The UK’s leading youth homelessness charity is warning it could get much harder for vulnerable young people in London to find somewhere to live. 

The government has been asking for feedback on its plans to change the way councils allocate social housing and the consultation closes tomorrow (Tuesday 26th). But Centrepoint is concerned a “one size fits all” approach will leave local authorities being unable to make the right decisions to end youth homelessness in their area. 

Centrepoint is the leading charity for homeless young people aged 16-25 and supports nearly 13,000 vulnerable young people a year by providing accommodation, teaching valuable life skills, tackling their physical and mental health issues and working with them to get them into education or employment.

Among the areas of London where Centrepoint runs services are Enfield, Barnet and Waltham Forest.

Centrepoint research shows London’s youth homelessness problem is getting worse. Last year, more than 20,000 young people faced homelessness – a record level and a 10% increase on the previous year.

This week, London Councils also warned more than 320,000 households in London are on waiting lists for social housing. 

Under these new proposals, most applicants will have to prove they have lived locally for two years, which experts at Centrepoint say is “clearly not realistic” for young people with experiences of homelessness.

Analysis also suggests that tests linked to historic anti-social behaviour could see vulnerable young people permanently kept off the waiting list for housing, after making mistakes they do not realise amount to potentially criminal behaviour. 

Instead of changing the rules, Centrepoint is urging the government to prioritise the building of truly affordable housing and to invest in mediation to settle differences between landlords, tenants and communities. 

Balbir Kaur Chatrik, Centrepoint’s director of policy and communications, said: “Waiting lists for social homes are long and young people already find themselves near the bottom. The only real way to reduce the number of people waiting for affordable and social homes is to build more, not peacocking about with new so-called crackdowns.

“The young people we support want independence and a chance to start again. It’s our job to help them achieve that but these new Tests would make it much more difficult. Ministers say it’s about ‘fairness’ – how is it fair to tell a vulnerable young person they will never be entitled to social housing, because of a single mistake they made as a teenager?

“We need a system that truly understands the needs of the people who have to use it and this plan couldn’t be further from that.  

“At the very least, there should be further exemptions to include more young people with experiences of homelessness. As things stand, many will continue to face the trauma of having no place to call home.” 

In his ministerial foreword to the consultation, Minister of State for Housing Lee Rowley says: “Social housing is a finite resource and in any compassionate society, it is incumbent upon the government of the day to ensure it is utilised in the most effective way to support those who truly need it and those who play by the rules. This is not least because those fortunate enough to get a social home benefit from paying below market rents and almost all will have the security of that social home for life.

“Over one million households are on the social housing waiting list and around a quarter-of-a-million new tenancies are agreed each year. It is therefore important that social housing is fairly allocated. The British public want to know that decent and hardworking people who have contributed to this country can secure a home in their local community. People already living in social homes want to know that anyone moving near them will be respectful of their neighbours. That is why this government is going to make sure that all applicants benefit from a system that rewards responsible behaviour and protects local households, while supporting the most vulnerable and those in priority need.

“Local authorities face a number of difficult decisions when drawing up qualification tests. These include when to prioritise those newly arrived in the country or a local area over local families; and under which circumstances they should allocate a social home to a high-income household over a lower income one, or to grant social housing to those who commit anti-social behaviour.

“It is the case that qualification tests vary between each local authority area: they can be tailored to meet local needs.  These differences in how qualification tests are used and applied by local housing authorities can, however, sometimes result in confusion for social housing applicants. The proposals in our consultation will seek to end this postcode lottery while still allowing local housing authorities flexibility on the ground.” 

The government consultation on reforms to social housing allocations is available here:

Centrepoint’s free helpline is available for any young person aged 16-25 worried about homelessness. It is open Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm:
0808 800 0661

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