How Do We Count The Homeless?

Each year local authorities up and down the country have to set their budgets to provide a range of services for the residents of their Boroughs. But there is one section of our communities that is notoriously difficult to pin down – the homeless.

As many homeless people move around from area to area in search of accommodation, knowing how much of council funds to allocate to meet their needs is guesswork at the best of times. Counting those that are referred into the system because they have recently became homeless is one method, but what about those who are off the radar – the sofa-surfers who kip at a friend’s house for a few nights before moving on, and rough-sleepers who don’t show up on any surveys or government statistics?

The failure to adequately quantify the size of the homeless population is highlighted in a fascinating article on theconversation.com website. The authors, Adele Irving and Oliver Moss, both Senior Research Fellows at Northumbria University, also point to the dearth of qualitative data available on the needs of the homeless.

This is because there’s a big difference between the number of people who the state recognise as homeless and how many people actually are – the distinction between the “statutory” homeless and the “non-statutory” or “single” homeless.

The “statutory” homeless are those who apply to local authorities as homeless, and are accepted as such. People are only accepted if the council deems that they are eligible for housing support, or can be classed as being “unintentionally homeless” or in “priority need”. So information on statutory homelessness is readily available because all local authorities have to report the number of statutory homelessness applications they received (and “acceptances” made) to the government on a quarterly basis.

“Single” homeless are those without dependents and not entitled to be housed by local authorities. This makes true figures very difficult to confirm as they are outside the system. Some of these are visible on our streets, but most remain out of sight – “hidden” in bed and breakfasts or squats and on the floors and couches of friends and family. There is no effective method of counting “single” homelessness, so these people don’t appear in government statistics.

A best guess is that there were over two million single homeless people in England in 2013!

To find out more, click here.

Rent Reduction Deferred (For Now) Says Minister

After months of lobbying and hearing evidence from across the housing sector, the Minister of State for Welfare Reform has announced a “year-long exception for all supported accommodation from the 1% rent reduction in the social rented sector”. The reduction was due to come into effect this April, leading many providers to wonder how they can accommodate a cut in income.

But on Wednesday (27.1.16), Lord Freud made the following commitment to address the issue: “I am not in a position to be utterly specific about how we will do this, but I can say that we will put in place the appropriate protections for those in supported housing. DWP and DCLG will be working closely together to make sure that those protections are in place.”

“We appreciate the concern, and we will aim to do this urgently. There are various solutions one could discuss, but I make that commitment in the context of what I have already said about the 1%. We will now just sort out the caps.”

Lord Freud was referring to the proposal to cap housing benefit at the same level as private landlords, that would leave many supported housing providers in a perilous financial state and possibly causing some to close down.

In a letter to Sheila Howard, Bosco manager, Rick Henderson from Homeless Link said: “While the suspension is only initially for a year, we believe it is an important change which addresses an immediate concern for services that were threatened by the potential reduction in their rental income.”

“Beyond this change, we look forward to working constructively with Government, other key stakeholders and our members to address other funding concerns agencies have, such as the LHA caps.”

Sheila commented: “This is good news, for now, but there is still a lot of work to be done to convince the government that any cuts that impact on the provision of supported housing is a false economy. Some of our most vulnerable residents need high-intensity, high-quality support and anything that affects that will lead to greater cost elsewhere, such as an increased demand on the NHS and Social Services.”

“These are turbulent financial times for our sector, but we must keep our eye on the ball if we are to continue providing the level of support and care that our residents need” she said.

Proposed LHA Cap Causes Concern Across The Social Housing Sector

Last November the Government outlined their plans to extend Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to social landlords. This, in effect, would mean that those living in supported housing would only be able to claim the same housing benefit as those under private landlords, leading to a massive shortfall in income for providers.

At present, social housing providers are excluded from LHA, which is intended to cover any costs associated with renting a property, such as core rent and eligible service charges. However, the new rules will apply to those who sign their tenancy from April 2016 onwards, although the LHA rate of Housing Benefit entitlement will not apply until 2018. The potential impact of this change could lead to services closing due to the extent of the shortfall between the costs of running services and the amount eligible under LHA.

But Homeless Link is leading the fight-back against the changes. They said: “We know this will have a major impact on the homelessness sector so we need to start collecting evidence to help convince the Government to rethink their plans. To make sure we can make the strongest case, we need to know how the shortfall will affect services.”

“From what we understand, supported housing will be covered by the new rules. This has understandably caused alarm among our members. We have prioritised this issue and, since the announcements, we have been working with the Government to seek clarity and understand how the projected impact will be mitigated.”

“While the Government has said they are committed to protecting supported housing, the mechanism for how that will happen is not yet known. We are not confident that additional Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) will be sufficient to cover the gap in revenue this would create.”

To gather this evidence, Homeless Link have set up a simple online spreadsheet that organisations can fill in with basic rental information. All of this will be kept anonymous, but when combined with information from other organisations it will provide a powerful snapshot of the impact the changes will have on the sector.

To find out more, click here.

The Russian Winter Claims The Lives Of Many Homeless People

Whilst we in the UK are complaining about the topsy-turvy weather we’ve been experiencing of late – gales, floods, but extremely mild temperatures – spare a thought for the rough-sleepers of Moscow. In a couple of months the ‘snowdrops’ will become visible as the snow begins to thaw.

‘Snowdrops’ is the euphemism the Russians use for the frozen bodies of homeless people that are found in early spring, previously buried under piles of snow. There are, of course, many reasons why someone might freeze to death and become covered by snow, but most of the time it’s the fate of the homeless.

A report on the Sky News website says that statistics are hard to come by when it comes to homeless people in Moscow. The official number is around 6,000, but other organisations say it is many times that. Natalya Markova, from the Moscow charity Friends On The Street, said: “The last census says there are around 6,000 homeless in Moscow, but I think the real number is much higher.”

“The amount of deaths declined in general, but even still, every spring we order a memorial service for those who perished in winter in the cathedral. There are no less than 50-80 names on the commemoration list every year.”

Local authorities in Moscow do provide assistance to the homeless through the use of a mobile patrol service, which includes a few vehicles with paramedics driving around the city and taking those who are worst affected to shelters. But many homeless people refuse to go into government shelters because they complain of being mistreated.

Sky’s news producer in Moscow, Yulia Bragina, reports: “Warm places like the underground and shopping malls are out of bounds for them, so they end up hiding in basements, and sewage and central heating systems. There are other people living inside manholes around the area, we were told.”

Russia has gone through three economic crises since 1990. This current meltdown is the fourth, caused by the near-collapse of oil prices and sanctions. This turmoil is especially dangerous for the 4.4 million jobless people, who don’t have any social safety net.

City official Andrei Pentukhov believes the current crisis doesn’t really have an impact on the situation: “Whatever happens in the world, it doesn’t influence the amount of homeless people in Russia because alcohol abuse is the main reason why Russian people end up on the streets.”

However, Ms. Markova said the Friends On The Street charity is getting more and more calls asking for help, and more people, including pensioners and single parents, are using their soup kitchens.

Lifesaving overdose antidote training takes off at Bosco House

delphiThe lifesaving drug naloxone is now available to residents of supported housing services in Sefton. A change in the law last October meant that naloxone, an antidote to heroin overdose, will soon be in every hostel in the Borough.

The first training session for staff in how to use naloxone (brand name Prenoxad) took place at Bosco House last Thursday (21.1.16). The training was delivered by Leanne Smith and Lyndsey Doran, from Delphi Medical, the company that supplies Prenoxad, and was attended by 12 staff.

As we reported last year (News 9.11.15), under previous legislation only a hostel’s doctor or an individual resident’s GP could prescribe naloxone to those at risk, whilst those in treatment could be prescribed it from their drug treatment service. Now, naloxone will be more readily available for those that need it.

The relaxation of restrictions on the availability of naloxone will help save lives in Sefton. The drug has no abuse potential, is harmless to someone who doesn’t use opiates, doesn’t give a ‘high’ and is not addictive. But, crucially, it can reverse a heroin overdose.

Bosco worker, Debbie Kirkland, said: “I did the training a couple of years ago, but it’s always good to have a refresher course. Naloxone is simple to use and has been proven, on many occasions, to save lives. So, it’s got to be a good thing.”

Overdose deaths in England rose by a third (32%) in 2013, according to the Office of National Statistics. However, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland already have national take-home naloxone programmes that have contributed to deaths remaining static in Wales and actually falling in Scotland, reported the Naloxone Action Group (NAG).

Leanne said: “Given the fact that overdose deaths are on the increase, it is important that everyone close to a heroin user – whether they be family, friends, or care workers – should have naloxone on hand and know how to use it. It will reverse an overdose and keep the person alive long enough for the paramedics to arrive and take over.”

Bosco manager, Sheila Howard, agrees: “We do everything we can to ensure the safety of our service users and this is no different to, say, having fire extinguishers on the premises. You hope you will never have to use them, but it is better to be safe than sorry,” she said.

The training will now be rolled-out to all staff and residents of Bosco House and Sefton Supported Housing Group, the consortium that delivers supported housing in the Borough.

If you, or someone you know, are interested in finding out more about naloxone, ring Lyndsey Davies at Delphi Medical on 07583909046.

Petition The Government To Reverse Their Decision On Housing Benefit

A new petition has taken off on Facebook to call on the government to think again about proposed changes to housing benefit (HB) in the coming years.

As we reported last week, the Government has outlined plans to extend Local Housing Allowance to social landlords. Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is the method by which local authorities identify how much housing benefit a claimant is entitled to.

From April 2016 all new and 2018 all current social tenants will only receive private sector rates for housing benefit. This will have a massive impact, especially for those who are single, under-35, with no children. These changes could mean that they will be evicted and become homeless.

At the moment supported housing providers are excluded from LHA because of the extra level of care they deliver to the most vulnerable tenants. However, if the rate is dropped to that of private landlords many projects will be forced to close.

If you think this is unfair and will harm not only those tenants that could be evicted, but the projects themselves and, therefore, the wider society, have your say.

To find out more, click here.

Venus Providing Debt Awareness Support

We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year, with plenty to eat and drink, and Santa brought all the children everything they wanted. Now comes the hangover!

January is that time of year when we realise what a struggle it is to manage our day-to-day spending, especially after paying out all that cash over the holidays. It’s an awful feeling if you lose control of your outgoing finances and companies demand more money from you.

However, January’s also a time for new starts, and for setting resolutions to deal with any problems you may have. If you are struggling with debt issues you can call or drop into Venus or Our Place, Sefton Care Leavers’ Centre, for help and support with these issues.  Your friendly Venus worker will put the kettle on and, together, you can go through those letters and phone calls you’ve been avoiding.

Venus also runs a Job Support Group every Friday between 10am and 1pm at the centre, where they can help you with putting together your CV, practice interview techniques, and help with benefit calculations, job searches and applications.

To make an appointment for the job support group, give Kay a ring at Venus on 0151 474 4744.

Big Changes To Housing Benefit In The Pipeline

In last autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government outlined plans to extend Local Housing Allowance to social landlords. Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is the method by which local authorities identify how much housing benefit a claimant is entitled to. At the moment social housing providers are excluded from LHA.

In a briefing published by Homeless Link and Sitra, there are three key things that have been confirmed so far:

  • The new rules will apply to affected individuals who sign their tenancy from April 2016 onwards, although the LHA rate of Housing Benefit entitlement will not apply until 2018.
  • Supported housing will be covered by the new rules.
  • The Government has said they are committed to protecting supported housing, but how they intend to do that is not yet known.

However, this lack of detail means it is difficult to know how this will impact on the supported housing sector. Some of the questions to be considered include:

  • How does ‘social landlord’ defined in the comprehensive spending review indicate anything that is not private?
  • What definition of ‘supported housing’ will attract a level of protection?
  • How will the research on supported housing funding, currently being conducted by Ipsos Mori, impact on these proposals?
  • How will any additional discretionary housing payment allocation be calculated and will any additional funding be ring-fenced for supported housing, or included in the overall allocation for the authority to determine its own priorities?
  • Will any extension recognise the particular challenges applying to under 35s who are covered by the Shared Accommodation Rate?

There has been concern amongst providers that the main model of Universal Credit (UC) would not work for much of supported housing. The reasons for this include direct payment to tenants alongside the monthly assessment and payment model.

As UC rolls-out, welfare minister Lord Freud has expressed a desire to find a “localised” solution to the funding of supported housing, so this announcement should be seen in that context. Ministers are still working out the best approach to funding the cost of accommodation in supported housing in the context of Housing Benefit being phased-out.

There are numerous concerns on the viability of supported housing following this change and Homeless Link will be raising these in discussions with Government; in particular, whether discretionary housing benefit can realistically be seen as a way of exempting supported housing.

Sitra and Homeless Link will be working with members to pull together evidence on the overall impact on the sector and will continue to lobby Government for the proposals to be amended and the disproportionate impact on supported housing to be recognised.

If you have any questions in relation to this matter, please email: burcub@sitra.org or paul.anderson@homelesslink.org.uk.

You can find out more at by clicking here.

Outrage As Homeless Doused With Cold Water

A charity that helps homeless people were appalled to hear of a group being doused with cold water as they sheltered in a doorway. The event came to light after Peoples’ Picnic volunteers, who provide meals for homeless people, posted on their Facebook page.

The outrage at a Norwich shopping centre, Castle Mall, was investigated after reports that a “laughing guard” threw a bucket of water over a group taking refuge in a doorway. The group was left with clothes, possessions and sleeping bags drenched as temperatures tumbled.

The post on The People’s Picnic Facebook page said: “A few of the guys seeking refuge in a doorway round the back of the Castle Mall were subjected to having a bucket of cold water thrown over them by a laughing security guard.”

“Not only did he leave them in soaking wet clothes, freezing and exposed to harsh declining temperatures, but also drenched their sleeping bags which were the only other means of keeping them warm.”

The guard responsible has been suspended and the company providing security to the centre apologised and pledged to donate to a local homeless charity.

Amanda Phillips, centre manager, said Castle Mall had carried out a joint investigation with Interserve, which provides its security guards. She said: “One of Interserve’s employees in the security team has been suspended on the grounds of gross misconduct and is no longer working at Castle Mall.”

An Interserve spokesperson said: “We are very sorry for what has happened and are extremely disappointed with the behaviour of this individual, which is against everything we stand for as a company.”

“We work closely with several charities for the homeless and take the issue very seriously. We will be making a donation to local homeless charities by way of an apology.”

‘Tis the season of goodwill – except if your homeless, apparently!

Housing Bill Could Mean The End Of Council Tenancies, Say Experts

The government’s housing and planning bill was debated in the Commons last Tuesday (5.1.16), with discussion over amendments dragging on until 2 in the morning.

The debate took so long because there are real concerns that the bill is badly thought out and could, in effect, see the end of council tenancies. This, at a time when there is a severe shortage of affordable housing, has prompted some commentators to label the bill as “ideological” and a further Tory attack on the some of the poorest members of our society.

Proposals in the bill include measures to extend the ‘right-to-buy’ to housing association tenants, introduce ‘pay-to-stay’ charges for tenants in council houses earning over £30,000 per household a year (£40,000 in London) and the forced sale of high value vacant local authority properties.

Speaking in The Guardian, Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Housing, said: “We have serious concerns about pay-to-stay, which we believe could discourage social housing tenants from increasing their earnings or finding work, as well as pushing people into housing benefit entitlement.”

“Many people aspire to buy a home – and no-one is saying the government shouldn’t support that – but what about people who simply can’t afford to buy?”

Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Oxford University, agrees there are serious flaws in the bill. “The housing bill means that those who govern us do not understand us” he said.

“They do not know why it is important to have security of tenure, to know that you will be able to stay in your home while your children grow up and go to school, without having to repeatedly move home and school.”

Alan Matthews, chair of trustees at Bosco House, feels the future for young people hoping to set up home and those on low incomes is not looking good. “I grew up on a council estate in Netherton in the 1950s and 60s, when new houses were being built left right and centre. It was a time of aspiration and there was real hope for the future.”

“Now, that safety net of affordable housing is being eroded and, over time, it seems it will disappear. For many young families looking to bring up their children in a home with a future, as well as older residents looking to remain in the house they’ve lived in all their lives, things are looking bleak.”

MPs agreed a programme motion on 5 January 2016 that schedules the remaining stages on the bill to take place over two days. Further proceedings on report stage, legislative grand committee and third reading are scheduled to take place on day two. The date for the second day of remaining stages is this Tuesday, 12th of January 2016.