Thousands of Merseyside families were made homeless or threatened with eviction since the start of the pandemic, reports the Liverpool Echo.
The latest available figures show that between April and December last year a total of 2,201 households asked their council for help after being made homeless, or as they were on the brink of losing their homes. Another 1,162 families were owed support after being threatened with the prospect of becoming homeless. Local authorities have a ‘prevention duty’, which requires them to work with people who are threatened with homelessness within 56 days, to help to prevent them from losing their homes. A ‘relief duty’ is owed to people to help them resolve a homelessness crisis if prevention doesn’t work, or if they seek help when they are already homeless. It requires councils to take reasonable steps to secure accommodation for any eligible person who is homeless.
These figures, published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, show that a total of 3,363 families and individuals have either lost their homes or been threatened with homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic in Merseyside (between April and December, 2020). That is 22% less than the 1,976 households who lost their last settled home, or were threatened with homelessness during the same period in 2019. However, the Government effectively introduced an “evictions ban” last summer, after introducing emergency legislation that prevented landlords from evicting tenants, except in extreme circumstances, or if they had given them six months notice.
In Merseyside, 904 requests for help with either relief or prevention duty came from families with dependent children. That means more than one in four households facing homelessness in our area were either couples with children, single parent families, or family groups of three or more adults and children. As of December 31 last year, 540 households were living in temporary accommodation in Merseyside – including 165 families with children, and a total of 363 youngsters.
The most common triggers of homelessness were households no longer being able to stay with families and friends (33%), the loss of a private tenancy (10%) and people fleeing domestic abuse (11%). But the figures also show 18 households were evicted illegally, which is normally when correct procedures have not been followed. In Merseyside, Knowsley had the highest rate of families facing homelessness. For every 1,000 households in the area, 11.4 were assessed as either homeless or at risk of homelessness. That was followed by St Helens (6.8 per 1,000 households and then Wirral (5.5).
Liverpool City council confirmed to the ECHO its position to date: Since last March, 750 households have been permanently rehoused – with full furniture packages and support. This equates to 1,200 individuals, including children. The council also confirmed that it achieved this in co-operation with several housing associations in the city, as well as support providers, to ensure everyone gets the right support. In terms of the current situation, there are another 60 households in the process of being rehoused, the council confirmed.
Across the whole of England, there were 95,370 homeless households living in temporary accommodation at the end of last year – 7,060 more (8%) than in December 2019. One in six of these households (17%) were placed into emergency B&Bs and hostels. A total of 197,310 households approached their local councils and were found to be either homeless or at risk of homelessness during the pandemic. That is 7% fewer than the 211,760 who were owed a prevention or relief duty between April and December in 2019. The Government said it has taken “unprecedented action to support the most vulnerable people in our society during the pandemic”. That includes providing £310 million to help prevent people from becoming homeless, as part of a £750 million investment to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in 2021/22.
However, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “To say the last year has been difficult for homeless families is a gross understatement, it’s been atrocious. Months of lockdown and school closures spent in cramped, shoddy temporary accommodation with no space to learn or work, and often without access to basics like the internet or a washing machine. The economic impact of the pandemic has exposed the true cost of decades of failure to build the social homes we need. More than 60,000 households were tipped into homelessness last winter – even with the evictions ban. In just over a month the ban on evictions is going to lift, and even more struggling families could be faced with the same fate.”
Ms Neate added: “Despite the clear danger that homelessness will rise, the Government remains focused on expensive home ownership schemes, rather than anything resembling truly affordable housing. If the Government wants this country to recover quickly from the pandemic, investing in a new generation of secure social homes is an absolute must.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “These figures show our actions have protected renters from eviction, supported rough sleepers and other vulnerable people, and helped keep them safe during the pandemic. Renters continue to be protected, including through six-month notice periods and a ban on the enforcement of evictions, except in the most serious circumstances. But there is more still to do, and we will continue to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping with over £750 million funding this year alone.”