‘No room at the Inn’ for thousands of homeless households
published on 28 Nov 2023
One in four homeless households in England who turn to their local council for emergency accommodation* in the run-up to Christmas will be told there is ‘no room at the inn’ according to The Salvation Army.
Under homelessness legislation, local authorities in England only have a duty to find emergency accommodation for people who are classed as in ‘priority need’**. The church and charity is calling for a change in the law so all those forced onto the streets are offered temporary and then longer-term accommodation. This would also require Government funds for local homelessness services to rise in line with inflation to help ensure that councils have the resource to support this additional need.
The Salvation Army analysed Government statutory homelessness figures*** to predict that:
- Approximately 23,500 households in England will be classed as homeless in the last quarter of 2023.
- Of these, approximately 5,500 homeless households won’t qualify as in priority need and could be sleeping on the streets this Christmas.
In December 2022, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, ‘the Government is determined to end rough sleeping and tackle homelessness because, for too many people, the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a warm and safe environment is beyond reach’. But since this pledge was made last Christmas, The Salvation Army estimates that in the first three quarters of 2023 at least 15,500 homeless households will have already been told by their local council that they can’t have emergency temporary accommodation.
The findings come as Salvation Army officers and volunteers around the country gear up to support those with nowhere to live at Christmas. Depending on local need, help may include hot food, warm clothing, blankets, washing facilities and first aid.
The Salvation Army’s church leader in Blackpool, John Clifton said: “Everyone deserves a decent place to stay, especially at Christmas, but for thousands of people ‘there is no room at the inn’. Being homeless during the season of comfort and joy makes terrible and dangerous living conditions feel even worse. Thousands are facing an unhappy Christmas out on the streets without shelter, sanitation or privacy and are at risk of illness, injury and early death because homelessness laws don’t consider their situation to be desperate enough.
“We know local authorities are really struggling with the rise in homelessness and have limited resources, but sadly, without their help there is often no other option for thousands of people but the streets. Last Christmas, the Prime Minister made substantial funds available to address rough sleeping but it’s even worse this year. His good intentions have been severely undermined by a lack of affordable housing and a rise in inflation which has fuelled homelessness and put huge pressure on local authority funds and resources.
“Up and down the country, people who are homeless come to us hungry, cold and scared. They are not merely at the back of the queue for a place to live, but under the current homelessness system, they are not even able to join the queue. The measures taken by the Government to house people forced to sleep rough during the pandemic show what’s possible in a crisis. People sleeping rough in freezing weather is surely a crisis.”
Father of two, Liam Fletcher aged 40, grew up in care and has been homeless on and off for 15 years. He is currently sleeping rough after his relationship broke down. He went to his local authority housing team for help with somewhere to stay but was told they ‘had no obligation to help’ him.
Liam said: “I’d been pinning all my hopes on the call to the council’s housing team, but I’m still on the streets. I can’t cope much longer with the situation; it is majorly affecting my health. It’s cold at night – freezing. I don’t sleep in case I’m robbed, and I’ve ended up walking all night, and then I sat outside The Salvation Army until it opened. Sleeping on the streets, I’ve had everything robbed from me, even the trainers from my feet. I spent two days barefoot before The Salvation Army gave me some trainers, and they helped me when I needed food.
“Being homeless has ruined my life; I’ve lost everything I own. I can’t see my kids, and I’ve got no money and nowhere to stay where they live. I last saw them in December last year, but not at Christmas, and that was a killer. It’s bringing me right down, and right now, I am at the lowest point I could ever be. The only reason I haven’t ended my life is that my dad died when I was a child, and I could never do that to my children.”
The Salvation Army wants Government action that would not only help those who are homeless or at risk but would also alleviate the pressure local authorities are under to provide emergency accommodation.
The Church and charity is calling for:
- In the short term, a change to homelessness legislation in England so that rough sleepers are added to the priority need list for emergency and then longer-term housing.
- In the long term, for the priority need list to be abolished so everyone who is homeless can be helped.
- An urgent increase in funding for homelessness and rough sleeping services in line with inflation.
- A sustained investment in housing stock, especially social housing, to alleviate the pressure on local authorities’ provision of temporary housing.
*Emergency accommodation is designed to be very short-term (a couple of months max) while the local authority investigates whether someone is entitled to longer term housing. It’s often very basic accommodation with shared areas, like a B&B, hostel or refuge. Emergency accommodation is only provided to those deemed or suspected of being in priority need.
**In England, only the following are considered as being in priority need for emergency accommodation:
(a) a pregnant woman or a person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(b) a person with whom dependent children reside or might reasonably be expected to reside);
(c) a person who is homeless as a result of that person being a victim of domestic abuse;
(d) a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness, learning disability or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(e) a person aged 16 or 17 who is not a ‘relevant child’ or a child in need to whom a local authority owes a duty under section 20 of the Children Act 1989;
(f) a person under 21 who was (but is no longer) looked after, accommodated or fostered between the ages of 16 and 18;
(g) a person aged 21 or more who is vulnerable as a result of having been looked after, accommodated or fostered;
(h) a person who is vulnerable as a result of having been a member of His Majesty’s regular naval, military or air forces;
(i) a person who is vulnerable as a result of:
(i) having served a custodial sentence;
(ii) having been committed for contempt of court or any other kindred offence; or,
(iii) having been remanded in custody;
(j) a person who is vulnerable as a result of ceasing to occupy accommodation because of violence from another person or threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out;
(k) a person who is homeless, or threatened with homelessness, as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.
The UK Government’s Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities (in England) says that to be ‘vulnerable’, in some of these categories, a person must be ‘significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person would be if they became homeless.’ This sets a high bar and can be difficult to establish.
***The Salvation Army analysed the Statutory Homelessness Statistics from The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) which have been recorded from 2018 to the first quarter of 2023. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-homelessness