The Government must take a “two-pronged” approach to get people off the streets and ensure vulnerable tenants do not end up on them, the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping said.
Inaction, it said, could lead to a “catastrophic” homelessness crisis, with the Government failing to meet its manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping, and progress made since the coronavirus pandemic erased.
Its new report calls for strong leadership and funding, and says the Government should temporarily bring back the eviction ban – mirroring what was announced in Scotland earlier this month.
We now need further emergency action to match the scale of the cost-of-living crisis, with a concerted focus on those who are most at risk of destitution
Kerslake Commission's report
And it called for a pause in benefits deductions and for benefits to be increased immediately – not next April as planned.
It added that the cost of prolonged homelessness to society “far outweighs the increased costs of prevention”.
The commission was set up to examine the lessons from the public health emergency response to rough sleeping during the pandemic, and the “terrific success” of the Everyone In initiative, which saw thousands of rough sleepers brought to safety.
It is chaired by former head of the Civil Service Lord Bob Kerslake and comprises 36 experts from the health, housing and homelessness sectors.
Its latest report tracks progress made in implementing previous recommendations and makes new recommendations in light of the cost-of-living crisis.
It warns: “We now need further emergency action to match the scale of the cost-of-living crisis, with a concerted focus on those who are most at risk of destitution, if we are going to achieve the goal of ending rough sleeping by 2024.
“The cost of not acting now is too great, as we stand on the precipice of a new emergency.”
Lord Kerslake said the Government’s responses to the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis “must be equally urgent”.
The energy price cap announced by Prime Minister Liz Truss is welcome but “not enough”, he added, with thousands facing the “very real prospect” of losing their homes.
He continued: “We once again need to see the strong, decisive leadership from the Government we did during ‘Everyone In’, backed by resources and funding.
“But this time the focus must be two-pronged. It is no longer just about getting people off the streets, it is about ensuring people who are currently at risk of homelessness don’t end up on them.
“Failure to act could see this become a homelessness as well as an economic crisis and the results could be catastrophic; with all the good achieved in reducing street homelessness since the pandemic lost, and any hope of the Government meeting its manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024 gone.”
St Mungo’s, which provides the secretariat for the commission, said every day it sees the “very real and very harsh reality of this financial crisis”.
In order to prevent this from becoming a homelessness crisis action is needed now
Interim chief executive Rebecca Sycamore continued: “And with more price increases, and the colder weather coming, it is very likely many of those currently just scraping by will no longer be able to manage, and could be at real risk of losing their homes.
“In order to prevent this from becoming a homelessness crisis action is needed now – and we fully support the new recommendations made by the Commission and urge Liz Truss and her ministers to introduce these measures as a matter of urgency to prevent more people ending up homeless this winter.”
One person being supported by St Mungo’s, who lives semi-independently, said life feels hopeless.
They said that, three days after being paid, they will have spent all their money on rent arrears, food and other essentials.
They said: “Living like this is making me more depressed and anxious all the time. Today I feel angry, really angry telling you what it’s like to live miserably on such a low income.
“It’s not fair that I am trying everything I can to turn my life around but things that are beyond my control have an impact on my hopes, my dreams, my aspirations.”
The Kerslake Commission also highlighted risks associated with the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, with some hosts indicating they will not be able to continue beyond the initial six months they committed to.
Echoing previous calls, it said the Government should consider increasing the monthly thank-you payments to hosts who continue beyond six months.
And it said there is doubt and “increasing inconsistency” among councils’ approaches to people with unclear or limited entitlements due to their immigration status.
The Government must establish a clear policy position that limited access to benefits for non-UK nationals should stop short of causing destitution, encourage councils to support this group, and provide specific funding for this purpose.
It added: “It must be clear to local authorities that there is not a two-tier system based on nationality for those who are rough sleeping.”
The National Residential Landlords Association said it was right to call for improvements to the benefits system, but that preventing failed tenancies from ending would be “catastrophic” and would not address people’s hardships.
Chief executive Ben Beadle said: “There is a very real danger that an eviction ban would give free rein to tenants committing antisocial behaviour and those deliberately not paying their rents, knowing they will face no consequences and the bill will be picked up by others.”
The Government did not say whether it was considering a temporary ban.
A spokeswoman said: “We are giving councils £316 million this year to ensure families are not left without a roof over their heads.
“This is alongside the action we are taking to support families with the cost of living this winter through our £37 billion pound support package.
“This includes £1,200 this year for the most vulnerable, helping them to pay their bills and stay in their homes.”