Temporary Accommodation

– in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 7th November 2017.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 3:35 pm, 7th November 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
notes with concern the increased use by local authorities of temporary accommodation for 77,240 homeless families in priority need, including 120,540 children or expected children;
further notes more than a quarter of those households have been placed in temporary accommodation in a different local government area;
further notes the draft consultation on a homelessness code of guidance for local authorities;
is aware of the pressure on local authorities and the increasing demands that they face;
and calls on the Government to provide a framework for monitoring and enforcement to ensure the appropriate level of quality and location of temporary accommodation, to require that local authorities appoint a designated officer for homeless families in their area and to ensure that homeless families have appropriate contact with health, education and social services when they are in temporary accommodation.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting today’s debate on such an incredibly important issue.

Madam Deputy Speaker,

“Our housing market is broken.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2017;
Vol. 621, c. 229.]

That was the damning verdict of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government earlier this year. The 9,712 residents on the housing register where my constituency is based, in the London borough of Merton, would absolutely agree with him. Perhaps the most visible indication of the broken housing market are the thousands of people sleeping on our streets, but the homelessness crisis facing this country is far greater than that. It is also hidden—hidden in hostels, hidden in bed and breakfasts, and hidden at the heart of an industrial estate. If a homeless applicant has nowhere to stay and is in priority need, their local authority has a duty to ensure that immediate temporary accommodation is made available. That is the reality for 78,180 households across the country, where 120,170 children do not have a permanent home. That staggering figure is rising fast.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this debate and for giving way. Does she accept that, through universal credit, we have a state recruiter of people who will be homeless? We know that more people will be hungry. The Government are not collecting any figures on that or on homelessness, which is the theme of her debate. Is that not a shameful reflection of the Government’s concern?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I agree with my right hon. Friend and thank him for all his work over the decades for the most forgotten in our society. The truth is that universal credit will be yet another driver that forces families out of the private rented sector, which is not where most of them should be in the first place.

The staggering number of homeless families is rising fast, with an additional 960 households in temporary accommodation in the last quarter alone. Incidentally, that figure has risen quarter on quarter since 2010, with the number of children in temporary accommodation increasing by 66% since the Conservatives came to power.

Despite public misperception, housing benefit data suggests that a third of householders in temporary accommodation in England are in work, with the proportion rising to half of householders in temporary accommodation in London. Three quarters of families in temporary accommodation in London have been there for more than six months, with one in 10 there for a not-so-temporary five years. That is without mentioning cases in Harrow and Camden involving households in temporary accommodation for a baffling 19 years. Of course those are extreme cases, but the fact is that more than 100 councils across the country have households who have been living in temporary accommodation for more than a year.

May I make it clear that the purpose of this debate is not to bash local authorities, which are dealing with very difficult situations as best they can? I give particular praise to the head of Merton’s housing department, Steve Langley, whom I have known for more than 20 years. I have seen the distress that it causes him to place families hundreds of miles away from home and in accommodation that he would not accept for his own family. I thank him for his public service.

There is a cost to the taxpayer. In November 2016, the BBC reported that councils in Britain had spent more than £3.5 billion on temporary accommodation over the past five years. The net cost has tripled in the past three years alone.

Now that the scene is set, I will deal with three main reasons why I applied for the debate. I will start with out-of-borough temporary housing. I will then move on to the need to enforce legislation, and finish by assessing the standard of temporary accommodation for the 78,000 families affected.

More than 28% of households in temporary accommodation are housed outside their local authority area. That represents a remarkable increase of 248% between March 2011 and March 2017. The figure for London boroughs increases to a staggering 36% of households, and there has been a fivefold increase in households placed outside the capital since 2012. Last year, the London borough of Harrow temporarily moved residents as far as Bradford, Wolverhampton and even Glasgow.

Birmingham is a regular recipient of residents, and the scale of the problem is illustrated by a letter from Birmingham City Council to all London councils that calls for the practice to end because its resources are at breaking point. For the families, that is 140 miles away from their homes, their children’s schools, and their friends, families and communities. Only last Thursday, my office took a call at 5 pm from a lady who was told she was to go off to Birmingham with her four children under the age of eight. It took a collection from the parents at her children’s school to pay for a Travelodge that night before she was offered a one-bedroom flat for herself and her four children the next day.

Similarly, at my advice surgery last Friday, I met a full-time nurse at St Helier Hospital who had just been offered temporary accommodation 44 miles away in Luton. Meanwhile, for a homeless resident in Kensington and Chelsea, there is a remarkable 72% chance that their temporary accommodation will be outside the borough. It therefore might seem odd that a Communities and Local Government Committee report states:

“Housing people away from their homes and support networks should be an action of last resort.”

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I apologise for intervening again, but I am intrigued and appalled by the record that my hon. Friend describes. It is worse than the Poor Law. Under the Poor Law, people were sent back to the village it was believed they came from; under the current rules, people are sent to any old village or city, provided that the local authority can dump families on them.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Currently, 22,000 households face such a “last resort” and are placed in temporary housing outside their borough. Under the Housing Act 1996, when a local authority undertakes its housing duty to people by placing them in temporary accommodation in another borough, it should notify the receiving borough that it has done so. That notice should be in writing and made at least 14 days before the household is placed in the area. Is the Department confident that each household is accounted for in their new, temporary home?

I have received a letter from the chief executive of Thurrock Council, which had 183 placements from London boroughs between April 2016 to February 2017. She said:

“Unfortunately, our experience has often been that the notifications are either not sent or sent to the wrong contact within the Council.

Over the past couple of years housing departments have noticed an increase in the number of cases who report that they were placed in another borough from London without the formal notification being received.”

Housing outside a borough is not unlawful, but councils are legally obliged to ensure that relocation is suitable and appropriate to a family’s circumstances, taking account of potential disruption to education, medical needs and employment. Does the Minister agree that processes must be put in place, and enforced, to ensure that a receiving local authority is fully aware of a family’s arrival and that they can receive the healthcare, education and welfare support to which they are entitled once they are there?

Let us consider the enforcement of legislation. In 2004, the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 came into force, providing that homeless families with children should not be placed in a B&B except in an emergency. If such an emergency were to arise, it could last for no longer than six weeks. In June this year, 6,660 households were being temporarily housed in B&Bs. That was twice as many as in 2011, and three times as many as when the Conservatives came to power in 2010. A deplorable 2,710 of those households trapped in B&Bs include children. For 1,200 of those families, their living hell has gone on for far longer than the six-week legal limit. The local authorities that are housing them are, quite simply, breaking the law.

One of these families joins us in the Gallery today. Kelly’s family were evicted earlier this year, making them homeless. Sutton Council placed Kelly, her husband and her two young children in a single room in a B&B in Wimbledon. They had so little space that Kelly’s stepson had to leave the family home. For 10 weeks, the family was left in one tiny room, hidden from society in a B&B. No one told Kelly when the nightmare would end. After 10 long weeks, Kelly is now finally out of the B&B, although her temporary home is not much better. Kelly tells me that she simply does not feel safe there, and I completely understand why. The oven does not work, the electrics are precarious, and the flimsy door is a precarious barrier to the outside world. Only yesterday, Sutton Council’s planning department knocked on her door to tell her that there was no planning permission to allow the flat she lives in to exist.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the manner in which she is leading this debate. In the sixth richest economy in the world, does she think it is an abuse of human rights that we have so many people living in these Dickensian conditions?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

It is an abuse of human rights. There is a moral duty on us all to bring a resolution—this is possible—to the situation.

Kelly’s daughter is old enough to question but too young to understand the situation. When she returns from school, she queries why none of her friends have to share a room with their parents. Both Kelly and her husband hold down good jobs, but she tells me that she simply does not know how to get out of this situation. If she complains, will she be moved far away from her job and her children’s school?

Kelly is not alone, however. Birmingham City Council currently houses 85 families with children in B&Bs for longer than six weeks, while Croydon, Harrow, Redbridge and Southwark local authorities have all housed hundreds of families with children in B&Bs for longer than the legal limit of six weeks over the past year alone.

Take Renee and her sister Jade, two young brave girls whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Parliament just a fortnight ago. After living in their friend’s house for over a year, Renee and Jade’s family became homeless and had to move to temporary accommodation in Acton, away from their friends, family and school. A double bed, single bed and a bunk bed filled their tiny room, with their bathroom and kitchen shared with another family. They tell me that they felt brushed under the carpet because they were unseen by society, too ashamed to open their curtains to the outside world. This makes Renee’s recent GCSE success even more remarkable and I congratulate her on her well-deserved achievement. Does the Minister agree that a B&B is no place for Renee—in fact for any family—for longer than six weeks, and that a law against that is superfluous if there is no way to enforce it? What tangible changes would he suggest to ensure that local authorities abide by the laws that this House has agreed?

Behind the facts and figures that I have described today are real homes, real people and real families—and, in my constituency of Mitcham and Morden, one very real building named Connect House. At my advice surgery, the name Connect House has become an increasingly regular feature over the past year, with constituent after constituent calling me for help, desperate to escape what they describe as their living nightmare.

It is incredibly difficult to summarise the conditions at Connect House without visiting it in person. I therefore invite each and every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber to join me in Committee Room 9 after the debate, where I will be releasing a video so that each of them, as well as the general public, can see with their own eyes the appalling conditions that the 84 families living inside Connect House find themselves in. For now, however, I will do my best to find the right words.

Willow Lane industrial estate is home to a plethora of successful businesses in my constituency. With its businesses ranging from the manufacturer of timber windows to motor works, and from scaffolders to joiners, it is one of the busiest industrial estates in south London. Almost two years ago, however, there was a peculiar change on the estate. The businesses began to notice prams being pushed past their front doors and children playing while their lorries and vans raced through. They began to notice hundreds of residents using their working industrial estate as a home.

Connect House is at the heart of Willow Lane industrial estate. It houses 84 families who have been placed there by four local authorities: Bromley, Sutton, Croydon and Merton. There is little collaboration between the authorities as to who is placed in Connect House, which heightens the danger of vulnerable residents being placed among completely inappropriate neighbours. To reach the nearest amenities, the residents have to walk through the industrial estate itself. Cars line the pavement, forcing families with prams or wheelchairs into the lorry-filled road. It is fair to say that local workers simply do not expect 84 families to live within their industrial estate.

Waste surrounds Connect House because its industrial bins are ill equipped for the needs of the residents inside. This naturally attracts rats and foxes, and litter is strewn across the adjacent car park. Litter is also found throughout the building itself, causing considerable damage to both the building and its few facilities. The building is not staffed at evenings or weekends, and one resident found herself locked out in the middle of the industrial estate when she arrived back at night. A single key fob is allocated to each room, but additional fobs come at a deposit of £20. It is no wonder that young children have escaped into the dangerous industrial estate outside.

As for those who are able to enter, one resident told me of the danger that she and her daughter were in when a man was able to follow her right to her front door. Incidentally, the doors have neither a spy hole nor a door chain for safety. For a vulnerable family, their security is nothing more than the thin door separating their room from the industrial estate outside. Importantly, there is no communal room in Connect House, and neither is there anywhere for children to go, other than their tiny bedroom, where they are so often forced to share a bed with their parents and/or siblings. Residents complain of children running through the corridors at night, while the car park outside the building has been described as a playground in the evenings. Does the Minister agree that an industrial estate car park is no fit playground for the hundreds of children inside Connect House?

Residents and businesses have described Connect House as an “accident waiting to happen” and a “death trap”, yet this is a property that Bromley Council has not even visited, despite placing families there. It argues that there is simply not enough time or resource to do so, and that in its own words:

“This is compounded by the fact that a significant number” of properties

“are out of the borough”.

The building’s remote location means that there are no immediate shops or amenities for the residents. The location is so remote, in fact, that even an ambulance was unable to find it when called by a heavily pregnant lady housed there who had to have her baby in the car park outside. It truly fills me with sadness to tell this Chamber that the baby is no longer with us.

The property provides the landlord with an estimated—and simply staggering—£1.25 million to £1.5 million of taxpayer’s money each year, with the local authorities charged between £30 and £40 per room per night. Connect House is therefore a 21st century, multi-million pound death trap in the middle of my constituency. In the Gallery today sit dozens of residents from Connect House. They have joined us here to have their voices heard, to find out why the Government consider Connect House to be a suitable place for them to live, and to listen to what changes the Minister will propose before this death trap takes its next victim. From down here in the Chamber, I would like to tell their experiences, their challenges and their stories. Take Laura. She shares a room with her teenage daughter, despite having a spinal disability. Her room is so small that she had to move items out just to show me inside. She sleeps in her bed in the day so that her daughter can sleep in a bed at night.

Then there is Alice. She has a three-hour return journey to collect her children from school, finishing at the tram stop outside the industrial estate. It is dark by the time they return and so, before making the final walk home, Alice and her children pause to pray that they will make it safely. Finally, there is Sarah. Her two children are not yet of school age, so they are confined—day in, day out—to the industrial estate. It is no wonder that when Sarah’s baby boy was taken to the doctor’s with a wheezy cough, the doctor put it down to the constant fumes he was inhaling from the factories outside the window.

There are Connect Houses in so many of our constituencies, and today is our chance to shine a light on them. So what can be done? If there are tangible actions that should be taken from this debate, let them be as follows.

First, does the Minister agree that if a local authority is forced to house residents temporarily in another local authority area, it is fundamental that a designated officer in the receiving authority should be clearly informed of those people’s arrival so that their safety and welfare can be ensured? Secondly, I cannot help questioning why we have laws and regulations on temporary accommodation if they are simply not enforced. Does the Minister agree that local authorities should be held to account under the regulations on which the House has decided? Assuming that he does, may I ask how he proposes to ensure that families like Kelly’s are no longer illegally housed in B&Bs for more than six weeks?

Finally, do the Minister and colleagues agree that there should be a minimum standard for temporary accommodation, and that the conditions that I have described are simply not fit for purpose? I encourage anyone who is in any doubt about that to join me in Committee Room 9 after the debate.

The 78,180 families who are in temporary accommodation are hidden from our society, whether in a hostel, in a B&B, or lost in an industrial estate. Today many of those families sit proudly in the House of Commons. Today their stories will be hidden no more, and I urge each of us to be their voice and to call for change.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 3:56 pm, 7th November 2017

I congratulate Siobhain McDonagh on securing the debate, and on the passionate way in which she delivered her speech and described what is going on in her constituency. I can almost certainly say that I agree with nearly every word that she uttered in expressing her desire for regulation—for proper, appropriate measures to be applied to temporary accommodation.

The present position has three aspects. When people who face homelessness approach the local authority, that is the crisis point. They have nowhere to live and, if they are “priority need” homeless, the authority must find them somewhere to live immediately. That is expensive, and the accommodation is often not suitable: in London, people are likely to be offered accommodation way outside the area in which they have been living.

There are two other elements. First, as the hon. Lady said, there are families who have been living in temporary accommodation for 19 years or more. Given that most people who own their homes move, on average, every seven years, it is absurd for someone to be in temporary accommodation for that length of time. We need to take appropriate action. Secondly, there are people who literally have nowhere to live except with friends, perhaps sleeping on sofas. That is a hidden form of homelessness, because it is clearly a form of temporary accommodation.

I am pleased to say that my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which secured support from the Front Benches of both parties and, I think, from Members in all parts of the House, will come into force on 1 April 2018. It will produce some remedies for the problems described by the hon. Lady. First, as a result of a Government concession, local authorities that offer either permanent or temporary accommodation must visit and inspect the premises to confirm that they are fit for accommodation and fit for purpose, and we should all ensure that our local authorities honour that requirement.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

There can be anything in law, but if it is not enforced, it does not work. Unless there is an organisation like Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission for housing, it is not going to work.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The hon. Lady is absolutely right: unless laws are enforced, there is not much point in having them. I ask the Minister to say in his response to the debate what he is doing to ensure that the existing rules are enforced. Some of the cases that the hon. Lady mentioned clearly fall foul of the existing requirements on local authorities, so those requirements are not being properly enforced.

We must deal with the consequences of the temporary accommodation crisis. In London about £600 million a year is spent on providing temporary accommodation. Most of that accommodation is not fit for purpose, and is certainly not fit for the accommodation needs of the individuals placed there. We must seek to reduce that bill dramatically, and how to achieve that is clear.

Under the Homelessness Reduction Act, anyone approaching the crisis of homelessness will be able to approach their local authority two months before they face that crisis. The aim is that no one should become homeless at all—that the local authority should take the appropriate action prior to someone’s becoming homeless. If local authorities carry out their duties properly, we will not have that crisis of temporary accommodation, which is incredibly expensive. That is a cost-effective way of addressing the challenge.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

I welcome the Homelessness Reduction Act. Is any extra money available for councils to deal with the extra demand they will get as a result of it?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The Government have given extra money: £81 million over a two-year period for the implementation of the Act. That might not be sufficient, but we can bet our bottom dollar that the Communities and Local Government Committee, which is going to look at the implementation of the Act, will be on the Minister’s case to make sure that extra funding is provided if it is required. If local authorities do their job properly, they will make savings in the temporary accommodation budget, which should then balance up the costs of their requirements under the Act.

The greatest cause of homelessness is the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. They usually run for six months and at the end of that period families often have to move. The solution is clear: we need longer tenancies and more security of tenure for families, but also assurances to landlords that they will get paid their rent and that the tenants will behave themselves in accordance with the contract they have signed. I ask the Minister to update us on where we are going with lengthening tenancies, which would dramatically reduce homelessness at a stroke. Perhaps we can do that.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Does my hon. Friend agree that not all tenants want to sign a longer tenancy, as it ties them into something they might not want to be tied into for so long? What we need is asymmetric tenancies, so the landlord signs up to a longer period—three years, perhaps—but the tenant can have a break clause to leave earlier, which would encourage them to sign that longer tenancy agreement.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Clearly, any tenancy agreement signed would have break clauses in by mutual convenience. That would be appropriate.

Large numbers of children and young people are currently in temporary accommodation, and for far too long. What are the Government doing to make sure that children are put into permanent accommodation with their families in an appropriate way?

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about landlords being assured that their rent would be paid. Was he not present for the debates last week and the week before on universal credit? We have increasing evidence that the universal credit system, with its built-in delay of six weeks, is making it more and more difficult for landlords to get the rent that they are owed.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The reality is that under universal credit, a tenant can choose to have the rent paid directly to the landlord, and I would certainly recommend that families in this position choose that option. I also believe that the delay in paying universal credit should be reduced from six weeks to four weeks. That is my personal view, which I have advanced to Ministers.

On the question of solutions, I have already mentioned the idea of introducing a rent deposit guarantee project and a help to rent project. Many households face the crisis of not being able to raise a deposit in order to rent a property, and they become homeless as a result. It is estimated that by investing some £31 million a year, we could help 32,000 families in England alone to raise a deposit and secure a property at a rent they could afford. That could save the temporary accommodation budget £1.8 billion over a three-year period. That seems to be a sensible route to follow. What lobbying is the Minister doing of his friends in the Treasury on that issue? That proposal could clearly save money, save a lot of angst and perhaps save lives.

I also want to talk about the rise in rough sleeping. I applaud the Government for setting out the need to halve the number of rough sleepers in this country—and, indeed, to eliminate rough sleeping completely—but the reality is that it is on the rise and we need to take urgent action.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I have given way several times already, and I know that many colleagues want to speak in the debate.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister update the House on the question of rough sleepers—in particular, the question of their designation? In London, only about half the rough sleepers are UK citizens; a large number in London and beyond are from outside the United Kingdom. This is a serious problem. People are coming to this country, and they may have been trafficked or whatever: we need to get to the bottom of why they are sleeping rough on our streets today.

These are my asks for the Minister. Bed-and-breakfast accommodation is the most expensive form of temporary accommodation, and its use is on the rise. Obviously, we need to exclude the Grenfell Tower situation, because that involves a very different position, but bed-and-breakfast accommodation is an expensive and unsatisfactory means of accommodating families. The solutions to these issues will be key. It is more than 40 years since we built 250,000 properties in this country. That is the fault of Governments of all persuasions. We clearly need to build 300,000 properties just to deal with the need that exists right now. Will the Minister update us on how we are improving the level of house building in this country, so that we can address the fundamental issue of providing enough homes for the people who want to live in them?

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The House will be aware that a great many people want to speak in this short debate, so I must impose a time limit of seven minutes.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham 4:10 pm, 7th November 2017

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak and to have supported my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh in calling for this important debate—her opening speech was fantastic. I hope that the Government are listening, because what Members across the House are seeing in their constituencies amounts to a serious crisis.

It is no longer accurate to talk of “temporary” accommodation; in the past three months, I have represented two families in my constituency who have been living in so-called temporary accommodation for over 10 years. Temporary accommodation is becoming permanent accommodation. If we look at the broader context, that is happening due to a huge shortage of social housing across the country.

One family in my constituency have been living in temporary accommodation for 14 years. Another family have been there for 17 years. That family have seen their children grow up in temporary accommodation—the only home that the children have ever known, from their first day at primary school to their first day at secondary school. Next year, the 18th birthday of the eldest child will be celebrated in this so-called temporary accommodation. Another of my constituents has been placed in temporary accommodation with her son, who suffers from cerebral palsy. The room is too small to accommodate the equipment he needs. Another two cases came into my postbag this month involving two households who have lived in temporary accommodation since 2010.

There are 3,140 households living in temporary accommodation in my borough of Haringey, and let me be clear about the conditions in which people are being housed. If the Minister has not visited an emergency accommodation hostel, I would be happy to facilitate a visit. In the past couple of months, I have asked the Department about the state of temporary accommodation, but it seems unable to answer me. I hope that the Minister can tell the House today what he failed to tell me last month. How much of our temporary accommodation stock is unfit for human habitation or is in disrepair and requires refurbishment? How many children are living in inappropriate accommodation? What is the average length of time that a household spends in temporary accommodation? How many households have spent more than a year in temporary accommodation—or more than two years, or three years? How many households in temporary accommodation are being moved into a permanent social home? In my borough of Haringey, the wait for social housing is around 10 years even for those families in the direst need of a home.

What will be the impact of the freeze in the local housing allowance? As night follows day, households currently renting in the private sector will become homeless as they fall into rent arrears, and the number of homeless families whom councils will need to house in temporary accommodation will increase. Some 92% of councils fear that the freeze will cause a surge in homelessness, yet the Minister for Housing told me in an answer to a written question last month that the Government have not even carried out an impact assessment.

However, this is not about the numbers, as awful as they are. This is about the reality of life for hundreds of thousands of people in this country—one of the wealthiest in the world. The hostels in which people are being placed are not acceptable places for vulnerable women escaping abusive relationships or for parents to bring up their children. Clearly, there are real problems in the system when vulnerable people are being left in temporary accommodation for many years. What steps will the Minister take to improve the system of assessing vulnerability and the needs of families placed in temporary accommodation? Over the years, I have heard horror stories of needles in stairwells, of young children sharing bathrooms with strangers and of vulnerable women being abused and exploited. Ultimately, the story comes back to the chronic problem of the decimation of our social housing.

Local authorities, stretched to breaking point after years of austerity and budget cuts, spent £845 million on temporary accommodation last year. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which has been at the centre of the Grenfell storm, has built just 10 new council-funded social homes since 1990. Only 1,102 social homes were built with Government money in England in 2016.

We have a serious, serious crisis. The Chartered Institute of Housing estimates that by 2020 nearly 250,000 social homes will have been lost in just eight years. We have to grip the issue of houses sold off under right to buy. It is criminal for the state to give people a subsidy to take even more houses off the market and to see the sorts of people we are talking about today in even direr circumstances as a result.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

My right hon. Friend is making an extraordinarily powerful speech. Manchester City Council is currently having to buy back ex-right to buy council houses to cope with the demand of homeless families presenting at Manchester town hall. Does he agree it is a disgrace that councils are being put in that position?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

It is shocking and appalling that councils are being put in that position. Many councillors across the country are having to make the hardest of decisions on behalf of people—frankly, as Members of Parliament, we are all pleased that we do not have to make those decisions. We now have a ridiculous situation in which we are spending almost £10 billion a year of taxpayers’ money on housing benefit that goes straight to private landlords. Slashing social housing funding is a false economy. This is dead money. Instead of lining the pockets of private landlords, it should be used to build new social homes.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I worked out last night that we could build 88,000 prefabs with the money we are giving in one year to the private rented sector in housing benefit.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

Absolutely. We have to find new ways of building homes. We would be better off giving people a home for what may be 40 or 50 years by building those prefabs than handing out money in the way we have.

The state grant available for social landlords to build social homes was slashed to zero in the 2010 spending review. In its place we got new categories of homes: homes for affordable rent, and affordable homes for first-time buyers. It is important to place on the record that the crisis will not be solved by building affordable homes that cost £400,000 to £450,000 in London. It is time almost to banish the word “affordable” from the lexicon, as it means nothing to ordinary people when it comes to housing policy. We have already heard that the Government are not building social homes, but they are spending 80% of the total housing budget on subsidising private homes through Help to Buy and discounted starter homes. The Government are not even really serious about their own affordable homes programme.

The dire situation we are seeing in temporary accommodation is symptomatic of the intrinsically linked shortage of homes and housing crisis. We will get to grips with the crisis only through a mass social housing building programme. The Government are beginning to recognise that, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s promise of a council house building “rebirth” in her speech last month.

The crisis will not be solved by further overheating the housing market by offering Help to Buy loans to first-time buyers, who have help from the bank of mum and dad anyway. The crisis will not be solved by building 5,000 homes each year. That is a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem—it is only half of the households waiting to be housed in the London Borough of Haringey. Some 1.2 million households across the country are waiting to be housed, according to Shelter.

I hope the Government are listening and, on behalf of the 3,000 families in Haringey, I hope they will finally act.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 4:19 pm, 7th November 2017

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Lammy, and I congratulate Siobhain McDonagh on securing this important debate. There is no question but that we have a problem in this area; no one can be comfortable with a situation where 78,000 people are in temporary accommodation. That is a 7% increase on the previous year’s number and a 63% increase on the 2010 figure. The number of people living in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation is 6,600; there has been a slight decline, of 4%, since the previous year. On the overall context of temporary accommodation, let me try to take some of the party political heat out of this by pointing out that the figure peaked in 2003 at 100,000. Therefore, we need to look at the issue in its overall context. However, that is not a justification or excuse for the fact that we need to move people out of temporary accommodation and into decent housing.

The Government are taking a deal of action on the issue. Obviously, we are allocating £550 million by 2020 to homelessness reduction. The first thing we have to do is reduce the number of people who are becoming homeless. The Government’s ambitious objectives to halve homelessness by 2022 and completely abolish it by 2027 are profound and must be welcomed. I also welcome the work of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017; I served on the Bill Committee. It is important legislation. We heard lots of anecdotes and saw lots of evidence about people who just were not well served when they presented themselves to local authorities in desperate need of advice to prevent them from becoming homeless or to be rehoused. The Act will have a profound effect in trying to help them. It includes new duties for local authorities and a new code of conduct.

I also welcome the Government’s actions on supported housing, which will have an effect in this area. There was concern about the new policies on supported housing, but the Government listened to the Joint Committee comprising the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee on the issue. We looked at that and tried to form a policy that was going to work better nationally and locally. The Government listened and then put in place pretty much what we recommended in terms of looking at the different types of supported housing, including a new sheltered rent category, and ensuring that we have moneys allocated for short-term supported housing.

On wider solutions, I agree with a number of earlier contributors that the fundamental problem we have to solve is the number of houses we are building in this country. That drives all the affordability issues, which are driving many people into homelessness. So we need to build more homes. Clearly, we are building more than were built during the nadir of the housing market crash—it was difficult to build homes in 2008. New homes are being delivered at about twice the rate they were in 2008, which is good—[Interruption.] That is a fact. But we also need to build more affordable homes and more social homes. I agree with the right hon. Member for Tottenham: 80% of market value in many cases is simply not enough. So we must deliver more affordable homes. That works for many people.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Lady asks how, from a sedentary position, and I will address that point. The Government have announced an extra £2 billion, bringing the total contribution to £9 billion by 2020.

We must get to grips with the viability assessments. They are a way for developers to avoid their responsibilities to deliver affordable homes or social housing. Some 79% of the affordable homes that should have been delivered through section 106 contributions have been avoided through the use of viability assessments. It was right to bring in viability assessments in 2012, when sites were not viable, but now that that time has passed we should consider a completely new policy on contributions from developers and of course landowners—the money is supposed to come from the landowners—to pay for affordable homes and social homes to rent. I favour a simple system of tariffs, either per bedroom or per square foot, rather than the complex section 106 system, in which a local authority requires a certain percentage of affordable housing. I think such a system would work much better.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point, but if the private sector was expected to meet the need for new truly affordable social rented homes alone, and was required by law to comply with tariffs to the extent that he suggests, is it not likely that the private sector, particularly in London, would just walk away from delivering homes at all?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

No, I do not accept that. There is already a requirement for the private sector to deliver on section 106 commitments. It needs to be fair, not only to the landowner but to the community. For me, too much of the planning gain is going to the landowner and not enough is going back to the community. The viability assessments allow developers to have a race to the top in terms of land prices. I would happily have a longer debate about the matter with the hon. Lady, but I absolutely think that the existing system creates a loophole for developers. Of course it is not just the responsibility of the private sector, and of course the Government need to contribute, as they are, although they need to contribute more.

I have just remembered that I should have drawn the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have some business interests in the housing market, but that does not affect my keen desire to see more social homes delivered.

Another idea we might consider with respect to delivering more social rented homes is to allow investors to put private rented sector property into a self-invested pension, which they cannot do currently. They can buy commercial property and rent it out, but they cannot do that with residential property. I have talked to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about why we cannot allow private sector investors to put residential property into a pension, as long as they are willing to let it out at a social rent, or less than 50% of market rents. That is another way we could deliver the social rented homes we need.

Local authorities and housing associations are clearly part of the solution. We should allocate, or allow local authorities to borrow, more money to develop more affordable homes or homes for social rent.

On the issues in the private rented sector, I believe that most landlords are very responsible in delivering of decent-quality accommodation in the rented sector, and they will remain a key part of the delivery of decent temporary and permanent accommodation. Nevertheless, we should consider having a property rental standard. The draft Tenant Fees Bill, or other legislation, may give us the opportunity to tag in a property rental standard to ensure that all property in the private rented sector is of a decent quality and that we have decent enforcement, using redress schemes or other bodies.

I agree that we should consider longer tenancies. They should be voluntary for landlords, but there should be incentives. I wonder whether one such incentive could be to allow some dispensation around the section 24 mortgage interest provisions that have been introduced, because they have been received quite badly by many landlords. If landlords are willing to offer longer tenancies, perhaps there should be some dispensation around how we treat mortgage interest in the private rented sector.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden again on securing the debate. Like her, I am keen to see much higher-quality accommodation in the private rented sector and temporary accommodation.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 4:29 pm, 7th November 2017

I congratulate Kevin Hollinrake on his speech and thank him for reminding me to bring Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I also thank my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh for her speech and for securing this important debate.

The situation in my home borough—Newham—is dire. The local authority reports that more than 5,600 people approached the council last year, worried about homelessness. In total, 4,725 Newham households are in some kind of temporary accommodation, and more than half of those are currently in the least stable form of nightly paid accommodation. I hope that hon. Members across the House will agree that those statistics drive home the scale of the problem we are discussing. As we know, temporary housing conditions can massively damage families’ wellbeing and opportunities. To illustrate my point, I will talk about just one case out of the hundreds that I have received recently.

In August, I heard from Camila, a grandmother writing on behalf of her grandchildren and their mother, Lisa. Camila’s three grandaughters are 14, 11, and five. Lisa has had to live in temporary accommodation for 15 years. The children have known nothing else. The conditions in Lisa’s flat are awful and the situation is having a real impact on the family’s health. The walls are either black with mould or covered with mildew because of the damp. One of Lisa’s daughters has breathing problems and the whole family are frequently sick with infections.

Lisa and her daughters have had to move a number of times already, as we all have experience of in London. On one occasion, Lisa was moved out of Newham, and she was recently told that her family might be moved out of London entirely. Camila is really worried about Lisa’s mental health due to the stress caused by her family’s living conditions. Camila believes that having to move out of London and away from the support network of her family could push Lisa “over the edge” entirely, leaving the family in very difficult circumstances.

The problems of homelessness, debt, unstable homes and constant moves have an impact on children and families, preventing them from putting down basic roots—making friends, getting on doctors’ registers and even joining a library or a youth club. We are really storing up social problems for the future.

I often say that I was privileged to grow up in a council flat in east London. I was moved there at the age of two and a half, during the slum clearances around the docks. That flat provided me with the security to learn and to do as well as I could. My little—well, younger—sister is a well-respected solicitor. [Interruption.] She is actually both; that is true. And I am standing in this House. We could not have done that without the security of an affordable and secure tenancy—the security of a council property—behind us.

The social housing shortage requires urgent extensive long-term policy responses, but one decision is crucial and would help to continue to improve the housing conditions across the board in my constituency. The Secretary of State could today approve the renewal of Newham’s widely respected scheme for private sector licensing. The scheme has run utterly successfully since 2013, but its renewal now requires approval from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the decision is overdue. The current scheme expires on 31 December, so there is a real risk that my constituents will be left without these protections if a decision is not made quickly.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Those of us who grew up working-class and spent time in social council homes had security. What we see so often in our constituencies is deep insecurity and the depression, mental health and other health problems that go with that insecurity. Does she agree that that is the difference between yesterday’s working classes and today’s?

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Things were not easy at home, but my mum never let us feel that we went without. Both my parents worked in factories in Silvertown, and although there was not a huge amount of money, there was always enough to pay the rent, because it was a social rent. Now, my constituents have two jobs, and they work in very hard circumstances, but they still cannot afford the private sector rents—that is all that is available to them—in my home borough.

Let me get back to the scheme in Newham to protect residents. The scheme’s value in terms of the enforcement of housing standards is clear. It gives Newham the information and powers it needs to monitor and enforce standards in the private rented sector. All private landlords have to register and agree terms with the council, and they are held to account for failures to live up to the agreement.

Just last week, enforcement officers working as part of the scheme found a man living in a 1 metre by 2 metre space under the stairs of a property. There were 11 other people living throughout the rest of the house, and dangerous electrical and fire hazards were found as well. Through the scheme, Newham Council has helped to bring more than 1,200 prosecutions against criminal landlords, which is 60% of the London total—more than every other London borough combined.

If standards are continually driven up in the private rented sector locally, and if enforcement operations are strengthened so that there are fewer rogue landlords and there is less scope for exploitative practices such as the horrendous overcrowding I described, conditions will improve in temporary housing, and that can only be for the good of the children and our society at large.

I hope we will see some serious commitment from the Minister today to deal with the root causes of the ills of long-term, expensive, poor-quality temporary accommodation. Given that he has sat generously listening and nodding away as I have spoken, I also want to hear some positive noises from him about the scheme, and I hope he will soon be in a position to announce that approval for the extension has been granted.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch 4:37 pm, 7th November 2017

I, too, congratulate Siobhain McDonagh. It is a great pleasure to follow her and other hon. Members in highlighting the importance of this critical issue. I understand the importance of temporary accommodation, which plays a vital role, because no child should be left without a roof over their head at a time of their lives when they face a crisis.

This is not a new problem. The number of children in temporary accommodation was at its peak in 2006, and it has come down somewhat since then. However, I absolutely accept that the Government should not be complacent and must do more to continue to bring the number down.

I have sought assurances from Redditch Borough Council, which has 21 units designated as temporary accommodation, that as few families as possible will be sent outside the borough, and I commit to doing more to work with the council to ensure that those numbers are not excessive.

This issue has a number of root causes, which have been admirably tackled by other Members, and I will highlight just three today. The first is, of course, ending homelessness. The Government have shown their commitment to preventing and reducing homelessness, particularly through the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which was introduced and championed by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, and I thank him for his detailed description of the Act.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

Well, he has done a fantastic job of championing this issue, and I welcome the work he has done, which all our constituents will benefit from.

The Government are committed to preventing and reducing homelessness, as well as to halving rough sleeping and eliminating it altogether by 2027. Clearly, that is challenging, but they have committed to making real progress by spending over £550 million between now and 2020 tackle this serious issue. That includes £11.7 million that I am assured has gone to local authorities to help them and that places duties on them to intervene earlier, so that they can be there when families most need their help, which is what we all want to see.

Of course, we need to fix the broken housing market. My goodness, how many times have we heard that in this place? Again, this is not a new issue. For 30 or 40 years, all Governments have not built enough houses. We heard absolutely fantastic stories from Lyn Brown about her experience in a social home. That is definitely where we need to get to. We have heard the commitment to fixing the broken housing market—to diversifying the market—and we have seen progress there, with 333,000 affordable houses, including 240,000 for affordable rent, since 2010.

I accept what Mr Lammy said about the definition of “affordable”. That does need to be looked at, particularly in the Greater London area that many Members here represent. I welcome the fact that in my own constituency of Redditch homes are more affordable in general. In fact, the average age of a first-time buyer in Redditch is 25. There are massive differences across the country, and policy needs to reflect that.

Another reason for homelessness can be the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy. I have heard that there will be some announcements on that in the Budget, so I hope that the Government will bring forward plans to ensure that private landlords can offer longer tenancies where it suits the individual’s situation, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. More security of tenure would very much help families in that situation and help to reduce homelessness. There is no simple solution to this issue, as I hope that I have made clear.

Labour Members have raised the issue of universal credit, which was rolled out in my constituency last week. I visited the housing providers who provide the most homes in my patch, and I also visited the jobcentre. I asked people there what they are going to do to help prevent anyone being made homeless as a result of the changes. They said that they welcome universal credit because it is helping people to get back into work, while for those families who are in work, it is helping them to take on more hours. Debt counsellors told me of the difficulties that families had had before when they could not take on more hours even if they wanted to. This system can work and it can support people out of poverty. In Redditch, there is a very proactive approach, so every claimant is being given the advance by default. I really hope that with this proactive approach families can benefit from universal credit, as we all agree is within the scope of the policy.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The hon. Lady is making a considered speech, and I am listening very carefully. Did her social landlords not also say that there has been a huge increase in rent arrears because of the roll-out of universal credit in her patch?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I asked them that question directly, and the answer I got was that many tenants are already in arrears when they come on to the universal credit system. It is therefore important that social landlords work closely with those tenants to help them through the process to get them back earning so as to reduce those arrears. There is support. Neighbourhood workers who work with those tenants assure me that the risk of their becoming homeless is very low, if not negligible. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will keep in close contact with those social landlords to ensure that that does not happen.

Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden and thank her for raising this important issue. I very much hope that the Minister, given the copious notes he is taking, will be able to reassure us that he is listening and that we can all work together to resolve some of the issues highlighted.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford 4:43 pm, 7th November 2017

I am pleased to follow Rachel Maclean. I congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh and thank her for bringing this very important debate to the House.

The use of temporary accommodation is currently increasing and will continue to increase unless we tackle the root causes. Every day, 150 families in Britain become homeless, according to the housing charity Shelter. Overstretched and underfunded councils such as Bedford Borough Council are trying to deal with homelessness in the midst of a housing crisis. There is a lack of affordable housing, and private sector rents continue to rise above household income, fuelled by the freeze of housing benefit in the private rented sector.

It is becoming very difficult for councils to procure accommodation within an affordable financial framework, and we have the ridiculous situation of councils offering cash incentives to private landlords to persuade them to rent to low-income tenants to bridge the gap between low incomes and high market rents. Landlords’ refusal to rent to people on low incomes is a serious problem, and Government need to look into it urgently.

There has been a 229% increase in the use of temporary accommodation in Bedford borough. In 2016-17, a total of 7,219 nights were spent in emergency accommodation, compared with just under 2,400 in 2015-16. That represents a 229% increase, and I really hope that the Minister is paying attention to that figure. The sharp increase in the number of low-income families in temporary accommodation is a disease created on this Government’s watch.

We are discussing the housing needs of the most vulnerable people in society. Families and vulnerable individuals are losing the roof over their heads and, in desperation, accepting accommodation many miles away from the communities in which they belong. Displacement, uncertainty and months spent in an unfamiliar B&B only add to the hardship of someone who is already in disadvantaged circumstances. According to Shelter, 118 children are living in temporary accommodation in Bedford alone. That is a very poor situation, and we need to look into it urgently. It is worth noting that nearly 1,400 families are on the council housing waiting list in Bedford. The only target that the Government are set to meet is to reach record levels of child poverty, which will rise to 5.2 million over the next five years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

How can we expect a child suddenly to move away from their school—perhaps their only stable environment —friends, family and support network and enrol in a new school in a new town, only to have to change once again a few months down the line? That causes great damage to their life chances, their mental health, their education and their ability to form secure relationships. A long-term solution must be found now. Temporary accommodation cannot become the permanent solution to this Government’s homelessness problem, and the Government need to look into the issue urgently. In Bedford borough, the situation is getting worse every minute.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh on securing the debate and on her description of the situation in Merton. Other colleagues, particularly those in outer London, have described the situation in their constituencies, and the examples that they gave do not differ too much from my constituency experience.

In the London Borough of Hounslow, which I represent jointly with my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra, there are 768 households in temporary accommodation and 3,500 households in housing need. The debate has focused on temporary housing for those who have been accepted as homeless and whom the local authority may have a duty to house. But let us remember that there are other people in temporary accommodation: those who are being housed by social services. The local authority has no duty to house those people, but there is concern about, and a duty of care towards, children in that situation.

I meet families being housed by social services in temporary accommodation who do not even have as much information confirming how long they will be there as those being housed by the homelessness team have. As other Members have so rightly said, with adequate, affordable social rented housing, those 768 families would be able to move fairly swiftly into permanent homes locally.

Since the Labour Government’s programme of 40,000 new starts of social rented homes was stopped in 2010 by the Conservative-led coalition, the housing need situation has reached crisis point. The lack of social rented housing coupled with rising rents in London, declining real wages and punitive income cuts for those on benefits—particularly with the local housing allowance cuts—has fuelled this crisis. The Government have left local authorities with the job of picking up the pieces by trying to find adequate temporary accommodation in which to place people while they are waiting to be assessed and then waiting for suitable permanent accommodation.

I want to pay tribute to frontline housing staff. They have to deal with this trauma and stress, and their own jobs are incredibly stressful. They did not go into housing management to be in such a position, but they are having to deal with this situation. It is just not fair on them, and neither of course is it fair on the families affected.

Local authorities are chasing an ever-declining stock of accommodation in which to place homeless families who are within the local housing allowance limits. Such accommodation needs to be fit for human habitation and the right size for the household in need.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are 3,311 households in temporary accommodation in my borough, Enfield, which is the second highest figure in the country? One solution we have tried in Enfield is to set up a housing gateway organisation to buy stock, but that is only a temporary solution. Does she agree that the best solution is to build more council housing?

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I congratulate local authorities, including my own, that are trying to find solutions to the temporary accommodation crisis, but they really need the powers and the security to invest in proper, good-quality permanent housing.

I want to move on to the lack of local temporary accommodation. Boroughs such as Hounslow in west London, where rents are very high, find that they cannot square the circle between quality and rent levels. Demand is increasing and supply is drying up, even for private sector accommodation. Families are in temporary accommodation not for weeks or months, but for years. A couple of weeks ago at my surgery, I met a mother who has been in temporary accommodation for nine years, which is longer than many of us stay in our permanent home.

Too often, therefore, temporary accommodation is not local. I have met a family who are being housed in Birmingham. Another family moved about 20 miles away, but the wage earner, the father, is a restaurant worker and finishes work after public transport has stopped, so he cannot get back to his family at night. There is an impact on children in relation to changing schools. Should they not change schools and carry on with the two-hour journeys each way, or should they decide that their new temporary home may be permanent for some time and therefore change schools? Making such a decision is stressful for the children—it is difficult for their educational outcomes—and for their parents.

What about people, many of whom I have met in my surgery, with medical needs, those whose children have special educational needs or those whose already severe mental health is getting worse with the stress? Should they shift their kids and their clinic or consultant when the local authority moves them to temporary accommodation a long way away, or should they fight their case with housing officers for some of the already too little local accommodation that is available locally?

There is an issue about what is local. If people seek help or advice from their MP, who is their MP: how long do they have to be in temporary accommodation before the MP of their last permanent home is no longer their MP and is no longer empowered to respond to their approach? I think we will have to take up this matter in the House, because it is confusing when we are trying to deal with casework or have casework referred to us involving someone from another authority.

Let me turn to the quality and suitability of temporary accommodation. I had a family expecting their fourth child living in one room in a bed and breakfast for months. I have had families living in homes that are damp, that are dangerous and where the repairs are inadequate. There are homes that are inaccessible for those with disabilities or that are unsuitable for children with special needs such as autism.

Temporary accommodation is becoming more unaffordable, as landlords in west London expect a higher return. The local housing allowance cap has fallen, so the local authority is left finding the difference between the rent and the amount that the Department for Work and Pensions is prepared to pay. It is not just non-working families who are suffering here, but working families as well. We should not be using taxpayers’ money to fund housing benefit to pay the high rents of temporary accommodation and to line the pockets of private landlords.

Local authorities are forced to take drastic action to reduce the demand for temporary accommodation, including tightening up the rules on the duty to house. In Hounslow, if a person is served with an eviction notice but leaves their home before the bailiffs arrive, they will be defined as intentionally homeless and therefore will not receive any help from the council in finding a place in a B&B or temporary accommodation as it will have discharged its duty to house. Too many families think that they are doing the right thing by planning ahead, but are then not helped by the local authority.

Hounslow has been reducing the use of temporary accommodation in the private sector by using council properties that are waiting to be repaired, but the funding should be available to make those homes adequate for permanent social-rent letting, rather than for temporary housing.

Temporary accommodation should be just that—temporary, a stopgap, and used for a short period. That was what temporary accommodation was when I was first a councillor and when need and supply of affordable accommodation balanced out. Temporary accommodation is not the solution to the housing crisis in this country. The solution lies in the delivery of adequate, truly affordable, social-rented housing. Instead of blaming the previous Labour Government for the problem, this Government should act now.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North 4:56 pm, 7th November 2017

It is usually a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury, but I am afraid to say that my speech paints a similarly bleak picture from the other side of London suburbia. I should declare at the outset that, until May next year, I am still an elected councillor in the London Borough of Redbridge, albeit unpaid, and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I want to begin by reflecting, as I prepare to leave the council, on the dire state in which local authorities find themselves as they try to wrestle with the scale of the housing crisis in London. Councils are providing temporary accommodation for more than 77,000 households, including more than 120,000 children, which is a net increase of 37% since the second quarter of 2014, and a 10% increase in numbers on the past year alone. Last Christmas, my borough, the London Borough of Redbridge, was looking to—and did—house more than 2,000 families in temporary accommodation, with more than 8,000 waiting on the housing register. I fear that the picture will be even bleaker this Christmas. as my casework is beginning to bulge even further with some pretty horrifying cases, to which I will refer in the short time available.

It is really hard to describe, except by telling individuals’ stories, just what this situation means in human terms for the people whom we are sent here to represent. One of my constituents used to live in a three-bedroom flat in Wanstead, in the west of the borough. She lost her home due to a fire in August 2016. She and her four children—aged 11, nine, six and 18 months—were rehoused in a two-bedroom flat. It was temporary accommodation but, as we have already heard from other examples, it was not at all temporary, as she is still there. She has GP letters about her stress and anxiety, which has been made worse by her housing situation. Her eldest daughter, who is just 11 years old, is also showing signs of stress and anxiety, and her school sent a letter expressing concern about the impact of the situation on her education. The response from the council is that it does not have anything bigger. My constituent does not feel that the council is listening or taking anything into account, but when I challenge the council’s housing officers, they say, “What can we do. Look at the pressures that we are under.” I do understand why my constituent feels that her situation is unreasonable and intolerable, but I also understand the dilemma that housing officers face, as the supply of accommodation simply is not there.

I was heartbroken when one of my constituents came to tell me about living in one tiny room, with very basic facilities, in a hostel with her 15-year-old daughter. Her daughter is preparing for her GCSEs, but she revises for her exams and does her homework under the duvet with a torch at night because she does not want to disturb the little sleep her mother gets in between looking after her daughter, managing to get to work to earn what little she can to try to make their lives better, and doing basic household chores, such as washing and laundry without basic laundry facilities.

One of my first cases was that of a victim of domestic violence who fled her home and was therefore deemed intentionally homeless. We in my office had to ask for the decision to be overturned, which it duly was. She was then placed in the Earl of Essex pub, an old pub on Romford Road, which gained notoriety in a BBC news segment that was a powerful piece on the housing crisis generally, and in Redbridge more specifically. The conditions are not suitable for her or her two children. They all sleep in the same room and their beds are next to each other. Her son has been referred to child and adolescent mental health services, which had taken the trouble to redecorate his room in the previous home to try to give him a better environment in which to live. However, that was also temporary, insecure accommodation. He was moved on and he is now back to square one. The daughter is going through puberty, and is very uncomfortable about having to sleep in such close proximity to her mum and younger brother.

The housing case I found most troubling was that of the 11-year-old boy who approached me at the end of a lesson during a school visit to say that he wanted to speak to me privately. It is unusual for an 11-year-old to demand some of their MP’s time, and I spoke to him in the headteacher’s office. He said, “You grew up in a council flat, didn’t you? Can you help me, my mum and my two brothers because we live in one room in a hostel?” That was in my neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend Mike Gapes.

This breaks my heart because one of the things that motivated me to get involved in politics was an awareness that I did not have same opportunities when I was growing up as other people from wealthier backgrounds. A good education changed my life and meant that a Stepney council estate boy could become a Member of Parliament, having gone to one of the world’s best universities.

I have no doubt that the boy approached me because he thought that I would understand his position, but the truth is that I do not. Growing up in that council flat in the 1980s, I thought it was terrible, but I realise how lucky I was to live in a place where my mum had security of tenure, where we were not at risk of being evicted overnight, and where I could go to the same school with the same friends and have some stability, if not all the opportunities that money can buy. Kids growing up today in the same circumstances as me are in a worse position than I was in the 1980s. This country is going backwards, not forwards, and that is intolerable.

I have heard some pretty clichéd speeches in this place about how to afford to revamp the Palace of Westminster or Buckingham Palace. We can make a case for ensuring that we look after our national institutions and fabric, but people have a point when they ask why we can always find money for those projects, which are considered indispensable, but not for housing.

I make a final point to the Minister—this does not all rest on his shoulders. Almost every policy we heard at the Conservative party conference this year and in previous years was about tackling the demand side of the problem—helping people to buy their own home or helping with rent—but this is a supply crisis. About the only sensible thing the Secretary of State has said in recent months is that we need £50 billion to build the generation of homes that this country needs. I can support that, and it is a tragedy that the Chancellor will not.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 5:04 pm, 7th November 2017

I congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh on securing this important debate and her powerful and moving speech. It is pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Wes Streeting.

My constituency covers part of the London borough of Lambeth and part of the London borough of Southwark. Both councils have among the most ambitious council house building programmes in the country. They are doing everything possible to deliver new, genuinely affordable homes, to prevent households from becoming homeless, and to source temporary accommodation within or very close to the borough, paying as much regard as possible to people’s support networks and where children go to school. However, they face an impossible task with the current policy and funding environment.

In 2015-16, Southwark Council placed about 3,400 households in temporary accommodation. In Lambeth there are currently about 1,500 households, including 5,000 children, in temporary accommodation. Southwark’s spend on temporary accommodation has gone up fivefold since 2011-12. Temporary accommodation is funded from a council’s general fund, and the increase in expenditure has come at exactly the same time as the Government have cut more than 50% of the direct support grant of both councils.

Across the country, more than 78,000 households, including 120,000 children, are living in temporary accommodation. The figure is up a shocking 60% since 2011 and continues to rise at 7% a year. Each one of those households is placed at greater risk of physical and mental ill health, and children in particular are more likely than their peers to have respiratory problems.

Across the country, expenditure is going up, and about £845 million was spent on temporary accommodation nationally in 2015-16. This increase in expenditure, both locally in the boroughs that cover my constituency and across the country, is not money well spent to deliver better outcomes, but money spent in a situation of last resort, delivering distress and instability for the households concerned.

Responsibility for that growth rests squarely at the door of the Government. According to the National Audit Office, Government policy is directly driving the increase in homelessness. It was the Government who imposed an arbitrary cap on the local housing allowance, which has caused an exponential increase in the number of people becoming homeless because they are unable to afford the cost of a rent increase that the LHA rate falls behind. The impact of the LHA cap could not be more stark than in Southwark, where the capped rate is just 38% of the average private sector rent. Average rent in the borough for a two-bedroom home is £694 a week, but the LHA is capped at £265. Soon, residents who are reliant on the LHA will be able to afford no private sector accommodation at all. The situation forces hundreds of households who would not previously have needed help with their housing to seek support from the council, because they find themselves facing homelessness. Temporary accommodation, much of which is both more expensive and of a much lower quality than general needs housing in the private rented sector, is often where such households are placed.

It is the Government who are refusing to listen to the overwhelming evidence that the six-week delay in receiving a universal credit payment is directly contributing to an increase in homelessness in the areas where that has been piloted, including Southwark. It will certainly continue to do so as it is rolled out, unless the Government decide to take notice of the evidence and pause the roll-out so that the problems can be addressed. It is the Government who have presided over a 95% drop in the number of social homes to rent funded by central Government grant since 2010.

I was proud to have supported the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which emerged from the Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry on homelessness. The Act, which places an emphasis on providing support for people facing homelessness to prevent them from becoming homeless, comes into force next year. However, preventing homelessness is labour-intensive work and there are grave concerns that the funding that the Government have committed to the Act’s implementation will not come close to fully resourcing councils for its implementation. The Act was largely based on legislation already in place in Wales, but the scale of the challenge in England is completely different. Southwark, for example, made more homelessness application decisions last year than were made in the whole of Wales over the same period. The Act must be properly resourced if it is to be effective. If it is not, the Government will have missed an enormous opportunity to take meaningful action to prevent homelessness.

I want to say a word about the personal consequences of living in temporary accommodation for my constituents. Every week in my surgeries, I see families who are at their wits’ end, living in accommodation that is overcrowded, damp and sometimes shared with strangers. Their experiences are among the most harrowing and distressing I hear. I think of my constituent who lives in a single room with her two-year-old daughter, sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities with other residents she does not know, some of whom cause disturbance and smoke cannabis on the landing outside her room. I think of the woman who, while she was pregnant, was placed in a studio flat with no running water, where she remained after the birth of her child, with the only alternatives available at the time for a mother and new-born baby being a mixed-sex hostel, or accommodation a long way from her family and support network. I also think of the couple who live with their three children, two of whom have sickle cell disease, in accommodation that is damp, cold and mouldy—conditions that precipitate frequent sickle cell crises and make it impossible to manage this painful condition effectively.

The conditions in which these constituents are forced to live are distressing enough, but these people also suffer the profound psychological consequences of living in insecurity without a permanent home, being unable to put down roots, and often travelling a long way to maintain employment and supportive relationships, particularly with their children’s school. The Government are perpetuating the problem, most notably due to the LHA cap and universal credit. The public sector funds that are being spent on poor temporary accommodation could be used instead to sustain private tenancies and prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. This would deliver much better outcomes.

In his Budget statement, the Chancellor has an opportunity, a month before Christmas, to stem the increase in the number of families living in temporary accommodation and to take meaningful action to address homelessness. The Government must lift the cap on LHA, because doing so would have an instant impact on the ability of hundreds of households to sustain their private sector tenancy. They must commit to the full implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act, with funding at the level that councils require. They must also make funding available to councils and housing associations to address the supply shortfall in the short term.

The increase in the number of families living in temporary accommodation is to the Government’s shame. They must take meaningful action to reduce the distress and damage that their failed housing policies are causing.

Photo of Angela Crawley Angela Crawley Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities, Women and Children), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Family Support), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Child Maintenance) 5:10 pm, 7th November 2017

I thank Siobhain McDonagh for bringing forward this debate and for her heartfelt and passionate contribution. None of us could fail to be moved by her call for change for the families here today and the many more affected by the scourge of homelessness and temporary accommodation. I also recognise the contributions of the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who rightly and proudly spoke of her working-class background and about growing up in a council house. No one in the House should be ashamed to talk about where they came from. We must make sure that young men, such as those the hon. Member for Ilford North spoke about, see that there are people in this place who represent them and that they understand where we came from, too.

Mr Lammy spoke at great length about the right to buy, which we abolished in Scotland. It is absolutely necessary that the Government replace the lost social housing and define exactly what they think constitutes an affordable home. What exactly is an affordable home? I would like to know. Rachel Maclean spoke at length about the roll-out of universal credit, which was rolled out in her constituency only last week.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The roll-out of universal credit started with a pilot in Inverness in 2013, and ever since we have been reporting to the DWP the problems it is causing for people. These problems are leading to people being evicted from their homes and adding to the homelessness numbers. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a ridiculous situation, and a stressful one to put people through, and that it is contributing much greater distress than is necessary?

Photo of Angela Crawley Angela Crawley Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities, Women and Children), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Family Support), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Child Maintenance)

Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and echo his sentiments. My constituency in south Lanarkshire witnessed the roll-out of universal credit some years ago. Scotland is not unused to the idea of a Government and this particular governing party trialling their catastrophic programmes in Scotland. The hon. Member for Redditch kindly informed us that it happened to her constituency last week. I ask the Minister to come to my constituency or to the highlands and the islands and see how the roll-out of universal credit really works, because it is really not working.

I am sure that everyone in the House will agree that our approach to homelessness and temporary accommodation is pivotal to predicting which vulnerable families will be impacted. It is clear how harrowing and stressful the situation can be for many of the people who come to our constituency surgeries. Having grown up myself in a damp council house, although not temporary housing, I am here to represent my neighbours and friends who continue to live in those houses and conditions.

It is refreshing to hear people talk unashamedly about their backgrounds. Not everyone in this place has the same level of privilege, and it is important to remember that in this House we are all equal.

Homelessness is most often a result of complex and difficult circumstances. It can arise from a need to escape abuse in the home, job loss or financial insecurity, but it can also result from holes in the social security system that allow people to fall through what should be a safety net. That is a result of things beyond the control of most of our constituents.

When people threatened with homelessness approach us in their time of need, they are in an extremely vulnerable position. They are scared and stressed, with insecurities in their lives that, I suspect, reach far beyond any that many Conservative Members could possibly imagine. I may be generalising, but the point is that to leave people with nowhere to go is downright immoral. [Interruption.] I hear chuntering from Conservative Members. I hope that they have constituents who can enlighten them, and I hope that the Minister will explain to his constituents why he has not yet resolved an issue for which he has ministerial responsibility.

The Government have recognised the position. Although housing policy is a devolved matter in Scotland, all four nations of the United Kingdom have legislated to introduce a legal duty to secure accommodation for at least some of the people who are rendered homeless. Scottish local authorities have a statutory duty to find permanent accommodation for all applicants who are unintentionally homeless, or who face the threat of homelessness. As a former councillor, I know how difficult and challenging that task is, and I appreciate the work done by housing officers in South Lanarkshire, throughout Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom. They work hard, each and every day, to ensure that no one is left without a roof over their head that night. When people have nowhere to sleep, housing officers will make arrangements for them not to have to sleep on the street.

Every time someone comes through the door of a council office or surgery to visit the local councillor, I am reminded of the story of a mother and her two children who had been sleeping on a friend’s sofa after escaping from an abusive relationship. I witnessed the housing officer go above and beyond what was required to ensure that she would have somewhere safe to sleep that night, but there is no doubt in my mind about the conditions in which she was forced to stay. No matter how great it was for her to have a roof over her head, it was temporary accommodation. It was damp, it was ill-equipped, and it was not fit to house two vulnerable young children. That is the reality that many families face throughout the country.

Some experience homelessness as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. Others experience it as a result of depression, and veterans may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from active duty. I do not want to generalise about people who find themselves without a home in which to sleep tonight, but the fact is that it is not enough for housing officers to make temporary accommodation available. They need to be able to offer the support that is necessary, and to act as counsellors. They need to be able to give advice to people in crisis, and to listen daily to truly harrowing stories. They need to be able to help people to get back on their feet. That means that they need support as well: they need funding, and the Government must recognise that they have a role in ensuring that it is provided. We must ensure that our council officers and services are appropriately funded, and that the key communication that should take place between local authorities is indeed taking place.

As I have said, and as many other Members have pointed out, housing is a devolved matter in Scotland. While the Scottish Government have gone to great lengths to ensure that those who find themselves homeless are protected, many are not afforded those protections, for a variety of reasons. I realise that that is a challenge, no matter how hard Governments may try. For all the failures and losses of this Government, which I may stand on this side of the House and criticise, I recognise that tackling homelessness is a challenge for any Government, and I do not wish to stand here and throw stones at glass houses. I hope that that will count in my favour; I have asked the Minister some questions, and I hope that he will recognise that I want to work with the Government.

Will the Minister acknowledge the impact of universal credit? Will he acknowledge that the delays of between six and 12 weeks, of which I have personal experience through the pilot in my constituency, are not acceptable? Will he acknowledge that the Government must do more to tackle homelessness throughout the UK, and will he come to my constituency to witness the impact of universal credit at first hand? What action will the Government take to prevent people from having to sleep in the cold tonight, and to ensure that a family does not have to sleep on someone else’s sofa? What commitment will they make to tackle the inherent problems of homelessness and temporary accommodation? Will they provide the necessary funds and support to ensure that those who deliver valuable services are able to do so?

Ultimately, I am saying to every Member, “Check your privilege, and do not forget why you came here in the first place.” There is a reason for our being here. We have an opportunity to change the present position. I want to work with the Government. Let us do more to tackle homelessness.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing 5:19 pm, 7th November 2017

This powerful and moving debate is testament to the importance of the introduction of the Backbench Business Committee and its debates. I congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh on securing this debate. She told me previously that there were 44 Members from both sides of the House behind her bid for it, and she has led it very effectively. However, this important debate has been so badly squeezed for time this afternoon.

My hon. Friend gave a speech that those of us who know her well have come to see as characteristic: it was passionate, practical and laced with the personal commitment and care she gives to her constituents. At one point, she said she was worried she might not find the right words to convey the anguish of some of her constituents; she did, however, and in doing so she did her constituents proud and this House a real service. In a country as decent and well off as ours, it should shame us all that 120,000 children this Christmas will have no home and will spend Christmas day in bed and breakfast-style accommodation, hostels and in some cases private rented accommodation that is not fit for human habitation, as we have heard this afternoon.

This has been a very important debate. As a number of contributions have underlined, temporary accommodation is too often not temporary but can last up to a decade and more. It is too often substandard and sometimes downright dangerous, and is too often not available in people’s own areas.

Some of the solutions have been set out for the House today. Kevin Hollinrake argued for tougher planning obligations. My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy and my hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) recommended building more new social rented homes and council homes. My hon. Friend Lyn Brown said we should back private landlord licensing. Rachel Maclean and my hon. Friend Mohammad Yasin argued that we should end out-of-area temporary housing. Angela Crawley said we should replace all right-to-buy sales with new council and social rented homes, and Bob Blackman called for longer tenancies and an end to six-month assured shorthold tenancies.

Homelessness is both highly visible, with the rapidly increasing number of people we see sleeping rough on our streets, but also hidden, and the homelessness crisis is essentially a hidden crisis today. The figures for temporary accommodation, which are in the motion before us today, are just the tip of the iceberg. Our councils across the country are, irrespective of political party leadership, doing their best, as my hon. Friend Wes Streeting said about his own in Redbridge. As well as the 60,000 families accepted as statutorily homeless in the last year by our councils, together they helped prevent homelessness and helped house 215,000 more families. But they are doing their best at the same time as the numbers and the pressures are rising, and the options available for housing for councils are reducing. That is why the number of people accepted as statutorily homeless has risen by nearly 50% since 2010, and it is why we are seeing the number of rough-sleeping homeless more than double; it has gone up by 50% in the last two years alone.

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, promoted by the hon. Member for Harrow East and on which my hon. Friend Helen Hayes led for Labour in Committee, is a good step. It had all-party support, including from our Front Bench, but it comes to something when the one stand-out piece of housing legislation and policy from a Conservative Government in the last seven years has come from the Back Benches, not the Front Bench.

I pay tribute to the Minister, however. I am well aware of how hard he worked with colleagues behind the scenes, first to get backing for the Bill and then to get some financial resources behind it. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood has said, there is very much more to be done. She was also right to say that the Homelessness Reduction Act was modelled on the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. That legislation was introduced four years ago this month by Carl Sargeant. Today, the House will want to pay its deepest sympathy to Carl’s family, his wife and his close friends. He was a passionate politician who put community at the heart of all his politics, and his Act was the first ever piece of housing legislation to be passed in Wales. Today we mark his legacy, because every month hundreds of families in Wales are helped to avoid the trauma of homelessness because of what he did.

The reason why the Homelessness Reduction Act offers some remedies but no solutions is that it does not deal with the root causes of rapidly rising homelessness. Many of those causes are now being driven by the decisions taken by this Government over the past seven years. They include: the big cut in investment in new affordable homes; the ending of all Government investment behind new social rented homes; crude cuts to housing benefit; the introduction of the roll-out of universal credit, unreformed; the reduction in funding for homelessness services; and the lack of action to protect private renters. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden that Connect House probably exists only because of the changes in the planning regime that our Government brought in to prevent councils from being able to withhold permission for that kind of development.

We know what works because we have done it before. The Minister is sometimes guilty, when responding to questions about rapidly rising homelessness, of saying, “Oh well, it was higher under Labour.” And he is right. When we came into power in 1997, the level of statutory homelessness was already over 100,000 and rising. It peaked in 2003, but the critical question is the action that we took then. After that, the independent Joseph Rowntree Trust and the Crisis homelessness monitor described what happened as an unprecedented decline in statutory homelessness, and the level of rough sleeping homelessness went down by more than 75%. So it can be done. We know what works, so let us do it.

This Government have no majority in the House and no real mandate in the country, and they have no domestic policy programme because that is not covered by the deal with the Democratic Unionist party. In the spirit of a Backbench Business Committee debate, let me offer some actions that the Government could take to start to get to the bottom of the issue and deal with the homelessness crisis that we are facing.

The Government could overhaul how we measure rough sleeping so that we know how many people are sleeping rough on the streets; transform capacity and get people off the streets for good by making 4,000 homes available now for people with a history of rough sleeping; halt their plans to change how supported housing is funded, which could still lead to the closure of homelessness hostels; protect the housing cost element of universal credit; and, above all, build the tens of thousands of new affordable homes, homes for social rent and council homes that are needed to fix the housing crisis. They could also increase the security for private renters, make three-year tenancies the norm, and cap and control the rise in rents. In that way, we will start to tackle the homelessness crisis.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

I was just winding up, but I will if the hon. Gentleman presses me.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and also for his support for the Homelessness Reduction Act. While I am on my feet, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I inadvertently forgot to do that when I made my speech.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the Labour Party’s policy is on the local housing allowance? The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood has drawn our attention to that issue, but so far in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech he has been silent on the matter. I think the whole House would be quite keen to hear the Opposition’s view on what should happen on the LHA.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

That is a disappointing intervention to take right at the end of this speech at the end of this debate, but I will send the hon. Gentleman the Labour housing manifesto. We have committed to ending the bedroom tax; the Conservatives brought it in. We will restore housing benefit support for 18 to 21-year-olds; they cut it. We will review the whole housing benefit system, including the local housing allowance and the lack of link with rising rents, which they brought in.

Problems in the system are directly driving the rapid rise in homelessness and the need for the temporary accommodation that this debate has been about. I hope that this debate will give the Government a lead. Accepting that there are problems and agreeing with the concerns is not enough; action is needed now. Let us hear from the Government that that is what they will take.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 5:30 pm, 7th November 2017

I congratulate Siobhain McDonagh on securing this debate on such an important subject. The provision of good temporary accommodation is a vital part of getting people the help they need and ensuring that a family are never without a roof over their head. The number of households in temporary accommodation remains well below the peak levels experienced in September 2004, but this Government are certainly not complacent. In order to ensure that families are moved into settled accommodation more quickly, and spend less time in temporary accommodation, we took a major step and changed the law in 2011, so that councils can now place families in decent and affordable private rented homes.

The quality of temporary accommodation is, of course, extremely important. The quality and standard of all temporary accommodation is ensured through a legal duty placed on local authorities, which must undertake an assessment of suitability before placing anyone into accommodation. Affordability, size, condition, accessibility and, importantly, location should be taken into account. The assessment includes the possible disruption to jobs and children’s schooling, points that were made during the debate.

I will respond to as many of the hon. Lady’s questions as possible. To pick up on her first point, we should take health and safety extremely seriously. All homes should be of a reasonable standard, and tenants should have a safe place to live regardless of tenure. Local authorities have strong powers to deal with poor-quality and unsafe accommodation. The housing health and safety rating system assesses the health and safety risks in all residential properties. If a property is found to contain serious hazards, the local authority has a duty to take the most appropriate action, and we would expect local authorities to use those powers. It important that safety levels are always met and that we ensure that homes are of a decent standard.

We are also embarking on an ambitious programme to reform the response to homelessness, which will place prevention right at the heart of the approach. So far, that has included replacing the DWP’s temporary accommodation management fee with a flexible homelessness support grant, which enables local authorities to more strategically prevent homelessness. Taking action earlier and getting on the front foot in order to help to prevent homelessness will result in fewer households having to face the stress and upheaval of a homelessness crisis, and we expect it to relieve pressure on temporary accommodation. The funding will drive change in local areas, and my ambition is to see local authorities, voluntary sector organisations, health services and the wider public sector work in partnership to deliver services that support people’s needs. Overall, we have allocated £950 million until 2020 to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as supporting the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which was introduced by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman.

The Act is the most ambitious legislative reform in decades, and it will fundamentally transform the culture of homelessness service delivery. Local authorities, public bodies and the third sector will work together actively to prevent homelessness for all those at risk, irrespective of priority need, intentional homelessness or local connection. The Act will require local authorities to work with those in need to develop personalised housing plans, which will be tailored to focus on the needs and circumstances of the individual. That can include actions by other support services that are best suited to support the individual.

Alongside the Act, we are making positive changes in the way we gather statutory homelessness data, as John Healey rightly said. The additional data we gather will enable us to get a better insight into the causes of homelessness and the support that people need. The data will also enable us to monitor the help people have received from their local authority and whether it helped to prevent them from becoming homeless. The data will also provide us with more detail on the temporary accommodation provided to those in need, including on its size, location and quality.

To support the delivery of the Act, we are widely consulting on the revised statutory homelessness code of guidance for local authorities. We will also be providing £72.7 million of funding, in line with the new burdens doctrine. We want to see fewer individuals and families face homelessness, we are committed to ending rough sleeping, and we want to reduce homelessness overall. We are therefore setting up a homelessness reduction taskforce, which will focus on prevention and the important issue of affordable housing.

I will now address some of the other points raised by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden. On the Homelessness Reduction Act, the Department for Communities and Local Government has employed a team of advisers. She rightly mentioned how we will hold local areas to account. It is not just about holding areas to account but about supporting them to ensure that the right systems and working practices are in place. The team of advisers will go out to support local authorities on implementing the Act.

It is extremely important that we get to a place where the code of guidance reflects some of the challenges that the hon. Lady mentioned. It is also important—my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East is a strong advocate for this—that the Act makes provision for the Government to introduce a code of practice if it is deemed necessary because local authorities are not taking on their responsibilities under the code of guidance.

I heard what the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden had to say about some of the temporary accommodation in her constituency. I was not aware of the meeting she is holding in Committee Room 9 this evening, and unfortunately I cannot make it, but I take her comments very seriously indeed. I would be extremely grateful if she were willing to meet me in the Department to discuss her concerns in more detail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East mentioned bed and breakfasts, the usage of which has started to reduce in the past few quarters. That is good news but, again, we are not complacent. Importantly, certain local authorities, such as Barnet, Haringey and Tower Hamlets, are now not using bed and breakfast accommodation at all. We need to learn from places where good practice is happening, and my Department’s team of advisers will focus on spreading that best practice across the country.

The affordable housing supply has also been mentioned. It is an extremely important part of this. The Government have delivered 240,000 affordable homes for rent since 2010, but we want to build on that and bring forward another 225,000 affordable home starts by 2020. On the recent announcements, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been clear that we want to bring forward houses for social rent, particularly in areas with extreme affordability challenges.

My hon. Friends the Members for Harrow East and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) mentioned another important issue: the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy, which is a common cause of people becoming homeless. To answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, let me say that my Department is absolutely committed to looking at how we can incentivise landlords to provide longer tenancies. I hope that we will be coming forward with details on that soon. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne shakes his head, but incentivising landlords is the right thing to do, rather than introducing things such as rent controls, which, as has been widely acknowledged across the sector, will reduce supply rather than increase it.

I certainly hear what Lyn Brown said about the Newham private sector licensing scheme—she made an impassioned plea to the Department on that. I am not directly making the decision, but I will make sure that the information she has put into this debate is fed back to the Minister for Housing and Planning.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I am genuinely grateful to the Minister for listening and for that assurance. If the Department is not going to make a positive decision very soon, I would be very grateful for a meeting to discuss that with the Minister responsible, if there is anything that this Minister can do to enable that to happen.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I will certainly do what I can on that. I expect that a decision should not be too far away on the issue the hon. Lady mentions. She also mentioned rogue landlords. We have to be clear that they form a small part of the private rented sector, but wherever they exist we must work to drive them out of the system. That is why in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 we introduced further measures, such as the power to levy civil penalties of up to £30,000 on a rogue landlord, with the money then going back to the local authority to invest in respect of further enforcement powers. We have also introduced banning orders, so rogue landlords can be banned from renting property to people or from being a property agent.

Helen Hayes mentioned the situation in Southwark. I was delighted to go there several weeks ago to visit its housing options team, who are an early adopter of the Homelessness Reduction Act. I was struck by the progress being made in Southwark and the positivity of the team there. They seem to be doing a fantastic job and have embraced the principles of the new legislation. It was obvious that they were helping more people earlier to stay in their home, and I was extremely pleased with what I saw during that visit.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

The Minister is right to commend the excellent work that Southwark Council is doing as a trailblazer to implement the 2017 Act early. I hope that officers and members at Southwark also shared with him their grave concern that the Government’s commitment to funding for that Act extends for only two years and that without a commitment to fund at the extent that is needed all that good work will quickly be lost.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

As the hon. Lady knows, we have invested £72 million in funding for the 2017 Act. The Act is coming into force in April, but we are putting a significant amount of that funding into councils earlier, so that they can gear up for the new Act. She will know, from being heavily involved in the Bill Committee and through the process of the legislation—I commend her for that—that the Government have committed to reviewing the new burdens funding that is being provided within two years of the Act’s implementation.

Time is moving on, so if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will mention a point that the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne made about that Act. I assure him that we were looking carefully at the legislation that was introduced in Wales, but while we were considering it, an excellent opportunity arose when my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East came forward and the Government embraced his proposals.

It would be remiss of me not to offer on behalf of the Government my condolences following the death of Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Assembly Member who has regrettably passed away. I want to put on record that the work he did on homelessness reduction in Wales has made a significant difference to the lives of people there, and the House should remember that.

The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne mentioned Labour’s action in 2003. When we look at what happened at that time, we should not forget that a lot of people were moved from their own areas during that period. A lot of people were moved out to places such as seaside resorts, where there was often little by way of job prospects or opportunities for people to make decent lives for themselves. In some of those areas, there are still social challenges caused by the decisions made at that time. The Government are committed to tackling homelessness, but also to an approach in which we try to do the best thing by people. Several Members mentioned people being moved out of areas; people should not be moved out of their area by compulsion. There should be a discussion between the local authority and the individual, based on the individual’s circumstances at the time.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the rough sleeping data, which we have improved since 2010. I should point out to him that in 2010 councils were not even compelled to provide rough sleeper data to the Department. They are now, but we want to go further and to obtain more data, because we know that if we do, we will be able to work out exactly what the challenges are and why people become homeless, and we will be far more effective at dealing with it. He also mentioned rent controls, which I certainly do not think are a way to help the situation, as I said earlier. They would compound the situation and make it worse.

I thank the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden again for allowing me to set out the Government’s position on this extremely important issue. There is still a considerable amount of work to do. The Government are making progress, but we now need to accelerate it, and I think we will, particularly through the Homelessness Reduction Act, the additional funding that we have provided to local authorities, and the homelessness reduction taskforce that the Government are going to convene shortly.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 5:48 pm, 7th November 2017

I thank all Members from all parties for being involved in this important debate, and I thank the Minister for agreeing to meet me to discuss Connect House—I am grateful.

I do not wish to sound angry or petulant, but I feel both, because 84 families will still be living in the middle of an industrial estate tonight, tomorrow night, next year and the year after. The most common eviction is now eviction from an assured shorthold tenancy. No amount of advice at any point in the cycle is going to change that, because landlords can get more money if they rent their properties to people who are not dependent on housing benefit or universal credit. That is a financial fact. We can wish it better, but that is not going to work. The only thing that is going to work is a proper requirement for standards in temporary accommodation that are fearlessly enforced by the Government. God help us: we require councils to tell other councils when they move a homeless family to their area. That would be revolutionary.

I worked in housing for 35 years. I found accommodation for homeless families and dealt with people in bed and breakfasts in the 1980s. I have never ever seen such numbers and the sort of accommodation that people are currently living in. We can get real about it and do something real, or risk a crisis among poor, dispossessed families of the like that we will have difficulty dealing with. I ask people to get real about the situation that many of our constituents find themselves in.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
notes with concern the increased use by local authorities of temporary accommodation for 77,240 homeless families in priority need, including 120,540 children or expected children;
further notes more than a quarter of those households have been placed in temporary accommodation in a different local government area;
further notes the draft consultation on a homelessness code of guidance for local authorities;
is aware of the pressure on local authorities and the increasing demands that they face;
and calls on the Government to provide a framework for monitoring and enforcement to ensure the appropriate level of quality and location of temporary accommodation, to require that local authorities appoint a designated officer for homeless families in their area and to ensure that homeless families have appropriate contact with health, education and social services when they are in temporary accommodation.