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Homelessness - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 31st January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 2:53 pm, 31st January 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take, in addition to their support for the Private Member’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, to tackle the growing problems of homelessness and rough sleeping.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I refer to my local government interests. Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010—

Oh!

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the brief insight into the supplementary that he is about to ask, although unfortunately it was perhaps a little too brief. The inference in the Question on the Order Paper is absolutely right. The Private Member’s Bill introduced by my honourable friend Bob Blackman in the other place is of great importance. In addition, the Government are determined to help the most vulnerable in society and we are investing over £550 million up to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, as I was saying before I was properly corrected, rough sleeping has doubled since 2010, and the use of temporary accommodation by local councils has increased by 40%. The Government’s support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill is welcome, but their £61 million funding over three years leaves a gap of £79 million according to the Local Government Association. Is not the reality that the causes of homelessness are not being tackled? When will the Government take action to facilitate the building of affordable housing to rent and to tackle the problems caused by an unregulated private rented sector in which high rents and a lack of security of tenure have led to the present crisis?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, the question of homelessness and rough sleeping is a complex one. The noble Lord is right that the number of rough sleepers has gone up in the past six years—that is absolutely true—but the number of homeless people has halved since 2003, and more than halved since its peak. As I said, during this Parliament we have committed £550 million to tackling rough sleeping and homelessness over the next four years.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

Could the Government look at the enormous problems around empty homes? There are probably about 250,000 empty homes in Britain today, and if we put effort into doing something about that we might find that the housing problem shrank a bit. There used to be a wonderful organisation called the Empty Homes Agency that kept the Government on their toes. I suggest that we return to looking at these ways—as well as all others—of solving that problem.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I pay tribute to what the noble Lord does in the area of homelessness. He really knows what he is talking about. I will take that idea away for consideration. In the housing White Paper, to be published shortly, there will be discussion of these issues. However, I applaud what he has done and welcome that particular initiative, which we will look at.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, would the Minister care to answer the second part of my noble friend Lord Beecham’s question, which he did not answer at all?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, if that is the case, I will write to the noble Lord. I thought that I had fully addressed the question. I am not now sure what it was but I will write to the noble Lord on the second part of his second question.

Photo of The Bishop of Norwich The Bishop of Norwich Bishop

There is a growing number of reports of landlords evicting tenants on universal credit, not because the tenants are in arrears but because landlords dislike the new system where their rental income comes through the tenant rather than being paid direct. Will the Minister assure the House that this change of practice will be reviewed if these indications show that it increases homelessness and rough sleeping?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his contribution. As I have indicated, the housing White Paper is due shortly and will deal with different tenures. The Homelessness Reduction Bill, which will proceed through your Lordships’ House shortly, is an opportunity to discuss this issue. We are, however, giving increased security of up to 56 days.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, Homeless Link has estimated that 86% of those sleeping rough have had, or are currently dealing with, mental health issues. What, in particular, will the Government do to help people suffering from both homelessness and sleeping rough?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about that mental health challenge, and it goes back to what I said about rough sleeping and homelessness being a complex issue. We discuss this with other government departments and with the charitable and voluntary sector, as part of a ministerial group chaired by my honourable friend Marcus Jones in another place. She is, however, right to highlight that issue and we are looking at it.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Chair, Communications and Digital Committee

My Lords, I have the honour of taking the Homelessness Reduction Bill—the Private Member’s Bill—through your Lordships’ House. I thank and congratulate the Government on giving this strenuous support, and the same goes for Her Majesty’s Opposition. Can the Minister, however, impress on his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions that their attempts to reduce housing benefit and freeze the rents paid to private landlords is undermining efforts to place people in the private rented sector? As the right reverend Bishop says, there are already enough inhibitions on private landlords taking people on housing benefit, and some are now terminating their agreements. Unless we tackle this, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will not make much odds.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord for his endeavours with regard to the Homelessness Reduction Bill and I pay tribute to all parties that are ensuring that this legislation passes, because it will make—notwithstanding what the noble Lord just said—an important contribution to this area. Again, the noble Lord has addressed an important issue and shows that it cuts across government. We talk to the Department for Work and Pensions. As he has indicated, there are issues. We have ensured, for example, that there is deferred application of the local housing allowance until 2019, and then we will ensure that we have a new funding model that delivers just as much at the same level, which will include hostels. He is, however, right to address that issue: it requires a concerted effort across government.

Photo of Lord Smith of Hindhead Lord Smith of Hindhead Conservative

My Lords, in 2015, only 44 local authorities out of 326 went out to gather data for the rough sleeping count. The rest estimated their results. Will my noble friend consider reviewing how these data are collected and introducing more standardisation, perhaps through the homelessness Bill?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, my noble friend is right about the reliability of the data. I do not have the precise figure to hand, but I believe that there have been improvements in the collection of data. Let us bear in mind that these data were not collected at all until 2010: it was initiated by the previous Government. I will take that point away to ensure that we bear down on local authorities on this, but, as I said, I think the position has improved since the figures that the noble Lord gave us.