Homelessness and Temporary Accommodation — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:24 am on 2nd December 2020.

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[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 2:30 pm, 2nd December 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered homelessness and temporary accommodation.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, and delighted, as well, that the debate has attracted support in the Chamber on an issue that is central to much of our work as Members of Parliament but not discussed as often as we would like. Although there is a great deal to cover under the topic of homelessness and temporary accommodation, I shall concentrate particularly on conditions, and I hope that colleagues will address some of the other important issues that come under its umbrella.

“I feel like I am being punished.”

Those were the words of a desperate mother accepted as homeless after experiencing domestic violence, and placed in temporary accommodation by my local authority, Westminster City Council, like tens of thousands of others. There were 98,300 households in temporary accommodation in June, including 127,240 children, and that was up by 14% in the last year alone. The mother was found a private flat by the council, somewhat misleadingly described as temporary, because she has stayed in that limbo for seven years already. That is not my personal record for temporary accommodation. The current record is 21 years, and 10 years is not at all unusual.

The properties that the mother in question and everyone like her have been placed in are expensive. Their rents are similar to full market-level private rents. In a particularly cruel twist, those high rents mean that a high percentage of homeless households are immediately caught by the benefit cap, even though the occupants had no choice about where they were placed, or the rents they would pay. They are also insecure, as the mother in question is. Families such as hers are forced to move constantly, not just within the local area but across the city and beyond, regardless of the schools that the children attend or their personal needs.

A heavily pregnant constituent, who was registered blind, was placed first in north London, in a property with multiple stairs, that was not self-contained and where she was at risk of falling, and then in east London, where she was expected to navigate totally unfamiliar surroundings. She said to me:

“I’m very frightened from places I’m unfamiliar with, as I can’t get around”.

A family with two blind young adult children attending college were told they simply had to learn new mobility routes, as they were sent to the other side of London. These are all recent cases. Someone else told me:

“We were living locally for 19 years, and working in the hospital. We were evicted from our flat and had to approach Westminster council for help. We were placed in an emergency self contained flat that we were told was just for six weeks, so we couldn’t change our daughter’s school. But unfortunately its lapsed to 7 months. The transport is too expensive from West London just to take my daughter to the school. The cost is £60 weekly which we can’t afford any more—and the journey is too long—my wife has to leave home at 6AM to reach the school at 9AM. She find it very hard with little girl who is just 28 months old.”

The stories of dislocation and of the crisis of affordability could fill this debate alone, but I want to concentrate on the condition of the properties that my constituents are placed in. Those conditions are beyond belief, particularly given the amount of public money that is going into supporting the almost entirely private landlords providing the accommodation.

The family commuting five hours a day to school also reported:

“The condition of the flat is very bad &
cold we are on the top of the building, &
all is glass, with damp everywhere, the water leaking through the glass all around us”.

The same mother I referred to at the beginning of the speech, who was homeless owing to domestic violence, contacted me a few weeks ago to say:

“The property we are in is a shambles with mice, rats and rising damp and mould throughout. The Council has contacted the housing association managing the property, who has contacted the landlord. She sent her surveyor to the property in August. He was shocked to see how much damp we have. He said it would need major work done. I have postnatal depression and suffer from an illness which means I get migraines with stroke-type symptoms with them. I am on medication. My eldest son also has asthma and rising damp is in the kids room. The damp in my room is so bad myself and the baby are now sleeping on the floor in the front room and the new born is having problems breathing”.

Another mother wrote to me—all these examples are from this year, in the time of covid:

“I am in shock that the council can give properties to people in the state I was given mine especially with a six week old baby. I was told last minute after just giving birth that the temporary emergency accommodation I was in needed to be vacated. I was given a flat on the other side of London despite explaining all my support system was locally which is important to me as someone who suffers depression and anxiety with a history of attempted suicide which has gotten worse since I’ve been moved so far already.

Now I’m sitting in the living room on the first night nursing my new born when suddenly there is leaking from the ceiling and water is falling fast. The next day a contractor comes and tells me this is a previous issue that wasn’t fixed by Westminster and if he hadn’t come today the ceiling would have collapsed on me! He had to cut two big holes in the ceiling to dry out the ceiling as a water pipe had been leaking for some time before I moved in. Now the ceiling in the kitchen is leaking with water falling through the smoke alarm”.

There are more, oh so many more:

“Dear Ms Buck. I live in a Westminster temporary council flat, one of my 3 children is autistic. My neighbour down stairs shouts and kicks my door because of the leaking water in her flat which we reported to the agency A2Dominion”— the housing association responsible for managing the property—

“and no one fixed. My kids are scared—especially the autistic child—they can’t sleep and so are doing no good in school”.

Another constituent came to me after being referred through the council’s children’s services. Even then—although Westminster council has now responded to this and one or two of the other cases—the council took 10 months to resolve the problem, despite being told:

“The mould is so severe because it was left for a very long time untreated…I can send you a copy of the EH” environmental health—

“report and at least 40 pictures to outline the severity of mould and dampness and how it ate the plastering off the walls. This mould releases spores into the air which makes everybody inside this place always in hayfever condition. We have to keep all windows open for at least 5 hours every day. You could imagine the cost of heating…as we have a little boy who is autistic and had a very serious breathing condition and needs medical attention if he gets a simple cold. It is not only my son getting constantly ill but our food is mouldy and the clothes inside the cupboards are mouldy too.”

Another constituent wrote:

“Although we are on the waiting list for many years now, A2Dominion has not kept up its maintenance of this property. We have mould in all the rooms, carpets and furniture. The floor is a hazard as initially it did not even have underlay. Due to the wear and tear of 15 years we were advised to remove it and now we are without carpet. Winter is settling in and we will be cold. In the last few weeks, we have had to kill 6 mice. There are holes in floorboards and walls where they come in”.

Another said:

“I am in a temporary accommodation…by Westminster council placed in Leyton. I have written to my landlord to tell them that repairs are needed for three years now. I have allowed a reasonable time for my landlord to do these repairs, but they have not done them. I reported these problems to my landlord: Mould everywhere, walls are wet and the flooring wet everywhere. My son now has respiratory problems and hard breathing due to the property state, and is now under the hospital for his respiratory infection…it’s getting worse day by day. The house is all mould and suffocating for me and child—it’s life threatening to me and my son. I have contacted the housing at Westminster, the receptionist keeps telling me she will send an urgent email and someone will call me back but not a single person is. Ceiling has fallen down on me and my 3 years old in the bathroom…The agency came to try to cover it up and the man working for the agency when he opened the ceiling roof said this is life-threatening and it needs to get repaired but the landlord refusing to pay a lot of money as it costs too much.”

Another wrote to me:

“I am writing to inform you of my revolting state of living in this temporary accommodation of mine and the neglect of A2Dominion. I am a mother of two autistic children under the age of 10. Both suffer from severe disabilities…My temporary accommodation has horrid dampness…which has affected our cardiovascular medical condition and has made my children and I suffer tremendously during the past one year and a half ever since we moved into here. The carpets are damp to the point where you cannot keep your feet on the ground for too long while sitting. In addition to rats and mice that were roaming through the flat freely my electric meter caused a huge fire in the building which was luckily put out...Due to this, I have been without electricity for almost a week now.

I have spent the last 6 days in the most difficult state. I have not had any help or support from A2Dominion nor the council. Both are throwing the responsibility on another, while I am staying in a home everyday in order to keep my kids warm and fed in this cold winter. We are literally homeless right now and nothing has been done to fix the electricity and replace the meter, regardless of the hundreds of calls and pleas for help that I have made. I have no option but to turn to you for help. I am desperate and exhausted. My children are struggling and suffering with me. Their medical conditions are a huge obstacle, as they unable to accept change.”

And another:

“I’m writing this email in the hopes you could help me…I’m currently in long term temporary accommodation in Newham with my 4 month old baby…I’m from Westminster and have been accepted by the council. I’m currently in an unsuitable accommodation which…is infested with mice and vermin. I moved in in March this year and by the third day I reported the infestation of mice and large holes in the bathroom, kitchen and living room. Due to covid-19 the landlord refused to fill out any holes forcing me to do it myself very unprofessionally and desperately whilst heavily pregnant. When Lockdown came to an end the landlord did send out two different men…to fill the holes, and they did nothing…I pressured the housing to help force the landlord to fill the holes and it was a back and forth for a couple of weeks resulting in the maintenance team saying ‘the house is 200 years old…there’s nothing more I can do’
and ‘The kitchen flooring has water damage causing wood decay along the whole flooring for the kitchen which brings in rodents from the basement’…now as there’s holes everywhere and I even hear them eat through some holes and they come in…some eat the poison and die in my house…I’m stranded alone dealing with this, and it’s worsening my postpartum depression and anxiety. I can’t stay in this house another week. Due to lockdown new restriction of staying in other households I am really fighting my depression as I can’t even sofa surf due to safety issues. Please, please help us.”

And the last:

“In 2018 my family had been placed by Westminster in our current flat which has been deemed unfit to live in and determined to be detrimental to our health on a number of occasions during our stay (there is black mould/fungus/bacteria covering our walls). In addition to this, due to the building being quite literally bent out of shape, and slowly collapsing in on us, the windows in the living room are unable to close…making the entire house very cold, especially as we approach winter times. We have lived in these deteriorating conditions for…2 and a half years now despite it being considered urgent by every inspector that came to inspect the building saying that we should be rehoused immediately”.

I have managed to get two or three of these cases resolved in the last week. These are a selection, and I could have doubled, tripled or quadrupled the examples of the conditions that people are being kept in. The harshness of the conditions that people are experiencing as they go through the homeless system has to be seen to be believed. I do not understand how local authorities let this happen. I do not understand how the housing associations that are intermediaries—A2Dominion, Genesis, and Stadium housing associations among the worst, in my own experience; others will have other examples—allow this to happen. I do not understand how the Government allow it to happen, given the amount of public money that is being put into this.

The pressure of numbers is taking its toll. The figures are creeping up every year, year on year since 2011. Local councils are unequipped to cope with and pay for the homes that are required. Two thirds of all households that are homeless in Britain—62,670 households—were placed in temporary accommodation by London local authorities. Even prior to covid-19, London boroughs’ expenditure on homelessness was expected to rise to a total of £1 billion by 2021-22. Nearly a quarter of this is unfunded by central Government, thereby increasing the pressure on other services. There is no doubt that the pressure of those figures means that the ability to manage the quality of the accommodation is undermined, and the Government are failing to make good on the requirement to support these services. Unless the Government act on this, the brutal experiences being endured by my constituents will only continue to worsen.

Research from Shelter earlier this year revealed the explosion of the temporary accommodation industry. Between April 2018 and March 2019, councils spent over £1 billion on temporary accommodation—a rise of 9% in a year, and 78% in five years. Shelter’s research shows that 86% of this money is flowing directly to private providers, most of whom are unregulated. This explosion in expenditure has been fuelled by a chronic lack of investment in decent, genuinely affordable social housing.

The Minister will, I fear, just tell us how much the Government are spending. That is utterly meaningless unless there is a recognition of how far short funding falls, compared with what is needed, and of the wider context of cuts to social security, local housing allowance, local councils and social house building. I hope that I will be disappointed and that that is not what the Minister will say.

We need fundamental changes to housing supply and housing support in the social security system. We need proper management of and accountability for the homes that vulnerable and homeless people get stranded in. We need to strengthen the welfare safety net, remove the benefit cap, reverse the freeze to local housing allowance and ensure that rents align with the 50th percentile of market rents. We need urgent legislation to give private renters more security and end no-fault evictions, which remain one of the leading causes of homelessness. We need to invest in a new generation of social housing to provide families with stable, permanent and affordable homes.

Local councils need their homelessness costs to be fully funded. Homeless households need to be accommodated locally, except in exceptional circumstances, and the routine use of out-of-borough housing must be ended. Ministers have previously assured us that that will happen. They have promised us that it should be the exception rather than the rule, but that commitment is honoured only in the breach. Capacity and resources need to be made available to ensure that standards of accommodation are acceptable.

Homelessness is always a hellish experience, and the people who endure it are almost by definition already highly vulnerable. It should not be a punishment, but my constituents ask me this question again and again: “Why am I being punished for the sin of being homeless?”

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am afraid that there are a lot of people trying to take part, so if you want me to get you all in, we will have to limit you to three minutes. I am sorry.

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield 2:46 pm, 2nd December 2020

I thank Ms Buck for her very compelling speech and for the personal accounts of her constituents. All Members have experience of similar emails and one-to-one encounters, so I thank her for raising this important issue. I also thank the Minister for the Department’s commitment during the pandemic to tackling rough sleeping and trying to end it across England. We have had the highest commitment in funding that I can remember to tackle the issue during the pandemic and enable local councils to house those who are sleeping rough, so I thank the Minister for that.

The hon. Lady’s excellent speech was about the conditions of temporary accommodation, and I want to focus on temporary accommodation for families. As she said, this is particularly a London issue, given the high cost of living, the high population and the lack of affordable and social housing. It is something that I saw at first hand in my previous roles, when I worked as a community outreach worker. I saw families who were living in rat and cockroach-infested multi-dwelling homes with other families. It was a London issue that I saw over and over again.

I have visited other parts of the UK, including the west midlands, to look at best practice in places where we have tackled this problem proactively. Something that I noticed in the west midlands was the approach of linking housing to employment. Andy Street, the Mayor of the west midlands, has done an excellent job of providing housing, employment opportunities and transport. As housing is a devolved matter, mainly to the Mayor or local authorities, it would be worth the Mayor of London looking at how he can support families who are trapped in temporary accommodation.

I also ask that the Minister consider the high cost of temporary accommodation in urban areas. Between 2018 and 2019, councils spent more than £1 billion on temporary accommodation. That explosion in expenditure has been fuelled by a chronic lack of genuinely affordable social housing, and that is particularly true in London.

This is an incredibly complex issue to tackle, and as I said it is the devolved power of the Mayor. Unfortunately, the expansion of permitted development rights has inadvertently led to the creation of some low-quality and unsuitable accommodation—

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath 2:50 pm, 2nd December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing this important debate. No civilised country in the 21st century should have people living on the streets. Governments of all persuasions have tried to combat the problem of homelessness, with varying degrees of commitment and success. Despite those efforts, it took a pandemic to demonstrate the scale and scope of the action needed to eradicate homelessness once and for all.

The UK Government appear to have pledged to end rough sleeping, but it is the Welsh Government who have developed truly ambitious plans. During the pandemic, the decisive and compassionate action of councils in Wales in partnership with Health, the third sector, registered social housing and voluntary organisations to bring people off the streets has saved lives. Homeless people were placed in safe and secure accommodation, engaging with local services perhaps for the first time. That was all achieved in a few weeks, but providing temporary emergency accommodation does not end homelessness, so the Welsh Government are determined to transform that into long-term accommodation. The second £50 million phase of the Welsh Government’s homelessness programme will therefore provide 2,266 people in emergency accommodation with long-term homes, whereas the equivalent UK Government programme in England—the £105 million next steps accommodation programme—merely suggests in its guidance that housing provided for homeless people by councils in England during the pandemic will have tenancies of just two years.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Welsh Government have allocated three times the funding available in England. Councils in Wales have received £10 million to tackle homelessness, compared with £3.2 million in England, where councils deal with a far greater number of rough sleepers. Migrants with no recourse to public funds, and those who have sofa-surfed, are included in Welsh Government policy, whereas in England that is not the case. The policy in Wales is predicated on the belief that everyone has the right to live in a secure, permanent home.

Latest figures show that not one homeless person died from covid-19 in Wales up to 26 June. The chief executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, said:

“Only the Welsh Government is committed to putting in place comprehensive policies to end homelessness by providing permanent homes for everyone in need”.

However, there is so much more to do. The Welsh Government Housing Minister, Julie James, said:

“There’s no easy solution to this. I’ve been clear all the way through we have not solved this problem, but we’re on the right road to making sure people are housed and not sustained on the streets.”

We must therefore tackle the problems rooted in homelessness—poverty, substance misuse and mental health issues. We need a holistic approach. Therefore, as we head into winter, which is a challenging period in any year, let along during the pandemic, I ask the Minister to support the Welsh Government’s endeavours to eliminate homelessness—

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 2:53 pm, 2nd December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate Ms Buck. I represent a very rural constituency, so I suspect there is a great deal of difference between our two patches, but I recognise from my constituency a great many of the things she said about addressing rough sleeping and homelessness.

As the virus began, in March, all of us across the House were deeply concerned about the impact it could have by closing businesses, driving up job losses and leaving people unable to make their rent and mortgage payments. Moreover, there were concerns about rough sleepers, who lived in close proximity to one another, and many of whom had pre-existing health concerns and could have been particularly hard-hit by the virus. That is why I welcome the unprecedented action of both the Government and local authorities across the country to support rough sleepers and homeless people in the face of covid-19. The Government’s furlough scheme has protected 9 million jobs and helped safeguard people’s pay packets, which has helped them keep on track of mortgage and rental repayments. However, as ever, there is more to be done. We need to help those who have suffered so very badly over the year.

With today’s welcome news from the Health Secretary that the covid vaccine will be rolled out from next week, more thought should be given to how to end homeless- ness and rough sleeping. First, we need to ensure that those rough sleepers who have been provided with accommodation as part of our response to the pandemic are never returned to the streets. The Government’s £433 million investment to provide 6,000 safe and long-term homes for rough sleepers will be invaluable in achieving that. We should be providing rough sleepers with the wraparound support that they need to tackle the long-term mental health and addiction problems that some of them may be suffering from.

Evidence from around the world shows that a Housing First approach is the best way to help rough sleepers rebuild their lives off the streets, and the Government have taken the initiative in piloting such a project in Greater Manchester, the west midlands and the Liverpool city region. I believe it is highly advisable to roll out a Housing First programme throughout the rest of the country, as it would be beneficial for all those in need of housing across the country.

Secondly, the key to ending homelessness is not just supporting those already sleeping rough or living without their own roof over their head, but tackling the long-term structural problems in our society that can lead to homelessness. Above all, more must be done to ensure that we can enable everyone to afford to buy or rent their own home. Although my community is blessed with relatively low levels of rough sleeping—that has not always been the case—the latest count, from autumn 2019, found that just one person was sleeping rough in my local area. That is not true—it is undeniably not true. The statistics collected by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on that are wrong, as local charities will be able to see, so we need to review how we are engaging and calculating that data.

My time is almost up. As I said, there is more to be done, and I hope that the Government will listen to us on what we have been asking for.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 2:56 pm, 2nd December 2020

Thirty-six years ago, I was a new Newham councillor. My hon. Friend Ms Brown, who is in her place, was elected a few years later, but at that time, 36 years ago, I was placed in a working party on the borough’s temporary accommodation crisis. We set a target that everybody should be in a permanent home by Christmas, and all 30 households were. It was a different world. In June this year 5,574 Newham households, including more than 7,000 children, were in temporary accommodation. It is shocking how far those problems have worsened even since I was elected a councillor. How is it that we have allowed things to become so bad?

It would be great to hear from the Minister some proposals for reducing those shocking numbers. I suspect that we will not hear those and the problems will carry on getting worse, but given that backdrop, I want to put two points to the Minister. First, will she consider a new national policy on standards and length of stay in temporary accommodation? Temporary accommodation is not covered by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. Landlords are largely unregulated. There is no limit on how long people can stay temporarily. Will the Minister take an initiative on that?

Secondly, will the Minister act to safeguard children living in temporary accommodation, especially those in shared housing? At the moment they have fewer education rights than other children, and an article in The Lancet earlier this year pointed out that they are at high risk of

“immediate and long-term effects on growth…health, and brain development.”

Newham has the largest number and highest proportion of households in temporary accommodation and spends the most on it. The figure was more than £60 million in 2017-18. One problem is that the borough represented by my hon. Friend Ms Buck is competing with my borough for accommodation, and that forces the price up. A lot of the housing used is in dreadful condition. Rooms are damp and mouldy, as my hon. Friend pointed out, and children develop breathing problems. Families move frequently. They change their GP every time, and sometimes their school, and they do not get any choice. And often they do not even dare to ask for repairs.

I pay tribute to the Magpie Project in our borough, set up by Jane Williams. It does superb and caring work among families in temporary accommodation. Many have been hit by the benefit cap. Three quarters have no recourse to public funds.

Will the Minister take forward the two specific things that I mentioned—regulation on standards and protections for children?

Photo of Imran Ahmad Khan Imran Ahmad Khan Conservative, Wakefield 2:59 pm, 2nd December 2020

I appreciate the continued advocacy by Ms Buck. Homelessness is a plight that has no place in our society. In 2018, approximately 726 people died of homelessness in England and Wales. In Wakefield district, 216 individuals were being housed in short-term shelter in December 2019 after they had asked for help. It is nigh-on impossible truly to understand the ordeal of being homeless without the experience of being so. Attestations by the Community Awareness Programme in Wakefield note the poor levels of physical and mental health, which are worsened by a lack of access to support through the GP system.

Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, Her Majesty’s Government have taken unprecedented steps to provide aid to those who are homeless. On 26 March, the Government asked local authorities in England to help ensure that we got everyone in. Shelters and assessment centres have been set up and made covid-secure for rough sleepers. I know I speak on behalf of all Members when I commend the herculean efforts made, including block-booking hotel rooms and securing alternative accommodations, such as bed and breakfasts, student accommodation and so on, as well as working to supply food and medical care and other support, where needed.

The Government have provided £105 million for shorter-term accommodation and immediate support, £91.5 million of which was allocated to 274 local authorities. An additional £161 million will be provided to deliver 3,300 units of longer-term, move-on accommodation and support. Currently, £150 million has been allocated to 276 schemes across England, which are expected to be delivered by March 2021. The statistics speak for themselves. By the end of June 2020 there were 98,300 households in temporary accommodation—a rise of 14% on June 2019. A study published by The Lancet outlined that 266 deaths were avoided during spring 2020 by the measures set out by the Government.

Over these winter months, a £10 million cold weather fund will enable local authorities to provide self-contained, covid-secure accommodation. The Government’s response has been exemplary, but those measures merely alleviate symptoms of homelessness, rather than deal with the root problem. If we wish truly to eradicate the plight of homelessness, we need to enable those suffering from that horrific ordeal to achieve and prosper, providing pathways to secure employment, such as paid training schemes, to financial security, such as providing support to set up a bank account, and to permanent shelter, such as support to find somewhere to rent. All are vital in achieving that objective.

I wish to end by paying tribute to Ernest Hibbert, co-founder of the aforementioned Community Awareness Programme. Ernest passed away peacefully on Sunday 8 November. He and his wife Elizabeth established the organisation in 1997. It is thanks to their vision, compassion and energy that the service thrives as much as it does today, reaching out to help people in need in Wakefield. In honour of Ernest, I wish us to commit to seeing no rough sleepers in Wakefield by 2024.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 3:02 pm, 2nd December 2020

How temporary is temporary? Sir Edward, if you had a family in front of you at your advice surgery, how would you explain? I would explain that families who were housed in temporary accommodation two years ago have another six months to go. For a family in front of me today, I would say I could not predict, but probably the time would be about five or six years, as long as things do not get any worse. Temporary, in that vein, is taking the English language to its severe extreme. There are 100,000 families—127,240 children—of whom 27,650 families are forced to travel 16 times round the globe, or 400,000 miles, in order to access temporary accommodation. That was a figure found by Ross Kemp in his recent documentary on homelessness.

Where do we go and how do we deal with it? In the few minutes I have, I would like to point the Minister to a really interesting email that we received from the Association of Accounting Technicians, no less, only last Wednesday, which points out that the spending review confirmed that the Government would provide £254 million of additional resource funding to tackle homelessness in 2021-22, of which £103 million had already been announced. The AAT points to the issue of taxing overseas purchasers of properties in the UK.

In September 2018 the then Prime Minister, Mrs May, announced that a stamp duty surcharge of up to 3% would be imposed on overseas residential property investors, and that all the money generated would be used to tackle homelessness. It was expected to raise £140 million. Six months later, that was watered down to 1%—effectively an £80 million loss for homelessness projects. Having campaigned for the rate to be restored to 3%, the AAT was delighted when the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced a return to that during the 2019 general election. During the 2020 Budget, however, that was changed to 2%, meaning a £40 million loss.

Since it was announced in 2018, the rate of surcharge has been 3%, 1%, 3% and now 2%, without ever coming into force. It is due to be implemented in April 2021. The only way to deal with homelessness is with more money. This small suggestion will not resolve homelessness, but making available another £40 million by going back to a 3% tax on overseas purchases will help an awful lot of people.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Conservative, Bracknell 3:05 pm, 2nd December 2020

On the surface, the current picture of homelessness in the UK seems relatively positive, but the reality sits much deeper. Some £4.6 billion of non-ring-fenced funding has been given to councils to decide on their own priorities. A further £254 million was announced in the spending review for rough sleeping, which brings the total this year to £676 million. The six-month moratorium on evictions from March to September has also been extended for a further six months.

Of the several thousand households recently assessed in the veterans community, which is important to me, only 440 were officially recorded as requiring support due to serving in the armed forces—5% of veterans’ families. It is not true that veterans are mad, bad or sad, but any figure above 0% is too high. We must sort that out.

In my constituency, the rough sleepers unit does a fantastic job and has reduced homelessness from 31 people to 12 since 2019, and the remaining 12 have all been swept up and looked after. The unit aims to have referrals off the streets and into temporary accommodation within 24 hours, so I know that that is possible. The night shelters in Bracknell are run by a fantastic organisation called Pilgrim Hearts Trust. This year, due to covid, it cannot open so the situation is serious. It does a drop-in centre for meals and day care that includes a mobile doctor’s surgery. Again, it can be done.

The lived experience of those affected is what really matters. We must do more. It is a case of not just throwing more money at the problem, but effecting change through locally focused, effective measures. We know that more affordable housing is needed in the right areas. The decision in the recent spending review to freeze the value of the local housing allowance will hinder efforts to prevent homelessness. I urge the Minister to press for that decision to be overturned. If we can get homelessness relatively under control during the worst pandemic in memory, why can we not do that in 2021 and in perpetuity? Sustained Government funding, backed by good local solutions, remains the key to solving that awful problem.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:08 pm, 2nd December 2020

The Government’s current policy on homelessness and temporary accommodation is strangely perverse. In spring, Ministers marshalled all the resources at their disposal to all but end rough sleeping and to protect public health. As Dame Louise Casey, then head of the rough sleeping taskforce, said:

“We just went for it” with the Everybody In programme. That proves what can be done when there is the political will. Now, with the harsh winter approaching and the virus still at large, the Government’s policy seems to be “everybody out”. Thousands of people have been forced back on to the street or into hostels—why?

There has been a 78% increase in the number of homeless children since 2010. I can only imagine the fear, misery and sense of danger felt by someone facing life on the streets for the first time. No wonder Crisis, Shelter, St Mungo’s, council leaders, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and others have spoken with one voice: “We need everybody in too.” I know from working closely with groups such as SHOC—Slough Homeless Our Concern—the London and Slough Run, Slough Outreach and the many local gurdwaras, mosques, temples and churches, and from seeing the increase in homelessness casework in my office, that the crisis is getting worse. I have been contacted by an increasing number of constituents concerned about keeping a roof over their heads—some with no recourse to public funds, others unaware of the complexities of housing legislation and parents concerned about living in cramped conditions with their growing children.

Some 218 households approached Slough Borough Council for homelessness assistance between April and June 2020. On 30 June, the number of households in temporary accommodation in Slough was 379. That amounts to 314 children living in temporary accommodation. The recession will undoubtedly force many people in Slough who are already living precariously over the edge.

I ask the Minister this afternoon to address my two key concerns. Will she provide an emergency programme to get rough sleepers into covid-safe accommodation and will she commit to a major programme of housebuilding for people on low and medium incomes, such as nurses, teachers and care workers—the true heroes of the pandemic?

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 3:11 pm, 2nd December 2020

I cannot do justice to this subject in three minutes, so I am more than usually grateful to my hon. Friend Ms Buck for setting out the case so well in her opening remarks.

As in other areas of public policy, we do not start from a benign position. The past 10 years of austerity has included the local housing allowance freeze, the benefit cap, a freeze on temporary accommodation subsidy, shared room rates and discretionary housing payments, and all these things have created a crisis in temporary accommodation. Even where work has been done, such as with rough sleeping and the eviction ban, when we come out of the crisis local authorities will need more assistance to cope with what will be an additional wave of homelessness.

There are 1,200 households in temporary accommodation in Hammersmith and Fulham at the moment, but I would like the Minister to address the long-term issues as well. Shelter, Crisis and other organisations say that we need at least 90,000 social homes to be built a year and the Government are building not even 10% of that. What is the issue? Is it ideological? We have heard Conservative Members say in this debate that we need more social housing in this country. Where is the recipe for providing that, because it is the only long-term solution?

I will refer to a couple of cases in my constituency, not because they are exceptional in any way, but because they exemplify the typical problems of temporary accommodation. The fact is that this is not a temporary problem—it is often a lifelong problem for people in these situations.

A mother with a five-year-old came to the attention of Hammersmith and Fulham Council five years ago. She was housed in Enfield, which may not sound that far away, but it was away from her support network, and she had to travel to get her kid to school and get to work on time, so consequently she has been late for work and was paying additional fees to after-school clubs. She was taking time off because the conditions in the property were so bad; she was dealing with infestations and sewage leaks and things of that kind. When she was rehoused in the borough, it was in a one-bedroom flat, which means they have to use the living room as a bedroom. She now has two children. Her prospects of being rehoused in adequate temporary, let alone permanent, accommodation, are very low, simply because of the lack of housing. Is that a way for anybody to live and bring up their children?

Another typical example is a young man who was thrown out of home at the age of 16, who has lived in hostels and had to give up his sixth form, was sofa surfing until he outstayed his welcome, got work but then had to leave work, was ripped off by landlords, has suffered punishing anxiety attacks and for the last year under covid has been sleeping rough. Is that any way to give a young person a start in life?

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:14 pm, 2nd December 2020

I am grateful to be able to speak in this debate, Sir Edward, and to my hon. Friend Ms Buck, who speaks with more authority than any of us on this issue.

Newham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country. We do not yet know how bad it has got this year, but last Christmas one in every 12 of Newham’s children was homeless. I am going to focus on a few typical cases today.

Let me tell hon. Members about Katie. Katie works on the frontline in our NHS. She has been frantically trying to find an affordable home, but nothing is available. Ever since the last time Katie was made homeless, she has had to rely on her family to house her and her two-year-old, but her toddler was getting older, the situation with her family became harder and this May, regardless of the eviction ban, Katie and her baby were kicked out. They are sofa-surfing to stay off the street and desperate for, in Katie’s words, “somewhere to call home.” What mum does not want that?

Katie tells me that the only temporary accommodation she was offered was in High Wycombe or Leeds, so Katie and her child have sofa-surfed and have had higher risks of infection. They have endured terrible insecurity and our local NHS faces losing a much-needed frontline worker. It is not just Katie; far from it. Many families have remained stuck in temporary accommodation without any sense of security or comfort, and they have been without a true home for horrifying lengths of time. I will give just a couple of my cases from this pandemic year.

A teaching assistant has lived with her children in a damp, noisy, polluted property, for two and half years and counting. A single mum has been living in one bedroom with her four-year-old daughter, with damp and rats, since 2015—five years and counting. A mum has been stuck in a two-bedroom flat with her three children, one of whom is disabled and with complex needs, for eight years and counting. A grandfather has been living in temporary accommodation with his adult children and his granddaughter for 14 years and counting. They are all in temporary accommodation. How much longer?

How much longer do we have to wait for a Government willing to build social housing at scale, who will not pinch pennies from the housing support that keeps our families off the streets. How much longer?

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:17 pm, 2nd December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under you as the Chair today, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck who continues to champion the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities.

When someone comes into politics, they take the power given to them to bring about change. The Minister has the pen in her hand and has the power today to make a significant difference to all of our communities. We have to see a step change, because over the last decade we have seen homelessness and temporary accommodation use increase on such a scale. This is not about bricks and mortar; it is about people’s lives and their existence. They are challenged day by day by the system.

I call on the Minister to build those houses—not the luxury flats that are going up in my constituency that, quite frankly, nobody can afford to live in. We need to look at housing as a human right in a human rights city, such as York. That is my call today.

The Housing Minister has said that we have to evaluate the Housing First programme. It has already been evaluated by the University of York. Professor Nicholas Pleace has put that evaluation in place, so there is no excuse to delay. We need that rolling out because it makes a difference, ensuring that people have the stability of a home and the wrap-around support that is so vital. I want to focus on bringing those services together, around the individual, to meet their needs.

Some of the funding that the Government have brought forward has focused on taking people off the streets. It should be about settling people in stability in their lives and in their new homes. It is a perverse incentive because if the money is then withdrawn, because people are no longer on the streets, then there is not money to invest in people’s lives. It is absolutely crucial that we look at that to ensure that that money is ongoing.

I draw attention to the York system change network, which I met yesterday. We know that people have complex lives and needs, and that it is only when agencies come together that we can often solve those particular needs for individuals. In York we have a network of the police, mental health, community and voluntary sector organisations, the local authority and substance misuse services, that is there to break cycles in people’s lives and to work towards complex solutions. We should be championing those initiatives in order to drive down the complex issues that surround people when they are homeless.

The Minister has choices when she comes to respond to the debate, and I trust that she will, for once, give real hope that we will solve the homelessness and temporary accommodation crisis that we are facing in our country.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 3:20 pm, 2nd December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing this important debate, her passionate speech and all the work that she does on this issue.

The work done by local authorities and voluntary sector organisations with additional funding under the Everybody In campaign at the start of the pandemic shows that homelessness is not inevitable, and that when there is the political will to end it great progress can be made. It is regrettable that the support shown at the start of the pandemic has not been sustained, and that many of those who had temporary respite are now back on the streets at a time when the weather is at its harshest and coronavirus is still circulating in the community.

I pay tribute to Crisis and the Robes Project. They work in my constituency, and will be working hard to bring people in from the cold again over the Christmas period, but I want to focus on the hidden homelessness crisis of temporary accommodation. The figures are stark. The numbers of households in temporary accommodation have been rising steadily since 2011, with 98,300 households in temporary accommodation in June this year, including 127,240 children. Those families are often in the worst accommodation available, with no stability or security, while councils pay over the odds to exploitative landlords.

The situation is a direct result of the dysfunctionality of the housing market, particularly but not exclusively in London, and the Government’s refusal to accept the reality of the gap between what the local housing allowance pays and what landlords actually charge. My constituency covers part of Lambeth and part of Southwark; I have figures from Southwark, but the situation is no different in Lambeth. The local housing allowance shared accommodation rate is £515.10 a month, but the median rent for a single room is £700—a gap of £184.90 a month.

For a one-bedroom flat, the LHA pays £1,146.86 a month compared with a median rent of £1,350—a gap of £203.14. For a three-bedroom home, the gap between what the LHA pays and median rent rises to £479.59. How does the Minister expect a family on a low income to find that additional rent? That is a very real, practical concern facing thousands of my constituents. The Government’s housing support policies simply ignore the reality of a housing market with spiralling rents.

There is much more to say, including on the dysfunctionality of our Dickensian immigration system, which traps people with no recourse to public funds for years at a time, while providing no timescale, certainty or closure on their applications. This Government, and Tory Governments for the past decade, have utterly failed to address our housing crisis, but it must be addressed. We need to build council homes and social housing at speed, but in the short term the Government must fix the affordability crisis and reform private renting to give security and stability to tenants, and stop so many people having to endure the misery of temporary accommodation.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury) 3:23 pm, 2nd December 2020

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend Ms Buck for securing this vital debate. For many Members present, it need not be said how appalling it is that the debate needs to take place. Year on year, the number of people facing homelessness at Christmas rises, and we are yet to see any change from the Government.

More than 67,000 families and 136,000 children in England spent lockdown trapped in temporary accommodation—that is more than 100,000 children who will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation, which is often overcrowded and unfit for purpose. We spend a lot of energy talking about homelessness in terms of numbers and statistics. Yet the numbers alone are not landing, so let me interpret the data and speak about actual people. Children, friends, family members, colleagues, employees and, yes, some of my staff live in temporary accommodation. Furthermore, thousands of Erith and Thamesmead constituents are presently surviving statutory homelessness.

Let me tell Members the story of one of my constituents, a lone parent from Bexley who has been furloughed—a change of circumstances that has resulted in rent arrears, due to delays in housing benefit administration processes. She continually struggles with acute physical and mental health conditions, to the extent that she is now under the care of NHS psychiatrists and suffers from chronic pain caused by a spinal condition.

The local authority attempted to discharge its duty into the private sector. However, the property it offered was unsuitable on grounds of affordability. When I say this sentence, it sounds like it is a relatively straightforward process, with the words just sailing out of my mouth seamlessly: “the property was unsuitable on grounds of affordability”. But the lived experiences and the reality behind having to surmount such a challenge are traumatic and exhausting.

Families such as my constituent’s are really struggling. My constituent has been struggling to put food on her table as she was denied a discretionary housing payment. Her homelessness and struggles have had a surprising impact on her son, who is just eight years old. He went to school having soaked up all the stress imposed on the household by way of discharge of duties letters and eviction notices. The eviction dated 19 November was to go ahead smack in the middle of the second lockdown at a time when, according to the Government’s guidelines, evictions were not to go ahead. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and he replied:

“On 16 November we changed the law in England to ensure bailiffs do not enforce evictions”.

Why, in the midst of a global pandemic, was my constituent not supported to access increased housing benefit after being placed on furlough, which caused a 20% reduction in wages? Why was she not treated with compassion and supported to find suitable accommodation, given the needs of the family and their household finances?

I contacted Bexley council on the 17th to inform it and have yet to receive a response.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Housing 3:26 pm, 2nd December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I want to start by saying to the Minister that in this room she has some of the best housing campaigners anywhere in the House. She has people with expertise, knowledge, passion and dedication—none more so than my hon. Friend Ms Buck, who has brought this debate to the Minister’s and to our attention, as she has throughout her time in this place.

My right hon. Friend Stephen Timms and my hon. Friends the Members for West Ham (Ms Brown) and for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) set out in chilling terms both the cost and the brutal reality of life in temporary accommodation. My hon. Friends the Members for Neath (Christina Rees), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), and for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), have shown, as always, their determination and attention to detail in showing how their constituents need to be treated.

My hon. Friend Helen Hayes, who was instrumental in introducing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, described today the spiralling rents and the impact of no recourse to public funds that still trap people in homelessness, despite that Act. My hon. Friend Rachael Maskell highlighted how that is not only a problem for London, but across the country. So too did Government Members. We have heard them today calling for more social housing and for attention to rough sleeping. I respectfully say to the Minister that there is a lot of knowledge in this room, and I really hope she will commit to taking away every single suggestion and every bit of the passion and dedication shown by hon. Members across this room in order to prevent homelessness.

To prevent a crisis of the use of temporary accommodation, we have to start by saying that it is a civilised nation’s moral failing to have anyone on the streets and anyone in so-called temporary accommodation for anything other than what could genuinely be called temporary. It is a moral failing that we have misused both the words “temporary” and “affordable” to such an extent that people such as the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, who actually works in the NHS, is not able to find accommodation at a price she can afford.

Other hon. Members have given us statistics and facts and also case studies. I made a resolution when I first came to the House never to repeat what others have already said better, but the Minister needs to heed what has been said here today. By autumn 2019, despite the Homelessness Reduction Act, homeless households had increased in number to 87,410. By June 2020 there were considerably more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood said, and that included 127,240 children in temporary accommodation—where they will not get anywhere decent to eat, play, do homework and study, or have anything approaching a family life. As so many Members have said, temporary does not seem to mean temporary. That is a moral failing, which I will say again at least once before the end of my remarks.

The public also need to know that despite the fact that councils are spending £1.19 billion on this temporary accommodation, people are living in the conditions hon. Members have described, with damp, roofs falling in, rodents and poor access to public services. As the National Audit Office has said, the cost to other public services of people living in such poor temporary accommodation includes the cost to the health service, admissions to hospital and admissions to out-patients. There are also the costs to the policing and justice systems when people fall into extreme difficulties through no fault of their own because they do not have the money to pay. The Department does not have a thorough system for assessing the additional costs and therefore does not currently know the full and true cost of homelessness in temporary accommodation and otherwise. It is therefore unable to quantify the benefit to us all of reducing homelessness. That must change.

The Children’s Commissioner this year concluded that living in a B&B has never been appropriate for a child but that the problems have been amplified during covid-19. We have to stop using covid-19 as any sort of cover for any of what is happening. It should have the opposite effect. Spending time in a B&B during covid-19 is bad for everyone. It is bad for health and education, and it is increasing inequality. I make no apology for speaking very much from the heart.

The Government showed earlier this year that political will makes a difference. The Everyone In call made a difference. It brought people in off the streets, and gave them somewhere warm, safe and dry to live. Then, however, things unfortunately went backwards, and councils that were told, “You will have whatever it takes,” found that that did not happen. Unfortunately—I repeatedly asked the Department for accurate figures—people who came on to the streets after Everyone In were frequently not included.

The situation for people with no recourse to public funds remained obscure and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham showed in his brilliant work on the Liaison Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee, which he so ably chairs, that affected a huge number of children and families, as well as single people. They were hard-working people who had done their best and were contributing to this country, and through no fault of their own they had a sudden catastrophic drop in income and got no help. My right hon. Friend had to explain that to the Prime Minister. I know that that is not true of the Minister, and that she understands what no recourse to public funds means. I hope that she will address the issue.

To solve the problem, as I said, we need to accept that it is a moral failing and that it is fixable. There should be some hope. We got hope today from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and I want the Minister to spread some hope as well today—I hope she will be able to do that—by saying, “Yes, it is a failing, but, yes, it is fixable,” because it has been demonstrated time and again that political will can provide answers to really difficult problems. We need to focus not just on the after-effects and what happens when people end up in temporary accommodation, but on prevention. There must be a relentless focus on increasing the supply and the true—not pretend—affordability of high-quality, warm, safe, dry, healthy net zero homes.

Ultimately, everyone in this Chamber, wherever in the country they represent and whatever political party they are in, knows that we have a chronic problem with the shortage of truly safe and affordable homes. That must be solved, and it is solvable, because in building back better—the language we are all using at the moment—there is scope to do that.

An example of where the Government could have done better was the long-awaited social housing White Paper, which was published without any commitment to building more social housing. I know that the reason for the White Paper was the Grenfell tragedy, and it was right that the Government committed to a great deal in it—to things that had to be there—but the lack of a commitment to building more social housing was duly noted.

I will write to the Minister with the questions that I have—there are a lot. However, I should like her to try to answer at least some of them now, if she can. I shall try to sum them up. How will the Minister represent to other Departments the need for additional support, such as Housing First to deal with homelessness, and other additional support, such as outlawing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988—the so-called no-fault evictions provision? Why not do that now? The Opposition have said that we would work with the Government to do that now, under emergency legislation.

Where is the renters reform Bill that the Government promised in the Queen’s Speech? When is it coming? What steps will the Minister take to reform and reduce the use of temporary accommodation, so that it is really temporary and is not used for the 14 years and more that some of my hon. Friends have talked about today? By what date does she hope to have eliminated—not reduced, but eliminated—the use of bed and breakfasts for anything other than extremely short emergencies, and never for families with children? Will she ensure that there is Housing First nationwide, as Conservative Members have asked for? Will she commit to high standards on quality and length of stay for temporary accommodation?

Will the Minister recommend to the Department for Work and Pensions that, for instance, local housing allowances increase to the average, at least for the life of this crisis, and that the mortgage interest loan scheme is brought forward earlier so that people are not waiting nine long months before they can get help? Will she consider the examples of what the Welsh Labour Government are doing to prevent homelessness during this crisis, which my hon. Friend Christina Rees mentioned? Will she commit to ensuring that her Department has good and accurate data on the full cost of homelessness to not only individuals and their families but public services and public health? Will the Minister explain to the constituents of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and to those of colleagues elsewhere in the Chamber, what she will do to deal with the quality of temporary accommodation, as described? Finally, will she commit to talking to her colleagues, so that they commit to ending the use of expensive, unsuitable and downright unsafe temporary accommodation, to solving the underlying problem of supply by building and retrofitting truly affordable, secure, safe homes, and to fighting to ensure that everybody has somewhere safe and affordable to live?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:36 pm, 2nd December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate Ms Buck on securing the debate on this important issue, which everybody has been pleased and willing to speak about with passion. She has spoken passionately about this topic before, including when we spoke last week about another element in this sphere. I am really grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken the time to attend and to speak on behalf of their constituents. I welcome the opportunity to address their points.

May I start by saying that I, too, am an MP who has worked hard for my constituents? I was very pleased to take on the role as Minister for homelessness, because of my involvement prior to being elected as a Member of Parliament. What I am hearing today is support for a lot of the work that the Government are doing, and a willingness and commitment in terms of the Government continuing to work to reach our objectives.

It is unacceptable that anyone should have to sleep rough. I recognise the incredible achievements in the last eight months by local councils and the homelessness sector—supported by this Government—meaning that in September we had successfully supported more than 29,000 vulnerable people during the pandemic, nearly 19,000 of whom have been provided with settled accommodation or move-on support.

I respect the hon. Member for Westminster North greatly, but I will have to disappoint her. I will outline further the funding that this Government have put into rough sleeping and homelessness. Although we say that this is not just about money, it is also about providing available funding and about what happens on the ground. We cannot ignore the unprecedented action that this Government have taken over recent months.

Our work on rough sleeping is not only world-leading, but has protected hundreds—

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Before the Minister moves off that point, will she explain exactly why, if the Government are spending more money, homelessness has risen by 14% in the last year alone?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. We have spent an unprecedented amount of money, and we are continuing to invest in those pilots and schemes in order to tackle all parts of rough sleeping and homelessness. There is a distinction between what we have done with Everybody In and what we are doing with Housing First, with regard to our social housing pilots. We are talking about a vast landscape. We are committed to solving rough sleeping and dealing with homelessness. The funding from the Government is an incredibly important part of that, and so are the right interventions on the ground, delivered in the correct way. That is something that I have particularly focused on since I have been in this role.

The spending review demonstrates the Government’s commitment to build on the fantastic progress of Everyone In and to support rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness during covid-19. Next year, we are going even further and will provide more than £750 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. That includes the additional funding to support frontline services through the rough sleeping initiative and to enable local councils to fund their statutory duties to prevent homelessness. We are also providing capital funding to continue our landmark drive to bring forward thousands of homes for rough sleepers. That will support our commitment to end rough sleeping in this Parliament and fully enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

On temporary accommodation, I am absolutely clear that we always want to see homeless individuals and families moved into settled accommodation as soon as possible and permanently. The action we are taking to increase the delivery of social housing will support that. I also recognise the important role that temporary accommodation can play in the meantime in ensuring that no family is ever without a roof over their head. Although the overall numbers of households in temporary accommodation have been rising, the number of households with children has remained relatively stable since the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act. However, I accept that we must go further. The increase in temporary accommodation numbers since the Act took effect has been almost entirely driven by single households receiving help that was previously unavailable to them. More recently, the increase has also been driven by our action to accommodate rough sleepers during the pandemic.

The Homelessness Reduction Act requires for the first time that local authorities, public services and the third sector work together actively to prevent and relieve homelessness for people at risk, irrespective of whether they are a family or a single person. That means that more single people are getting the help they need. They might otherwise have been on the streets. Since the introduction of the Act, 270,000 households have had their homelessness successfully prevented or relieved through securing accommodation for more than six months.

The hon. Member for Westminster North rightly raised the issue of the quality of temporary accommodation. In 2019, we gave £6.7 million to more than 180 local authorities to boost their enforcement in relation to quality on the ground.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

As the Minister will know, the code of guidance from her Department says that councils should not place families outside their borough boundaries, except in exceptional circumstances, but we know that 27,650 families were placed all over the country—most of them were from London, and some, I suspect, went to the Minister’s constituency—because of the problems. Will she consider introducing an Ofsted-style regulator to ensure that local authorities’ temporary housing practices are inspected?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and she is absolutely right. I am talking about enforcement on the ground. I appreciate and accept the issues that she is talking about—I have frontline experience of them. I am not trying to make excuses, but I have been in post for only two months. There are many issues that I want to shine a spotlight on with regard to rough sleeping and homelessness. That issue is worth investigating and looking at further. It has an impact on authorities outside London, which may be being put under pressure. I am prepared to look at that.

We have heard stories from hon. Members—they are not stories, but people’s experiences—about the quality of accommodation that people live in. It is unacceptable that people are living in damp conditions, and that they are not having their concerns and issues, which are being raised directly with housing associations or landlords, dealt with. That is why we gave tougher powers to local authorities to use. They can fine landlords up to £30,000 in penalties, issue rent repayment orders and ban landlords.

The other thing—I have seen this personally since being in this role—is that we agreed to review the housing health and safety rating system in 2019, which is the operational tool that local authorities use to assess accommodation. We have completed the first part of that, which will cover things such as fire, damp and excess cold in properties. We are commissioning some more work early next year. It is a highly technical tool, and I do not know whether Members have come across in their work with their local authorities, but I am always willing to talk further with them about it.

Where temporary accommodation is required local authorities have a duty to ensure that it is suitable for the applicant and all the members of the household who would normally reside with and who might reasonably be expected to reside with them. Consideration of whether accommodation is suitable will require an assessment of all aspects, and the location of the accommodation will always be, and should be, a relevant factor. We are clear that local authorities should, as far as possible, avoid placing households out of their boroughs. However, in some areas where there is a limited supply of suitable accommodation, we are aware that that is happening on occasion, as Members described. That is often done to place households in temporary accommodation, but that should really be a last resort. Housing authorities have a continuing obligation to keep the suitability of accommodation under review and to respond to any relevant changes in circumstances that may affect suitability. On request, applicants may ask for review of the housing authority’s decision that the accommodation offered to them is suitable.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

On that point, can I raise a small example? Councils all over south London were using a converted warehouse in my constituency. When we approached Bexley council and said, “Do you know that you are placing your families in the middle of an industrial estate?” it said, “We wouldn’t do that. We just never checked it.” It is not that councils do not want to do these things; it is that they are overwhelmed. If councils have 5,000 families in temporary accommodation, they are not doing any checking of the temporary accommodation, because they simply cannot manage it. Unless councils have a regulator that inspects them and forces them to do this, it is not going to happen.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

If Members have particular concerns about local authorities, such as the concern the hon. Lady has mentioned, I am more than happy to meet them and to take those concerns up personally. However, it is true that local authorities have the powers I set out, and we must all work together so that they are used on the ground.

The Government have been clear that the long-term use of bed and breakfast accommodation for families with children is both inappropriate and unlawful, and we are determined to stop this practice. To help local authorities deliver their new duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act, the Government created a team of specialist advisers with expertise in the homelessness sector to support and challenge local authorities in tackling homelessness in their area, at the same time as supporting councils to deliver a transformation in their homelessness services. This team of specialists has also helped local authorities to deliver a 28% reduction in the number of families housed in bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than six weeks.

As many hon. Members have mentioned, a key part of achieving our ambition to reduce homelessness and end rough sleeping will be building the homes this country needs, closing the opportunity gap and helping millions of young people into home ownership. We have committed to delivering 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s. We will deliver that by committing at least £44 billion of funding over five years to build more homes. We have extended the current £9 billion affordable homes programme to March 2023, to secure the delivery of homes that would otherwise have been lost due to covid-19. This programme will deliver around 250,000 affordable homes.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

I am glad the Minister has come on to talk about mass house building programmes, but will she specifically address social housing? There are really good social housing estates in my constituency. Some were built by charities 150 years ago or as “homes fit for heroes”. Others were built as garden estates or through slum clearance. Some were even built by the Labour council in the 1980s and 1990s, which I can take some of the credit for. Where are the new quality estates of hundreds and thousands of units of social housing? What are her plans for that?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about social housing, but we must also accept that within the realm of affordable housing there are different categories: social rented, shared ownership and affordable rent. I know that he accepts that when we are talking about a national problem and challenge, there are different needs and drivers in different parts of the country. It is important that in our drive to deliver on those numbers, local areas can have an impact to ensure we get their needs right and deliver the properties and accommodation that are required on the ground, which may not be the same in different parts of the country. We are committed to that.

We have launched the successor programme of £11.5 billion. I will not apologise for talking about money, because it is a key part of the delivery of our objectives and being able to build more homes. The £11.5 billion affordable homes programme will deliver up to 180,000 additional affordable homes, if economic conditions allow. At least 10% of that delivery will be used to increase the supply of much-needed specialist or supported housing.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I welcome the Minister’s agreement to look at the idea of a regulator. Will she consider the idea of setting standards for temporary accommodation for that regulator to monitor?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

As I have outlined, we have a lot of opportunities to look at how much further we can go and for further intervention. As I have said many times since I have been in this role, I am open-minded and I will look at ways in which we can tackle the issue that we face. However, I must emphasise that I do not recognise the characterisation that this Government are not moving forward. We are taking great steps in tackling those issues. We are announcing funding and talking about the biggest house building project in decades. I believe that we are taking our responsibilities incredibly seriously.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

The Minister is being incredibly generous in giving way. Does she accept that whatever is ahead in future decades, her party has been in charge for the past decade, so they must take some responsibility for how we have ended up where we are today? [Interruption.]

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I remind the Minister to leave a reasonable amount of time at the end.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Thank you, Sir Edward. I recognise that this Government are responsible for ensuring that we are able to develop policies and tackle some of the challenges this country faces. However, I would like to talk about what we are doing, what we have done and what we will continue to focus on. We could talk about what successive Governments have and have not done. I am speaking as Minister today about what we are doing moving forward. Throughout the pandemic, we have provided unprecedented support to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected and our communities are kept safe.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I will not give way now. I take issue with Mr Dhesi when he says that the Everyone In campaign has stopped—I do not recognise that. The ongoing Everyone In campaign has been a huge success and we are determined to ensure that people supported during the pandemic do not return to the streets.

The Next Steps accommodation programme provides vital funding to help people move on from emergency accommodation. In September, £91.5 million was allocated to 274 councils across England to pay for immediate support for those individuals.

In October, we announced the allocation to local partners to deliver long-term move-on accommodation. More than 3,300 new long-term homes for rough sleepers across the country have been approved, subject to the due diligence, and backed by £150 million. In response to the period of national restrictions, the Prime Minister announced last month the Protect programme—the next step in our ongoing targeted support for rough sleepers. It provides £15 million to support the areas that need it most to address housing and health challenges for rough sleepers throughout the winter months. That is on top of the £10 million cold weather fund that we are providing for all councils for covid-secure accommodation this winter.

We have supported renters to ensure that they can continue to afford their housing costs. The Government have put in place a package of support. We have quickly and effectively introduced a significant package of welfare. Those measures include increasing universal credit and working tax credit by £1,040 a year for 12 months, and significant investment in local housing allowance of nearly £1 billion at the 30th percentile of those rates. Obviously, the discretionary housing fund payments were made available and, in a short time, Ministers in DWP will be able to make those decisions.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 3:57 pm, 2nd December 2020

We could have had a whole day of debate on this important and wide-ranging subject. We heard a number of superb speeches. I hope that we will return to this because a number of questions remain to be answered by the Minister. The cold, brutal and inescapable fact is that we are going backwards. We are going backwards on homelessness. It has risen by 14% in a year and by half in a decade. Rough sleeping has doubled in a decade.

Everyone In showed that the rough sleeping problem can be tackled. It ended and we now have people back on the streets. Local councils should not place people out of borough, but they are. What is the Minister going to do about it? Two thirds of my homeless households are placed out of borough. Local authorities should not be placing them in temporary accommodation in the conditions that we heard about in my examples and others, but they are. We have a proposal to do something about it. Will the Minister take that up?

The Government can talk about how much they have spent. They have cut housing support, social housing, assistance for renters, and the local housing allowance. They cut the social security budget by £9 billion in 2015 alone. That is why we are in the state we are in and why 1.1 million people are on council housing waiting lists. We have not heard answers; we have just what is being done. It is clearly failing.

Can we meet the Minister? Can we return to this issue and take forward the Opposition’s positive proposals to find a way to help our desperate homeless constituents?

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered homelessness and temporary accommodation.