The former head of the civil service has warned of a looming “catastrophic” homelessness crisis caused by the cost of living unless the government reintroduces the eviction ban that protected tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sir Bob Kerslake, who chairs the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, said a failure to act “could see this become a homelessness as well as an economic crisis and the results could be catastrophic; with all the good achieved in reducing street homelessness since the pandemic lost, and any hope of the government meeting its manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024 gone”.
During the pandemic, the government made it much harder for landlords to evict tenants in rent arrears and was widely praised for averting a potential surge in homelessness and rough sleeping.
The response to soaring energy bills and other household costs to prevent people losing their homes now must be “equally urgent”, Kerslake said.
In the first quarter of this year, the number of households in England assessed as homeless, or threatened with homelessness and owed a statutory homelessness duty, was up 5.4% on the same quarter in 2021 to 74,230.
The commission is also calling on ministers to increase the benefit cap and raise benefits in line with inflation immediately – not in April 2023 as planned.
And it wants to see local housing allowances – the amount paid to cover rent for welfare recipients – increased so they are in line with the bottom 30% of the market. They have been frozen since April 2021.
“The new prime minister has already announced plans to cap average household energy bills at £2,500 a year from next month,” said Kerslake.
“And this, while welcome, is not enough. Even with this help, thousands of people are still facing the very real prospect of losing their homes because they are struggling to manage.
“It is no longer just about getting people off the streets, it is about ensuring people who are currently at risk of homelessness don’t end up on them.”
Rebecca Sycamore, interim chief executive of St Mungo’s, a homelessness charity, said: “We see every day the very real and very harsh reality of this financial crisis.
“And with more price increases, and the colder weather coming, it is very likely many of those currently just scraping by will no longer be able to manage, and could be at real risk of losing their homes.”
The Local Government Association said councils share the commission’s concerns.
“It is right in calling for us to draw on the successes seen during the pandemic, where councils supported thousands of people sleeping rough off the streets into safe accommodation,” said councillor James Jamieson, the LGA chair.
Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, which is one of the organisations involved in the commission, said: “The cost of living crisis, soaring rents and inflation are pushing people’s budgets to breaking point and leaving homelessness services themselves struggling to deliver vital support.
“While action on energy bills is welcome, this is not the only pressure, and without further government action we are headed for a fresh homelessness emergency.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are giving councils £316m this year to ensure families are not left without a roof over their heads.
“This is alongside the action we are taking to support families with the cost of living this winter through our £37bn support package.
“This includes £1,200 this year for the most vulnerable, helping them to pay their bills and stay in their homes.”