Islington has seen a consistent reduction in homelessness over the last five years due to the council’s strong focus on prevention, offering services like providing rental deposits to those who need it, negotiating with private sector landlords on behalf of tenants, and providing advice and employment support for those with housing affordability concerns. In 2017/18, the council successfully prevented 514 households from becoming homeless. Rough sleeping has also remained at a relatively low level in comparison to neighbouring boroughs through successful partnership working.
However, homelessness is rising nationally and the council still receives almost 500 homeless applications a year. The estimated number of rough sleepers in England has also increased every year since 2010 and has increased in Islington by approximately 8% since 2013/14.
In addition, factors such as the government’s changes to social security and the roll-out of universal credit are expected to lead to an increase in homelessness in Islington and elsewhere by limiting the ability of local authorities to access accommodation in the private rented sector, which is a key preventative measure.
The council’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy 2019-2023 outlines the council’s innovative and practical approach to tackling these important issues, with a focus on preventing people becoming homeless in the first place. The strategy also outlines increased efforts to assist rough sleepers and to offer them pathways off the streets and into secure housing.
Highlights include building more new council homes and genuinely affordable homes for local people in severe housing need, and enhancements to the council’s mediation service to help reduce homelessness caused by family and friend exclusions and private sector tenancy terminations.
Despite ongoing national government funding cuts, which have seen the council lose 70 per cent of its core national government funding since 2010, and the government’s failure to fully-fund the cost of meeting new obligations under the Homelessness Reduction Act, which will see the council face an additional £1.3 million funding gap next year, the council will increase the provision of emergency accommodation for rough sleepers with medium to high support needs and provide additional support for those with complex needs, including additional mental health support. For a list of Top Ten 10 action points see below.
The strategy will be considered by the council’s executive on March 21. It has already been endorsed by the council’s Health and Wellbeing Board, a step which is believed to be unique among local authorities in the UK.
Cllr Diarmaid Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development, said:
“There is a housing crisis in England, and this is particularly severe in London. There are far too many people in Islington in desperate need of a home, or who are managing as best they can in overcrowded, unsuitable and unstable conditions. That’s why we are determined to build more new council homes and genuinely affordable homes for local people, which will help people in severe housing need and support others to downsize, freeing up more homes.
“The homelessness situation facing many boroughs, including Islington, has been significantly exacerbated by the government’s changes to social security and policies that have limited the ability of local authorities to access the private housing market.
“We are doing absolutely everything we can with the powers and resources available to us to try to tackle the problems of homelessness and rough sleeping in Islington, and have embarked on the borough’s largest home building project in three decades. But the causes of homelessness are largely factors outside of our control and we call on the government to urgently address these issues.”
Top 10 action point highlights in the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy 2019-2023:
- Continue building much-needed new council homes and genuinely affordable homes for local people – including at least 550 new council homes by 2022 - and provide support to help people downsize.
- Reduce the use of private sector temporary accommodation by bringing a greater amount back ‘in-house’ – the council will purchase at least 50 properties for temporary accommodation over the next year, helping to improve the standard of temporary accommodation.
- Enhance the council’s mediation service to reduce homelessness caused by exclusion from family members’ or friends’ homes, and private sector tenancy terminations, including working with agencies to support those at risk as a result of domestic violence and abuse.
- Support private sector tenants to help raise awareness of their rights and responsibilities, to tackle issues such as retaliatory evictions and rogue landlords.
- Work in collaboration with landlords to encourage lettings to households in receipt of Housing Benefits/ Universal Credit in the private sector.
- Utilising the council’s newly created street population co-ordinator role to tackle the street population issues through the use of problem-solving, and collaborative working with partners and the community.
- Increase provision of existing emergency accommodation for rough sleepers with medium and high support needs.
- Provide additional support to entrenched and hard to engage rough sleepers with complex needs, helping them to access health services, including additional mental health support.
- Providing additional wrap around support to No Recourse to Public Fund rough sleepers to ensure they are able to exercise treaty rights, and are supported by other council services and voluntary sector services where appropriate.
- Build on and further develop the council’s ‘Housing First’ pilot housing rough sleepers or former rough sleepers with high support needs.