Anna’s Blog – The Growing Crisis of Homeless Families

Anna’s Blog – The Growing Crisis of Homeless Families

As a young single mum wins her housing battle in the Supreme Court our CEO looks at the growing crisis of homeless families across the country.

I was pleased to read last week that a single mother forced out of her home due to a shortfall in housing benefit has won a legal challenge against the decision to treat her as intentionally homeless.

The woman was using non-housing benefits, intended to pay for other living costs like food and clothing, to cover the £35 weekly gap between her housing benefit and her rent.

When she lost her private tenancy, the mother-of-four approached Birmingham City Council for help, explaining that she could not meet the shortfall. She was refused and told to use her non-housing benefits to plug the shortfall. The council also decided she had made herself and her children homeless intentionally.

Britain’s highest court has now ruled the council’s approach in this case unlawful.

“I find it hard to see on what basis the finding of intentional homelessness could be properly upheld,” Lord Carnwath said as he delivered the Supreme Court’s judgement. “Benefit levels were not designed to provide a surplus above subsistence needs for the family,” he added.

Over the last ten years affordable homes have become increasingly scarce. The bedroom tax, introduced in 2013, meant tenants lost 14% of their entitled housing benefit if they had a spare room, 25% if they had two spare rooms. The policy pays no regard to the shortage of one and two bedroomed properties available to rent nor the cost of moving which, for many people living on low incomes, is prohibitive.

Housing benefit has been frozen and private rents have risen by 22% leading to a significant shortfall  between housing benefit and rent, even in areas where the housing stock is amongst the cheapest.

According to Polly Neate, the Chief Executive of Shelter, this ruling should make the Government re-think an increasingly hostile housing policy where many families are facing impossible choices.

“We are hearing from more and more families who are choosing between rent and absolute necessities like heating and food. We urge the government to lift the freeze and make sure benefits cover at least the lowest third of the rental market,” she said.

Benefit payments are set at a bare minimum level for the basic essentials – who could choose to see their children go hungry in order to pay rent? This ruling comes at a time when new data shows child homelessness has surged by 80% since 2010. At the end of 2018, 124,490 children were living in temporary accommodation in England.

There is a perfect storm of crippling private rents, frozen benefits and a shortage of social housing that has pushed families to the hard edge of the housing crisis. I’m hoping this ruling will force the Government to properly assess the actual cost of housing for families and lift the freeze on housing benefit, which will help at least in the short term. The only long-term solution, though, as I’ve written before, is a nationwide social housing building programme like the one we saw after WW2.