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26 May 2020

Government urged to introduce raft of measures to help homeless after coronavirus pandemic

The West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) Homelessness Taskforce (Saturday May 23) urged the Government to act now to prevent a post-COVID-19 surge in homelessness across the region.

The Taskforce, which brings together representatives from the WMCA’s seven local authorities, public services, voluntary and not-for-profit sector, and local business, has called on Government to introduce a range of new measures to support rough sleepers and people at risk of becoming homeless as the pandemic continues.

More than 800 existing or potential rough sleepers have been housed by local authorities in the region throughout the crisis and now the Taskforce wants to use the lessons learned during the pandemic to ensure that those who have come in are able to stay in.

A West Midlands submission to the Government's homelessness Tsar, Dame Louise Casey, highlights growing concerns that the number of people presenting as homeless could rise due to the virus temporarily ‘bottling up’ demand.

In particular, the Taskforce has highlighted rent arrears and wider debt accrued during the lockdown due to the reduction in people’s incomes as two key reasons why people will find themselves facing homelessness as the pandemic continues.

The group has also raised the ‘significant risk’ of relationships falling apart during the lockdown phase as another factor leading to homelessness.

Now, to help address these concerns, as well as support the West Midlands’ work in designing out homelessness, the taskforce has called on the Government to:

  • Extend the scale and length of Housing First support to promote confidence in landlords that those with complex needs will continue to get help
  • Develop and fund a temporary Rent Support scheme for those who have accrued arrears during the COVID-19 lockdown, aimed at households who have either lost jobs or been furloughed on low incomes
  • Extend the current period of no evictions in the rented sector by a further three months
  • Commit ring-fenced additional funds for ongoing accommodation and support to all those for whom local authorities have taken on additional responsibility
  • Give 12 months ‘grace’ to those with No Recourse to Public Funds and funding to help this group either into work or to achieve resolution of their status.
  • Increase grant rates to drive more house building that is truly affordable, using the definition of ‘affordability’ adopted by the WMCA.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who established the Taskforce in 2017, said:

“The impact of COVID-19 has been severe across the whole of the West Midlands, but our local authorities have done a superb job in protecting our most vulnerable by offering accommodation to every single rough sleeper in the region.

“With so many rough sleepers now housed, we must capitalise on this unique opportunity created by coronavirus to take a major step forward in tackling homelessness. We must also be aware that as we move through this crisis, more people will fall into financial difficulty and present themselves as homeless, and we must do everything we can to protect and support them.

“That is why the Homelessness Taskforce has come up with a list of asks for the Government from the West Midlands, which will help improve our prevention work in the region, as well as help to protect those who are homeless now and those who are at risk of becoming so as the virus begins to ease.”

Cllr Sharon Thompson , chair of the WMCA’s members advisory group, said:

"Ten years of austerity resulted in a homelessness crisis across the country and we cannot allow a repeat as the economy recovers from this pandemic.

"By working in partnership, we've protected many of the most vulnerable people across the region and we now have a huge opportunity to build on the last two months and make a lasting change.

"The measures we are calling for will help us sustain progress made at a very challenging time, whilst also equipping us for the challenges to come. Our ambition is to help prevent a further homelessness crisis in the coming months and years.

“We can only achieve this with a commitment from Government to provide adequate financial support and policy changes which will help to prevent people from falling into crisis in the first place.

"If the Government are serious about ending homelessness in 2024 it will require an integrated approach. Councils and their partner agencies will need to be properly funded throughout the pandemic and beyond."

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