Charities call for action over homelessness in England

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Significant numbers of homeless people have no right to adequate help in England even if they are sleeping rough, campaigners say.

The group, including homelessness and housing charities and lawyers, wants councils to be forced to act sooner to stop people ending up on the streets.

English councils only have to rehouse people faced with losing their homes who are judged to be "priority" cases.

The government is considering changing the law.

Act sooner

Levels of homelessness and rough sleeping in England are rising.

Single homeless, healthy adults without children, and who are not pregnant or vulnerable, do not generally fall into the priority category.

They can be offered nothing more than advice. Charities say sometimes they are given a leaflet, or simply turned away.

A review of homelessness legislation, written by representatives from Crisis, Shelter, local councils, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation, says the law should be changed.

Local connection

In Wales, local authorities have a duty to help prevent homelessness regardless of priority, and have to act within 56 days of the prospect of people losing their home.

The groups that published the report say English law should be changed to adopt elements of the Welsh system.

They say councils should have a stronger duty to prevent homelessness, they should have to act within 56 days of someone facing the loss of their home, and should have to work to secure accommodation for everyone with a local connection.

Their proposals do not exactly mirror Welsh legislation and would make it more difficult for councils to refuse help to people accused of behaving unreasonably.

Very interested

Ministers made clear last year they were considering changing the law to help tackle homelessness.

A government source said they were "very interested" in the ideas of a stronger duty of prevention and requiring councils to act earlier.

But in Whitehall they are anxious to make sure any new system works in London as well as the rest of the country.

The directly elected Labour Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, supported the proposal but said the plan would require more money and housing.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you say somebody's homeless and I have to house them, I have to have a place to house them. I can't magic things up."

'Interesting reading'

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said ministers had committed £139m to homelessness programmes and another £100m for accommodation in the Budget.

He added: "This report makes interesting reading and we will continue work with homelessness organisations and across government to explore options, including legislation, to prevent more people from facing a homelessness crisis in the first place."

Since December 2012, local authorities in Scotland have had a duty to secure settled accommodation for all eligible applicants who are unintentionally homeless.

The Local Government Association said it was imperative the government met its commitment to replace high-value homes sold to fund the extended Right to Buy scheme.

Figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government in February 2016 suggest England has seen an increase of 30% of rough sleepers in a year, to 3,569.

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