Shelter estimate that over 320,000 people were homeless in the UK in 2019 – that’s one in every 200 people. Homelessness takes many forms – rough sleeping, sofa surfing, night-shelters, B&B, temporary accommodation, hostels, squatting, and is a complex mix of personal and wider structural factors, such as health, employment, relationships and housing.
As part of our social purpose volunteering programme, several of our team volunteered to work pro bono for the West Midlands Combined Authority Homelessness Taskforce and provide legal advice on tackling the problem.
The tip of the iceberg
Anthony Collins Solicitors (ACS) volunteer, Emma Hardman, works in housing as part of her ‘day job’ and was delighted to bring that expertise to bear;
There are many reasons why someone can be homeless, including that they’ve failed to keep up with rent and have been evicted. Poor personal finance management can often be the cause. So the taskforce’s immediate goal was to help families manage rent payments better.
Eviction is in no one’s interest
Temporary relocation for a family is highly stressful, particularly for children. The quality of temporary accommodation is often poor and there can be issues for schooling if temporary accommodation is not close to the original home.
Temporary accommodation is also expensive for local authorities to fund, and it can often take a long time to find suitable permanent accommodation.
Private registered providers view eviction for arrears as the final resort too because of their social purpose and void properties cost them money while they wait for the property to be relet.
A new form of tenancy agreement
We suggested a tenancy ‘downgrade’, where tenants are issued with a new form of tenancy agreement: this is done with complete transparency with the individual and it is their choice. If they breach the terms of the new agreement, it would be easier for the landlord to regain possession of the property.
Sitting alongside this would be an increased package of support for tenants to encourage a habit of full rent payments and trigger a change of behaviour in tenants.
Black Country Housing Group has already run an extremely successful pilot of the tenancy downgrade solution and it works for all parties. The aim is now to roll it out more widely across the West Midlands region.
It’s too early to say, but the Covid-19 crisis may have accelerated this change. The Government pushed to get ‘everyone in’ as part of keeping people safe - and evictions were suspended for a period. Hopefully, as we move on from the pandemic, a change of attitude and policy may help to avoid renewed growth in homelessness.
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