How has the Homelessness Reduction Act fared in Reading after its first full year?

A new report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) has revealed how the council has performed since an act aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness was introduced last year.

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) was introduced in April 2018, placing new responsibilities on English councils to support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

In its first year, 330 families or individuals in Reading have been taken out of homelessness or prevented from becoming homeless, the BIJ has revealed.

While the council says the number of households in temporary accommodation in Reading dropped from 315 to 188.

Ian Caren, CEO of Reading homelessness charity Launchpad, said the HRA has had positive impacts but the homelessness situation is still “appalling”.

He said: “The HRA ensures people at the start of the section 21 process can go to the council and tell them it is a problem which is good.

“The problem is what do you do with people because of the shortage in housing and because housing benefit has been frozen.

“Our housing sector is currently a commodity for landlords.

“We need stability in our housing market so people can plan for the future.

“More people are dying on the streets than ever. The sheer wear and tear of living on the streets is appalling.”

How is the council performing?

The council is required to provide free information and advice to everybody who makes contact with the Homeless Prevention Service who is homeless or threatened with homelessness in the future. 

Reading Borough Council (RBC) – in the first year of the act – assessed 1,583 applications, which equates to around 9.7 assessments per 1,000 people in the borough.

This is more than any of its statistical neighbours – areas that are considered similar to Reading including Slough, York and Swindon – suggesting the council’s homelessness service is under high pressure.

Reading has performed about average in terms of relieving and preventing homelessness – the two key aims of the HRA.

The council owed a duty to 1,218 families to prevent or relieve homelessness in 2018-19 and sucessfully managed this in 43 per cent of cases that were closed.

This compares to 82% in Swindon and 73 per cent in Newcastle.

Seven of Reading's 12 statistical neighbours performed better.

A spokesman for RBC said: “In preparation for the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act the council’s housing department adopted an early intervention approach with an increased focus on services to prevent homelessness.

“Additional staffing of homelessness prevention teams, a pilot of an early intervention team and specialist frontline housing advice support team has helped to keep down the number of households coming to the council in housing crisis.

“This supported the work the council was already doing to decrease placements to emergency and temporary accommodation.

“Almost 180 households were in emergency B&B accommodation in Reading three years ago but that figure has dropped to 10 or fewer since November 2018.

“The council’s housing team has also managed to cut the number of households in temporary accommodation from 315 in March 2018 to 188 in March 2019.

“This has been achieved with the help of the Rent Guarantee Scheme, helping families with deposits and rent in advance and improving the standards of property in the private sector.

“There has also been a significant reduction in families found to be intentionally homeless thanks to increased support for those households at risk of losing their homes.”

What is the national picture?

Over 7,000 households in England are currently in B&Bs, unable to access safe and secure accommodation.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive at Crisis, says the government needs to invest in building more social housing and restoring the Local Housing Allowance so that it covers the true cost of renting.

He said: “Everyone has the right to a decent home, and it’s great to see the success the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) has had in its first year, preventing nearly 60,000 households becoming homeless in England.

“The HRA has great potential, but it can only go so far when people are being pushed to the brink, struggling to meet the cost of housing.

“The government needs to tackle the root causes of this issue – investing in building more social housing and restoring Local Housing Allowance (LHA), so that it covers the true cost of renting.”