District Councils' Network Autumn Assembly 2018
Housing and Homelessness Minister Heather Wheeler MP’s speech to the District Councils' Network (DCN) Autumn Assembly
I’m delighted to be here today at the District Councils’ Network.
District councils play a critical role at the heart of our communities, and in delivering the public services that local communities rely on.
As Minister for Housing and Homelessness, I’m particularly conscious of the support you provide to those in housing need.
Ensuring that everyone has a decent, affordable, secure home is a core priority for this government.
That’s why this government has said that we will halve rough sleeping in this parliament, and eliminate it entirely by 2027.
And why we’re dedicated to preventing people becoming homeless in the first place.
These are ambitious goals, but it’s essential we achieve them.
To meet these goals, and ensure that the most vulnerable in society have the support they need, we’ve introduced an important package of policies.
We know what an important role district councils will play in delivering them, making a real difference for our communities.
Homelessness Reduction Act
At the heart of our approach to tackling homelessness is the Homelessness Reduction Act, the most ambitious reform to homelessness legislation in decades.
For the first time, the Act puts prevention at the heart of a local authorities’ response to homelessness, with more people – whether they are in priority need or not – receiving the right support, and for a longer period of time.
New Personalised Housing Plans are intended to embed a person-centred approach, in which local authorities match support to individual needs, be that debt advice or help to find a job.
It also introduced a new duty on specified public authorities to refer those who they think may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to a local housing authority of their choice.
This will help to ensure people’s housing needs are considered and services are working together more effectively.
We know there have been significant changes for local authorities, including district councils, which will take time to bed in.
To support these requirements, local authorities will receive an additional £72.7 million over 2 years and our Homelessness Advice and Support Team will continue to be an expert resource available to those who would like support from the department.
We have also committed to reviewing the implementation of the Act within a 2 year period, including the resourcing of it and how it is working in practice.
Additionally, the department will conduct a post-implementation review of the burdens, to review our cost assessment and the underlying assumptions.
My officials have already begun speaking to local authorities to gather insights into how the first 6 months overall have been. In the past 2 weeks they have held events in London and Durham with a further one to come in Birmingham. This is just the start of the conversation and we will continue to engage with you to find out how things are going.
Private rented sector and housing
However, as I am sure we are all aware here today, that while the legislation is key in our ambition to tackle homelessness, it is not enough to solve the problem.
To break the cycle of homelessness, we have to tackle the underlying issues from frankly every angle. And that has to begin housing.
We’re tackling it from every angle.
We’re building more homes – more than at any time in all but one of the last 30 years. National House Building Council’s (NHBC) statistics out today show that just over 45,000 new homes have been registered this quarter. This is an 11-year high.
We’ve invested £9 billion in affordable housing and a further £2 billion on for a new generation of social housing.
We are committed to allow local authorities to build homes, which is why the Prime Minister announced the lifting of the Housing Revenue borrowing cap. This means there is nothing holding you back to fulfil your ambitious plans to build new council homes.
But for many, the private rented sector is a route out of homelessness. It has the flexibility, variety and choice that people so often need.
We are determined to help you and your residents, but accessing and sustaining private sector tenancies on low incomes can all too often be a challenge.
We’re determined to help – I’m pleased we have launched the Private Rented Sector Access Fund. I want to see ambitious plans. Any bid I can pass, I will.
It makes £20 million available for schemes that enable those who are homeless or sleeping rough – or at risk or either – better access to sustainable tenancies.
The bidding process is now open and will be until the 21 November.
I recognise that homelessness pressures and issues are not the same across the country and each authority has its own unique problem.
Whether you’ve had problems with rough sleeping or moving people on from temporary accommodation, we’ve ensured that we’ve provided funding to cover your own problems through the Flexible Homelessness Support Grant.
That £617 million fund is a huge part of the government’s £1.2 billion commitment to tackle homelessness and shows how seriously we do take this vital issue.
Tackling rough sleeping
Nothing shows how seriously this government is taking tackling homelessness more than the manifesto commitments to tackle rough sleeping.
We’re committed and now working tirelessly to halve rough sleeping in this Parliament – and eliminate it entirely by 2027.
We’re the first government to ever make such a commitment.
And this year, we’ve taken important steps.
First, our new Rough Sleeping Initiative brings together experts from across the sector.
It targets local authorities across the country with high levels of rough sleeping.
Funding is not only used for new bed spaces, but also for hiring dedicated staff such as outreach workers, mental health specialists and substance misuse workers.
And our new Rough Sleeping Strategy builds on this for the long-term, looking across the spectrum from prevention, to intervention, to recovery.
And we recently announced £34 million of provisional allocations for next year’s Rough Sleeping Initiative. I’ll be looking closely at these bids right across the country.
Working closely with local authorities
Working closely with local authorities is imperative to our success in reaching our ambitions.
You are the people that put the government’s aims and ambitions into practise on a day to day basis.
However, it is important that we work closely, and nothing epitomises this more than our Homelessness Advice and Support Team.
This team, made up of expert advisors, has worked with local authorities on their homelessness services and have worked specifically on embedding the Homelessness Reduction Act and have been successful in bringing down the numbers of families in bed and breakfast temporary accommodation. These are really huge reductions – this is your success and I am thankful.
In order for us to be successful in delivering our commitment to end rough sleeping – we need the help of the sector, the support and hard work from many of you in the room today is absolutely vital in order for us to tackle this national crisis.
Once again, I would like to thank you for having me here today to speak. I am very much looking forward to continuing working with many of you as we move towards creating a country where no one should face the prospect of sleeping rough.