The Coalition is refusing to intervene in the growing night shelter crisis – even though it threatens to derail the government’s flagship homelessness strategy.
The funding crisis facing Britain’s emergency night shelters continues to grow, with ministers refusing to intervene despite confusion around whether shelters should continue to be funded through housing benefit.
Charities are warning that up to a third of UK night shelters are under threat, putting the lives of rough sleepers at risk, and, ironically, undermining the government’s own flagship homelessness policy.
The crisis was triggered by a court ruling that indicates emergency shelters should not automatically be able to claim housing benefit on behalf of their homeless clients. Campaigners say that although ministers could avert the crisis by amending regulations to exempt shelters from the ruling, they have so far refused to do so.
As a result, one shelter has closed, 11 local authorities are known to have withdrawn all or some housing benefit payments to their local shelters and many other local authorities are reviewing whether they should cut off payments.
Housing benefit has been a long-established means of financial support for up to a third of emergency shelters, whether they open only in cold weather or all year round. However, ministers have refused to intervene other than to advise shelters to find other ways of raising money.
Homeless Link, which represents homelessness charities, warns that the loss of the shelters could result in the death of rough sleepers, particularly in the winter months.
It says in a briefing:
We are concerned that in some areas night shelters may provide the only emergency accommodation for individuals who might otherwise have to sleep on the streets.
Charities have also pointed out that the coalition’s refusal to exempt shelters threatens ministers’ own No Second Night Out (NSNO) rough sleeper programme. NSNO was launched nationally two years ago by the then housing minister Grant Shapps and the prime minister David Cameron..
The programme is designed to provide a rapid response to people new to rough sleeping, giving them temporary accommodation while they are directed to appropriate support services.
NSNO was credited last week with successfully helping more rough sleepers escape multiple nights on the streets in London, despite a 13% year on year rise overall in the number of people recorded as homeless on the streets of the capital.
The night shelter crisis follows a court ruling in February which we here at UK Homelessness reported which judged that it was unlawful for Anglesey council in Wales to pay housing benefit to a night shelter on behalf of homeless clients because the shelter was temporary and therefore did not constitute a home.
Although the judge said that the case should not set a precedent, several local authorities have subsequently taken legal advice and cut off housing benefit. At least one council, however – Blackpool – has accepted a different legal interpretation of the the ruling and continued to pay housing benefit to clients of a local night shelter.
Reduction in any funding stream to night shelters impacts on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and puts at risk the Government’s own No Second Night Out initiative. This situation has to be resolved as soon as possible.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said the government “fully recognises the vital work of night shelters in reducing rough sleeping”. They declined to say whether ministers would clarify the rules on night shelter payments.