Nowhere fast: The journey in and out of unsupported temporary accommodation
This report shines a light on the predicament facing single homeless adults, who often struggle to access mainstream housing options and so end up cycling in and out of low-quality temporary accommodation, which has impacts on their health and creates future costs for local services.
Too many single homeless households do not get full state support to find a permanent place to live. The absence of housing options during times of personal crisis means that many single homeless adults are driven towards the most dreadful corners of the English housing market, forced to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, private hostels and short-stay houses in multiple occupation (known collectively as ‘unsupported temporary accommodation’). The physical and social conditions in these dwellings are often appalling. There is limited statutory control over who is placed or directed to the accommodation, and enforcement activity on the conditions of dwellings and quality of the management is often found wanting.
Part of the problem is that this is a group of hidden homeless households, and their plight and housing largely go unseen and undocumented. As a result there are no accurate estimates of the number of single homeless households living in B&Bs or good records of the number of bedspaces this sector provides. Previous estimates have suggested the problem is considerable: for instance, research by Shelter suggests that single homeless use of private B&Bs and hostels is 5–10 times greater than is reported in quarterly government data (see Credland 2004, Crisis 2006).
The practical and policy interventions in this report are structured around the four stages of a typical stay, with a view to providing support at each stage and breaking the cycle many people face as they move into, out of and back into unsupported temporary accommodation. We seek to repair the ‘control deficit’ that many tenants feel when they move into unsupported temporary accommodation, and also to build their experiences into a positive ‘feedback loop’ between tenants and local actors.
Rather than rely on the Westminster government’s agenda in this area, we propose local but system-wide changes designed to empower tenants to have more control over their own journey, and to have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the people who live in unsupported temporary accommodation.
- New formal, local bodies – temporary accommodation boards – should be established to bring together the activities of neighbouring housing authorities, public services and the homelessness sector. Partners should be mobilised to gather, share and monitor information about local bedspaces and the individuals living in them, to inform referrals and signposting towards appropriate accommodation.
- Temporary accommodation boards should create and maintain live ‘greenlists’ of acceptable local bedspaces and ‘blacklists’ of unacceptable bedspaces using the data they gather and aggregate. Tenants should be offered detailed information about their options, while blacklists would be used primarily to stop tenants flowing into the worst-quality properties, and to incentivise landlords to make improvements.
- A clear set of standards should be developed for the unsupported temporary accommodation submarket, and local authority housing teams should make full use of the new powers provided by the Housing and Planning Bill to aggressively target the temporary accommodation sector and improve or close down the poorest properties. Temporary accommodation boards should be charged with developing a single tenancy agreement for local bedspaces, setting out the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, details of services and service changes, and a named point of contact for tenants in the event that issues arise at the property. And tenants should be supported to make complaints, including by allowing them to reclaim a proportion of the housing benefit previously paid to their landlord.
- Arrangements should be put in place to ensure that proper placement and in-tenancy support exists to help individuals manage their stay and to prevent their cycling in and out of unsupported temporary accommodation. This should include ‘warm handovers’, where the person referring the individual goes with the tenant to check the condition of their new home and provide support with paperwork and settling in.