Get the latest on coronavirus. Sign up to the Daily Brief for news, explainers, how-tos, opinion and more.
Rough sleepers taken off the streets as coronavirus hit the UK face being made homeless again because councils have not been given sufficient funding from the government to support them.
When the outbreak hit Britain in March, ministers asked local authorities in England to house all rough sleepers and those in hostels and night shelters, with hundreds of people being put up in hotels in a bid to isolate them from infection.
But in evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, councils have warned the initial £3.2m provided by central government fell well short of the actual cost they incurred.
They added the £3.2bn the Ministry of Housing (MHCLG) has handed to all councils to pay for the entire impact of Covid-19, including homelessness, is not enough and could lead to “a surge in people ending up on the streets”.
The money available for homelessness falls in particular for councils with responsibility for care homes.
One authority told HuffPost UK the country is “sleepwalking into a much deeper homelessness crisis”, but the MHCLG argues councils have been “backed by an unprecedented package of support”.
“If government funding does not continue, there will be a surge in people ending up on the streets.Camden Council
On March 27, ministers said all rough sleepers in England should be taken off the streets within days under a policy dubbed “everyone in”.
Now written evidence to the local government select committee of MPs reveals some have been battling with a shortage of social housing, high rents in the private sector and a reluctance of hotels to accept homeless people.
The chronic shortage of housing has been exacerbated by prison releases and people fleeing domestic violence during the outbreak.
Other pressures include little-mentioned costs such as laundry, restrictions on access to state benefits for some homeless people and some authorities having to take in rough sleepers from outside their jurisdiction.
The Conservative-led Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in west London received £14,250 of funding from the £3.2m but has had to find almost £750,000 for specific Covid-19 rough sleeping and homelessness services. “The funding, thus far, is insufficient,” it said.
Enfield Council in north London said it received £266,000 from the MHCLG to support rough sleepers. But it estimates the true cost is closer to £1.1m for the six months it needs to secure rehousing. It said: “Without sufficient support ... they will go back to rough sleeping even if accommodated and will become desensitised to the risk of Covid-19.”
Hackney Council in east London also highlighted the “lack of appropriate suitable accommodation and necessary support” and said the issue was “not simply a question of providing a roof”.
It said: “This requires sufficient resources; a ready supply of self-contained stock, workers able to provide support and guidance, and clinical support for those with health needs. All of which are in short supply following many years in cuts to housing benefits and public services. The absence of adequate infrastructure has been exposed by this crisis.”
Hackney said it was also dealing with an “alarming” rise of around 10 new rough sleepers a week which is “stretching local resources to breaking point”. To deal with rough sleeping, the MHCLG has committed £10,500 in total to Hackney, but the authority is spending more than £7,200 per day.
Southwark Council in south London said it received £33,000, adding: “Please note the gross cost to the council during April alone to implement the MHCLG target to eliminate rough sleeping has cost £153,159.”
Brighton and Hove Council said the £66,000 it was given was “inadequate”, and estimates the bill is £184,615 a week. Coventry Council said it was allocated £17,250 which is “not sufficient” since the cost is expected to be more than £500,000 in the first quarter of this year.
Southampton City Council pointed to the short notice which “made it difficult for this to be successfully accomplished”. It added some authorities placed rough sleepers in the Southampton area from as far as 60 miles away.
In the evidence, the councils argued the £3.2bn has been undermined by a loss of income from business rates, council tax, parking charges and commercial and residential rental income.
Hackney said its £17.8m share of the £3.2bn – and other hardship cash – will only cover half of the estimated financial impact of the crisis.
“Unfortunately this will be the case for many other councils with social care responsibility,” it said.
Camden warned it has insufficient capacity to accommodate everyone who was found emergency housing and called for a “clear decision on future government funding”, adding: “If government funding does not continue, there will be a surge in people ending up on the streets.”
Basildon Council in Essex also warned there is a “significant risk that if funding and accommodation are withdrawn, there will be an increase in homelessness and a second surge in rough sleeping”.
Liverpool Council said the rough sleeping funding would would only pay for a “very small percentage” of the efforts in the city and the neighbouring Wirral, with more than £1.2m already spent in the wider city region.
A submission from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which has housed more than 1,000 people, warned: “People have been provided with alternative self-contained accommodation and essential services to help them during the coronavirus crisis. However, due to the funding pressures this policy places on local authorities, it is not a long term solution to protect people from infection and transmission.”
Councillor Kim Taylor-Smith, Kensington and Chelsea Council deputy leader and lead member for housing, told HuffPost UK: “We have offered accommodation to all identified rough sleepers in our borough and the £14,250 we have had in government funding has helped.
“However the cost of providing hotel accommodation alone during the pandemic could reach £727,000, before contemplating how the council supports people after the pandemic into continued, settled accommodation.
“This was already a fraught time for councils as we were facing £40m of cuts over a three-year period. Due to an increase in demand for services and a loss of income, the council faces a gap of just over £30m after the money already received from government, with more pressures expected in the medium term as the full economic effect of the pandemic becomes known.”
Councillor Kieron Williams, Southwark’s housing chief, said half of the rough sleepers it has housed have no recourse to public funds, so they cannot be offered council homes or claim benefits.
She told HuffPost UK: “That means the housing, support and food we do provide is entirely at cost to the council. After a decade of cuts to council funding we are edging closer to that becoming an impossible bill for us.
“While the pandemic continues, more and more people are claiming Universal Credit and the UK is sleepwalking into a much deeper poverty and homelessness crisis which must be addressed with urgency.”
Hackney Council has written to Dame Louise Casey, who is leading the government’s homelessness task force, urging her not to waste a “once in a generation chance” to fix the homelessness crisis.
Deputy mayor councillor Rebecca Rennison said: “It’s absolutely vital that the government listens to local authorities and other organisations working on the frontline to support some of our most vulnerable residents, and does not waste this once in a generation chance to make meaningful changes.”
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “Councils should be proud of their efforts to get rough sleepers off the street, backed by an unprecedented package of support for local government.
“We provided councils with £3.2m at the start of the pandemic so they could take immediate action and help rough sleepers off the street. We’ve since provided £3.2 billion to councils for pressures they are facing, including supporting rough sleepers.
“Our new rough sleeping taskforce – spearheaded by Dame Louise Casey – will work hand-in-hand with councils across the country on plans to ensure rough sleepers can move into long-term, safe accommodation.”