The Homelessness Reduction Act - what is it and will it work?
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From April 3 your local council will have a legal duty to offer more help to people at risk of homelessness.
The Homelessness Reduction Act has now come into force, and puts a renewed focus on bringing down the numbers of homeless and rough sleepers, which have risen dramatically in recent years.
Norwich City Council are preparing by hiring two new officers, updating IT systems and putting in place a plan across all departments.
But some charities have warned that without proper funding, the Act will put 'impossible pressures' on local authorities who are already struggling to tackle the problem.
As part of the Act, councils will have to intervene earlier if someone is threatened with homelessness, within 56 days rather than 28.
Currently those who are homeless but not considered 'priority need' - likely to be single people without children - are only eligible for advice and assistance.
Under the new Act, councils will have to give all homeless people 'meaningful assistance', regardless of priority need.
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They must help all homeless applicants who are eligible for support find accommodation within six months, unless they are transferred to another local authority as they have no local connection.
But after relentless cuts to benefits and local authority funding, there are fears the number of rough sleepers in Norwich will rise again this year.
'The Homelessness Reduction Act looks good but if you do not have the resources that follow it you are putting an impossible pressure on local authorities,' said chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project, Dan Mobbs. 'The city council have had so many cuts to their resources I don't know how they are going to deliver it.'
He added the rise in homelessness is a direct result of austerity, and when Universal Credit is rolled out to Norwich in October more people will 'fall through the net'.
'We have made a choice of austerity, and this is the consequence of that choice,' he said. 'Doing something about homelessness means investing in support services and accommodation.
'The Homelessness Reduction Act - if it is not resourced - just puts more requirements on the city. That might lead to some reduction but it remains to be seen. All the evidence is when Universal Credit comes in more people fall through the net. You would expect that to have a negative impact on rough sleeping.'
In a blog for homelessness charity Shelter, Deborah Garvie said the new legislation does not go far enough.
She said: 'We've warned from the outset that the law alone can't reduce homelessness, which occurs because of a lack of suitable homes in the areas where they are most needed. So when homelessness increases, it's an indicator that housing policy is failing.'
But Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martin's Housing Trust, hopes the Act will help bring more people off the street.
'The Homelessness Reduction Act has the potential to reduce the number of homeless people and rough sleepers,' she said. 'It will place an additional pressure on services; people can present as potentially homeless sooner and with a wider range of needs.
'In Norwich we have been very proactive; our new consortium project (Pathways) will help vulnerable people with complex needs to achieve long term stability. The project will provide flexible support focused around each individual. Even though we are likely to see increased levels of need we hope through our consortium project we will see a reduction in the number of people who are homeless in Norwich.'
Norwich City Council has said they are 'well placed' to meet the challenges to the new law. They are upgrading IT systems, hiring two new officers and giving extra training to staff.
Councillor Gail Harris, Norwich City Council's cabinet member with responsibility for homelessness, said: 'Our approach focuses on the prevention of homelessness - preventing 700 households from becoming homeless last year - so we are well placed to meet the requirements of the (Homelessness Reduction) Act.
'We already provide an accessible housing advice service, in line with best practice, and work with the private sector to improve the range of housing options available.
'Given the pressures on local government, we understand the concerns of charitable organisations, and will go back to central government to make a case for further funding if it is needed.'
Pioneering project hopes to reduce rough sleeping
A consortium of eight local organisations have been awarded £758k by Norwich City Council over the next three years to address rough sleeping and support people with complex needs in Norwich.
The new project - Pathways - will deliver a new collaborative model that has not been seen before.
The consortium members will step out of their individual organisations and form one team to take the new service to those people who need it most.
They will rotate between hubs around the city – including the Arc drop-in at Pottergate, early morning street outreach and at City Hall - meaning that rough sleepers and vulnerable people can access the help they need at whatever point they make contact with the service.
Each team member will have an individual specialism – including younger persons advice, welfare and housing, criminal justice liaison and a qualified nurse, bringing health services direct to the street.
The Pathways team includes St Martin's Housing Trust, Shelter, YMCA Norfolk, Salvation Army, City Reach, Mancroft Advice Project, The Feed and Future Projects.
St Martins Homeless Services Manager Maria Pratt said, 'Our service will offer support throughout a person's journey from rough sleeping into accommodation and beyond. People often access support at a very chaotic time and our service will provide a constant in their lives, allowing people to access the elements of the service most appropriate to them at that particular time.
'Our partnership will offer a service at the first point of contact that is appropriate, effective and realistic, by working in a collaborative way we will reduce duplication which is essential for crisis resolution and the individual's prospects.'
Councillor Kevin Maguire, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for rough sleeping, said: 'Everyone involved in this innovative project recognises that homelessness is a complex issue that requires a collective approach.
'As part of our strategy to reduce and, wherever possible, prevent homelessness, this funding has been awarded to these specialist charities to enable them to collaborate to provide intensive, tailored support for those most in need.'