Shelter has called for greater investment in social housing after data revealed that English local authorities spent over a billion pounds on temporary accommodation last year.
Research by the housing charity found that councils spent almost £1.2 billion providing temporary accommodation for homeless households between April 2019 and March 2020 – an increase of 9% on the previous year and 55% in the last five years.
87% of this money, which does not include most of the additional funding the government spent on the ‘Everyone In’ scheme at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, went to private landlords, letting agents, or companies.
Shelter have called the spending ‘outrageous’, lamenting that so much is spent on ‘often shoddy and expensive’ temporary accommodation due to a lack of social homes.
The charity says that more social housing is ‘desperately needed’ as the pandemic’s economic effects risk forcing a growing number of people into homelessness.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The decades of failure to build social homes means too many people on lower incomes are stuck in unstable private rentals – increasing their chances of becoming homeless.
“This cycle of destitution persists when those who lose their homes turn to the council for help, because councils have so little social housing left that they can’t alleviate their homelessness for good. All they can do is pay over the odds for insecure temporary accommodation.”
Shelter obtained the figures by analysing data published by the government yesterday (22 October 2020) on how much local councils spent on temporary accommodation for homeless households in 2019/20.
93,000 households in England were living in temporary accommodation at the end of March 2020, just when the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold in the UK.
Shelter found that local councils paid £1 billion to private accommodation providers in 2019/20 – a 66% increase on the £621 million they spent on that purpose in 2014/15.
38% of this money – £393 million – was spent on emergency B&Bs, one of the least suitable types of accommodation for families to live in due to them often having to share facilities and bedrooms, Shelter said. This type of spending by local councils has increased by 73% since 2014/15.
Shelter have urged the government to fund a ‘rescue package’ for social homes, saying that a £12 billion investment over the next two years could help build an extra 144,000 affordable homes, including 50,000 social homes.
Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, admitted that placements in temporary accommodation can present ‘serious challenges’ for families while also being expensive for councils.
“This underlines why it is vital that the Spending Review shifts the government’s focus towards the key drivers of homelessness, including a lack of affordable housing, welfare-related poverty, and a lack of an integrated prevention approach,” Cllr Renard added.
“This means government investment in homelessness prevention, giving councils the powers to build the desperately-needed new generation in social housing the country needs and ensuring that the role of the local safety net is adequately resourced.”
A government spokesperson commented: “Everybody should have somewhere safe to live, and temporary accommodation plays a role in ensuring people are getting the help they need. We’re committed to transforming the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society and this year alone we’re spending over £700 million in total to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.
“We are also investing £12.2 billion through the Affordable Homes Programme – the highest single funding commitment to affordable housing in a decade. We will deliver a wide range of affordable homes of different tenures all across the country.”