Government urged to step in as rough sleeping soars in London

Latest figures said to be highest quarterly rough sleeping count in London since records began, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

credit Nick Fewings via Unsplash

Sadiq Khan’s housing deputy has urged the government to take further steps to combat the capital’s problem with rough sleeping and homelessness.

In a letter to homelessness minister Felicity Buchan MP, deputy mayor for housing Tom Copley asked the government “to urgently act ahead of winter to prevent a further increase in people sleeping rough on our streets”.

The government says it is spending more than £2billion over three years to tackle the complex issues which lead to homelessness and rough sleeping.

According to City Hall’s latest data, outreach teams recorded 4,068 people sleeping rough in London between July and September – a 12% increase on the same period last year. Of that number, more than half – 2,086 people – were sleeping rough for the first time.

It is thought that the 4,068 people recorded is highest quarterly rough sleeping count in London since records began.

Copley told Buchan: “The data being published by my team this week shows a very worrying increase in rough sleeping across almost all areas of London.

“This includes rises amongst those leaving Home Office accommodation provided for asylum seekers, where we know there is a particular problem with newly-granted refugees having insufficient time to find alternative housing. Behind this data are, of course, real stories of human suffering and resilience.”

The deputy mayor urged the government to take steps to “stop newly recognised refugees and asylum seekers being pushed into homelessness”, including by “extending the move-on period for newly recognised refugees from 28 days to 56 days, in line with local authorities’ duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act.”

Copley pointed out that the mayor has quadrupled City Hall’s rough sleeping budget since taking office in 2016, but he added: “It is clear to me that despite increased spending on services for those already on the streets, wider policy choices are driving up the most visible and harmful forms of homelessness.

“Without a change of approach, our combined spending and effort in this area can at best only alleviate the worst impacts, with no real chance of meeting our shared goal to end rough sleeping.

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“More and better services for those people who do find themselves sleeping rough are vital, but I do not believe that they can end rough sleeping alone.”

He made a fresh call for several policies that Khan has long asked for, including the ability to freeze private rents in the capital and to end Section 21 evictions.

The government has previously rejected calls for a rent freeze, saying that the measure would not work and would instead “lead to declining standards, a lack of investment and may encourage illegal subletting”.

A move to end Section 21 notices – also known as ‘no fault’ evictions – is being pursued by the government through the Renters Reform Bill.

It was revealed last week however that the ban will be indefinitely delayed until the court system has been reformed, to ensure that landlords are still able to repossess their properties in cases of anti-social behaviour or where the tenant repeatedly failed to pay rent, for example.

Copley also called on the government to unfreeze Local Housing Allowance rates and to “give local authorities the funding needed to meet their duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act”.

Responding, a spokesperson at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We want to end rough sleeping and prevent homelessness before it occurs.

“That’s why we are spending over £2bn over three years to tackle the complex issues, including over £530m in London to help prevent evictions and support people off the streets. Our landmark Renters Reform Bill will also give tenants greater security in their homes.

“We are also providing a £200m fund to deliver an extra 2,400 homes by 2025 to support people who are at risk of sleeping rough.”

Commenting on the latest rough sleeping data, Emma Haddad, chief executive of the charity St Mungo’s, said: “Of particular concern is the large increase in non-UK nationals, who represented 52.6% of people sleeping rough in the capital during July to September.

“The pressure of these rising figures is being felt across St Mungo’s, as requests for immigration advice and emergency housing increases.

“To alleviate homelessness and destitution for this vulnerable group, there must be sufficient funding and a clear directive from central government to support people to resolve their homelessness through the provision of accommodation, independent immigration advice, and support to engage in the advice.”

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