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Abolish priority need to tackle rough sleeping, say AMs

A National Assembly committee is calling for the abolition of priority need and a series of other changes to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in Wales.

In a report published on Friday, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committeerecommends that Welsh Government should give all homeless households, including rough sleepers, the right to housing. Until priority need can be abolished, the committee says rough sleepers should be automatically assessed as being in priority need.

If Welsh Government is not minded to abolish priority need, the committee says it should amend the definition of vulnerable in the Housing Act 2014, which members were told has fallen short in assisting rough sleepers.

Committee chair John Griffiths AM said:

‘What our inquiry has found is that the criteria used to identify those who are in ‘priority need’ of accommodation is such that even the most vulnerable people within our communities are falling through the cracks.

‘We want the Welsh Government to introduce a phased approach to abolishing priority need, which would start by ensuring that everyone sleeping rough is considered in priority need, and is entitled to support and housing.’

Priority need was abolished in Scotland in 2012. Housing and regeneration minister Rebecca Evans says in an interview of the current issue of WHQ that she is looking at the issue:

‘We know that in Scotland it ended up having an unintended consequence
of more people spending longer in temporary accommodation. That’s not what I want to see here but I think some of that could be alleviated by increasing the supply of affordable housing.

‘I’ll be reviewing the issue of priority need particularly considering the representations we’ve had about prisoners and their experiences after leaving prison. I’ve had some interesting discussions with the
third sector about their views and experiences so far.

‘So this is very much an area where I’m in listening mode and seeking to establish what the evidence tells us. We’ve said in our rough sleepers action plan that we would do that over the next 18 months but that doesn’t mean it needs to take that long.’

Cymorth Cymru is urging Welsh Government to act on the committee’s recommendations on priority need and other issues including the ring-fencing of Supporting People funding, arrangements for universal credit and support for Housing First..

Director Katie Dalton said:

‘One of the critical issues raised by this report is the current threat to the Supporting People programme, which supports 60,000 people every year to avoid homelessness and live independently in their communities. We are pleased that Assembly Members share our concerns about proposals to remove the ring-fence protection around this vital funding and merge it with nine other grants. We urge the housing minister to ensure that this funding continues to be ring-fenced specifically for homelessness and housing-related support services.

‘We really welcome clear recommendations to ensure that rough sleepers and prison leavers are automatically regarded as priority need for housing, as many will have multiple, complex health and support needs’

Shelter Cymru welcomed the report’s recommendation on priority need as ‘the logical next step’:


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