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Shelter Cymru sponsorship feature: Recent trends in Welsh homelessness

Here’s a jolly January read for you. We’ve been reviewing our casework to provide evidence to Welsh Government for their review of the statutory guidance on homelessness and allocations.

Here are some of the key trends we’ve picked up on lately that are either causing homelessness, or making it more difficult for people to get back on their feet after losing their home.

Former tenant arrears

We’ve noticed a trend towards harsher policies on former tenant arrears in allocations. In some cases these new policies are so strict that they are in effect barring large numbers of vulnerable households from the major social housing provider in their local area.

Some of the worst examples we’ve seen include one provider requiring people with higher levels of arrears to pay off £500 per month before they can be allowed to bid for homes – even if they are in receipt of means-tested benefits.

One local authority landlord won’t allocate to households who have former arrears from the private rented sector – absurdly excluding people from affordable housing if they have previously struggled to afford market rents.

And many landlords are requiring people to pay off old arrears from years ago, even longer than a decade. These arrears will be statute-barred, meaning they can no longer be pursued through the courts. They will have been written off in business plans as bad debt long ago. Despite this, we have had clients be told that they can’t have a new tenancy unless the old statute-barred arrears are added on to their rent account, leaving them heavily in debt from the outset.

Rent Smart Wales and homelessness

Different pieces of Welsh legislation don’t always tie up neatly. In particular, the fact that private renters can’t be evicted unless their landlord is licensed under Rent Smart Wales has led to a few unforeseen consequences.

For example, it’s now fairly common for private renters to be found ‘not homeless’ by their local Housing Solutions team if they’ve had a notice to quit but their landlord isn’t licensed.

What this means in practice is that the renter is expected to go back and challenge their landlord by themselves, without the help of the council.

We don’t think it’s right to place tenants in difficult or even dangerous situations like these. We’ve asked Welsh Government to amend the guidance to ensure that Housing Solutions step in and help people with some much-needed advocacy.

Accessing homelessness services

In some local authorities the only way to access homelessness services is via the phone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially in large authority areas where people might struggle to reach the nearest office.

However, for some people – particularly those who are vulnerable, or who have trouble communicating – the telephone just doesn’t work.

Lately we’ve seen a number of cases where people have rung their council and spoken to a triage call handler who tells them that due to their situation there’s no point in them making a homelessness application.

The trouble is that the frontline call handlers are usually not trained in crucial skills such as recognising vulnerability. This has led to people being turned away when they really, really needed help.

We’ve seen people turned away when they and their children have been at immediate risk of serious domestic abuse and threats to kill.

In one recent case we successfully challenged a ‘not priority’ decision where an applicant who is trans had been unable during a telephone assessment to articulate the subtle violence they suffered at the hands of their family and neighbours.

What we find is that many people simply accept the advice given, and continue to suffer in some terrible circumstances. Homelessness isn’t prevented but remains hidden. We’ve asked Welsh Government to ensure that triage call handlers are properly trained and that people are informed of their rights to make a homelessness application.

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