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Shelter Cymru sponsorship feature

The impact of intentional homelessness on households in Wales

Intentional homelessness was a late introduction into The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. Although not in the original Bill, it was added during the Commons debates purportedly to deter ‘scroungers’ and ‘rent dodgers’ because local authorities and the Opposition were concerned about the financial burdens of the Act and effects on local authority allocation policies.

The concept of intentional homelessness therefore has long been controversial and proving that some people make themselves homeless on purpose in order to take advantage of the legislation has been a cause of much debate.

In fact the interpretation of the legislation over many years by local authorities and the courts has gone beyond trying to prove intentional homelessness in this way. Instead, decisions have often been made not on whether there was a conscious decision by the applicant to lose a home but whether something they did or did not do led to homelessness, regardless of their intention.

Whatever the history, the effects of intentional homeless are far reaching as it severely restricts the options and support available to households. It can condemn people to transient lifestyles in poor, insecure or inappropriate accommodation – even to sleeping rough – and our casework strongly indicates that intentional homelessness decisions can exacerbate the spiral of social exclusion and poverty instead of dealing with the causal issues.

It is against this background that Shelter Cymru is carrying out new research into the impact of intentional homelessness decisions on households in Wales. The research will contribute to the Welsh Assembly Government’s review of the current statutory homelessness framework, which will report later this year, by providing an insight into an aspect of the legislation that is known to cause problems both for local authorities and households in Wales.

The Assembly Government’s ten year homelessness plan states that the current statutory framework does not allow everyone to receive the level of service needed to ensure that their housing needs can be met.

However, the plan acknowledges that any changes to the statutory framework cannot take place until thorough preparatory work has been carried out, including a full impact assessment and consultation.

We believe that exploring the impact of intentional homelessness will contribute towards focusing the response on the causes of homelessness and developing sustainable solutions for everyone faced with homelessness.

Recent developments in Scotland have heralded changes in the approach to intentional homelessness, which we will be examining as part of our research. The 2003 Homelessness Act (Scotland), although not yet fully triggered, includes changing the duty to investigate intentional homelessness to a power to do so.

Additionally, the Scottish legislation reforms the duties owed to intentionally homeless households. Local authorities will be required to ensure that everyone who is found intentionally homeless has access to support and assistance to help overcome problems, address the causes of homelessness and sustain accommodation successfully.

These changes aim to introduce a proactive approach to dealing with intentional homelessness and could provide a useful model for the development of Welsh policy in a post-housing LCO context.

Opening Doors: Shelter Cymru\’s Conference, 30 June/1 July 2011

This year’s conference will take place in a climate of unprecedented political change. The results of March\’s referendum on Assembly powers, a new Welsh Government in Cardiff Bay and the first year of the Coalition Government in Westminster will all have significant implications for housing and homelessness in Wales. With thought-provoking speakers and lively debate, Conference 2011 will both set out the challenges ahead and propose innovative policy solutions to meet the housing needs of people in Wales.

For further information on the programme and booking details, go to www.sheltercymru.org.uk

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