The impact of COVID-19 on people facing homelessness and service provision across Great Britain

In this blog, Sophie Boobis, Research Manager at Crisis, the UK national charity for homeless people, discusses the findings from the research carried out by the charity on understanding the experiences of frontline homelessness services during the pandemic. 

The homelessness response to COVID-19 has seen extraordinary action taken across Great Britain to get thousands of people into safe accommodation during the pandemic. But, with businesses and livelihoods under continued strain, the economic impact of coronavirus is exerting pressure on people already pushed to the brink by low wages and high rents.

Between April and September 2020, Crisis has been undertaking research to understand the experiences of frontline homelessness services during the pandemic. Based on survey responses with voluntary sector organisations and in-depth interviews with local authorities the research tracked the response of services and the changing support needs of people facing homelessness.

As the country headed into the first lockdown, there was an immediate increase in demand on local authorities and frontline services. Governments ordered emergency accommodation to be provided for people sleeping rough or in accommodation where self-isolation wasn’t possible, and the demand for support from people newly at risk of homelessness increased. This, all while services were transitioning to working remotely.

Over 50 percent of services across the country reported an increase in homelessness in their local area and nearly three-quarters (73 percent) an increase in demand for support. For local authorities the numbers of people they were supporting in temporary accommodation rocketed. In England, it was estimated that by May 2020 14,610 people had been housed in emergency accommodation.

The findings from the research suggest that this initial surge in demand came from people already experiencing homelessness, including hidden homelessness, like sofa surfing. This highlights just how many people were already living in precarious situations and how the pressures of the pandemic ended many temporary arrangements leaving people with nowhere else to go.

Interventions from government such as pausing evictions and changes to welfare support have helped to lower the number of people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness. But these changes are temporary and as time has gone on the profile of people experiencing homelessness started to change. Local authorities reported rises in people fleeing domestic abuse and in relationship breakdowns under the pressures of lockdown. In the last few months, the emerging economic impact has started to become more evident as growing rent arrears show the financial strain on households, with increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness for the first time.

Without a welfare system that ensures people can cover the cost of rent and sufficient availability of affordable housing, there is a real risk of a significant increase in homelessness across the country as the full economic impact of the pandemic hits.

The pressure has been on local authorities to move people from hotel and emergency accommodation to more permanent secure homes. Unsurprisingly, the biggest barrier to helping people move on from emergency accommodation is housing supply. The need for a range of appropriate tenures to meet differing support needs is evident, with the lack of availability of suitable homes that existed prior to the pandemic emphasised.  The impact of the work done in Scotland to develop Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans has ensured people have options of where to move to, but in areas with high housing costs and with large numbers of people already in temporary accommodation when the pandemic hit, there are few options available.

The instruction to provide safe emergency accommodation meant that all local authorities reported an increase in support being provided for people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). There are clear anxieties around the continued financial pressure of providing emergency accommodation for people with NRPF. Local authorities feel a moral duty not to evict people back onto the streets but are also uncertain about the sustainability of funding commitments in the long-term.

As the pandemic continues, we’re starting to see more and more divergence appear between England, Scotland and Wales, and between local authorities, seemingly due to lack of communication from UK government. In both Scotland and Wales, local authorities reported they were consistently aware they should continue to provide emergency accommodation to those who need it, and to help them move on to a permanent home.   However, in England there was an increasing lack of universal approach to ‘Everyone In’ with some local authorities stopping entirely, some increasing eligibility restrictions, and some continuing as they have been doing since March.

Since March voluntary and statutory services across the country have come together in an unparalleled way. In many areas of the country it led to a pulling together of the sector and a strengthening of relationships that are hoped to endure as a significant positive legacy of the pandemic. As time goes on, the need to sustain these partnerships to continue supporting all those who are still in hotels or sleeping rough, is paramount.

With more and more people now returning to the streets or finding themselves newly rough sleeping the pressure is on to ensure that the successes made earlier in the year are not lost.

Views expressed by authors may not represent the views of CaCHE.



Date: December 9, 2020 3:26 pm


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