The Homelessness Reduction Bill shows what charities can achieve together

By Andrew Weston 27 January 2017

The Homelessness Reduction Bill is on its way to becoming law

In a context of plummeting winter temperatures and rising numbers of people sleeping rough, the Homelessness Reduction Bill passed its third reading in the Commons today.

This bill seeks to expand statutory homeless provision to include many single homeless people who have previously been unable to receive any tangible support. It also improves coordination between public services and local authorities, and allows them to act sooner when someone is at risk of becoming homeless.

This need for reform was put forward by the Conservative MP Bob Blackman as a private member’s bill. The fact that the bill has made it this far—as well as the announcement from government that it will give initial funding of £61m to local authorities for these changes to be implemented—makes it seem very likely that this it will progress into law. But such bills rarely succeed in coming this far. So why has this been so successful so far?

Charities have played a key role in progressing this bill. So what has gone right?

One key reason for the bill’s progress so far has certainly been the involvement of charities, who have for years been pushing for policies like these. Last year I attended the launch of Crisis’ No one turned away report, part of a wider campaign—pushing for homelessness reform and, among other things—involving numerous charities in support of the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

In building their campaign, Crisis started with a base of good evidence, bringing together an expert panel to assess current strengths and weaknesses of homelessness provision before putting forward its recommendations. It backed these findings with the success of similar reforms in Scotland and Wales.

The campaign then reached out: talking with its critics and learning from them, while demonstrating genuine cross-party support. More broadly, it didn’t seek to attribute blame or pick a side. Instead it brought together key stakeholders to push for a solution that would work for beneficiaries. This helped to create a broad coalition of supporters of reform working to help get the bill passed.

Essential to success was mobilising supporters to contact their MPs and encourage them to turn up to a second reading—since a minimum of 100 MPs are required in attendance for it to take place.

All of this shows what can be achieved if charities, politicians, and other stakeholders can communicate and work well together—best captured in the Commons when Bob Blackman MP thanked Crisis, St Mungo’s and Shelter for their contribution. It also demonstrates that in this difficult environment, when local government is so strapped for resources, it is still possible to push for more funding towards an urgent need by working with others and clearly stating your evidence and case for impact.

And what comes next?

Of course, the bill is not law yet, and the charities involved will need to keep the pressure up, and their supporters engaged.

It’s also worth noting that, while a step in the right direction, the government’s promise of £61m is just the beginning of the resources needed to meet the need that exists. The Association of Housing Advice Services has already estimated that London’s 32 boroughs alone will face a combined bill of £161m to implement these new duties. The pressure must be kept up not only to ensure that the bill passes but to be certain that it delivers for the people it is designed to help.

Beyond this campaign there are also other areas in the housing and homelessness sector where effective influencing could make a real difference. Perhaps the most important upcoming one is the government’s consultation on supported housing. This will look at the rationale objectives and form the funding mechanisms for supported housing. Organisations ranging from Homeless Link to Women’s Aid are already working on their response. The more people who can provide constructive support the better.