Parliamentary launch of research into Homelessness from the Private rented sector

By Dr Chris O’Leary

Homelessness has a devastating effect on those experiencing it, their communities, and the public purse. There is rightly a current policy focus – both here in Greater Manchester and across England – on rough sleeping, the most visible and often most complex form of homelessness. But most of those who experience episodes of homelessness do not spend time on our streets. They stay in temporary or emergency accommodation – often bed and breakfasts, or stay with families/friends, or a series of short stays in other forms of unstable housing. Less visible than rough sleepers, these homeless people will still be negatively impacted in terms of their physical and mental health, their wellbeing, their job and education prospects, and the future lives.

Homelessness acceptances – that is, the number of households who apply to a local authority to be accepted as being homeless and thereby eligible for government support – have been increasing since 2009. The group that has experienced the greatest increase are those households whose last settled home was lost following the end of an assured shorthold tenancy in the private rented sector. The number of such households has grown in absolute terms – from 4580 acceptances in 2009 to 16,320 acceptances in 2017, and as a proportion of all acceptances, from eleven percent to twenty eight percent (MHCLG, 2018). The private rented sector is not a single, homogenous market (Rugg and Rhodes, 2008, 2018). Rather there are distinct niches or sub-markets, and regional/local variations, resulting in a complex picture of different levels of risk of homelessness. This mix is changing, with more families with children, and more low income households (who are more at risk of homelessness and have been most affected by policy changes since 2014 (Reeve et al, 2016)), accessing the private rented sector over the last ten years. Understanding what is driving homelessness from the private rented sector, and setting out what should be done about it, is complicated by the need to take account of these differences with the sector.

Today, I am at the House of Commons to launch new research that sets out what is driving this increase in homelessness from the private rented sector, and what should be done to address it. The research is being presented to MPs, policy makers and homelessness charities, and this will be followed by a launch here next Monday (26th) at Manchester Met being organised by MetroPolis. This will be followed by a series of national workshops with local authorities, to explore how private sector housing and homelessness services can be improved to both reduce the level of homelessness from the private rented sector, and also better support those families that do become homeless.

The research was commissioned by the Residential Landlords’ Association, and undertaken by me, Dr Susan O’Shea, and Professor Kevin Albertson from the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University. The research was conducted between April 2017 and July 2018, and involved a rapid review of the existing literature, research and data; interviews with sixteen key stakeholders representing landlords, policy makers, and homeless charities; a survey of around 1850 landlords; and, a Delphi survey of key stakeholders. We found that:

  • security of tenure is not a cause of the growing homelessness from the private rented sector, and changes to the minimum length of tenancies or to s21 terminations (so called ‘no fault’ terminations) are unlikely to reduce homelessness. There is disagreement between stakeholders involved in this research around what is driving the increase, particularly in terms of the role of affordability and of security of tenure. Some stakeholders believed that current security of tenure arrangements (both the minimum length provisions, and the ‘no fault’ termination provisions) is driving the increase in homelessness from the private rented sector. Others stated that this was not material.
  • we do not yet know whether some households are experiencing multiple episodes of homelessness and placement in the private rented sector. More research is needed to understand whether there is ‘revolving door’ homelessness from the private rented sector.
  • the introduction in 2008 of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to calculate Housing Benefits, and changes in LHA rates since 2012, is driving the increase in homelessness from the private rented sector. Housing Benefit tenants face a ‘double whammy’ – more likely to have their tenancies ended by landlords and the increasing unlikely to find alternative, affordable accommodation. Without action, the growing gap between LHA rates and rents will drive further homelessness from the private rented sector.
  • these benefit changes do not account for all of this increase; affordability, competition for accommodation, changes in and lack of access to social housing, and wider policy changes are affecting the lower end of the market in some parts of the country.
  • policy and wider debate on homelessness from the private rented sector tends to be London-centric. A more nuanced, locally driven approach is necessary. In particular, some local authorities could do more to actively and positively engage with their local private rented sector.

The research team recommendations are that:

  • the Local Housing Allowance is driving homelessness from the private rented sector. Government should undertake a fundamental review of the design and operation of the Local Housing Allowance;
  • there is a need for more localised and nuanced policy responses and a move away from a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • local authorities should consider the role played by the private rented sector in their areas, particularly in terms of low-income households. They should develop strategies for actively and positively engaging with private landlords, using their enforcement and grant making powers to encourage supply at LHA rates;
  • local authorities should review their ‘help to rent’ services, assessing whether these need to be targeted and personalized to the needs of individual tenants. Local authorities without ‘help to rent’ services should consider whether and how they might implement such help; and
  • more research is undertaken on how and why landlords use s21 notices (so called ‘no fault’ evictions), and on the implications of restricting ‘no fault’ terminations.

Over the coming months, we will be working hard to ensure that policy makers and homeless charities know about this research, its implications, and our recommendations for change. We hope that this will contribute to a concerted effort to reduce levels of homelessness from the private rented sector, and to improve the support that families and individuals receive when they do become homeless.

You can download the full report here.

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