Presentation by Sheila Hutchins, Citizens Advice

Key policy proposals:

Major building programme for more  Social Housing

This is the only sure way to improve secure affordable housing  in place of insecure housing and excessive rents. It will be key to reducing the blight of homelessness in our communities.


Restore Sure Start centres

Many of the young homeless we see today have often suffered childhood trauma of one kind or another, including domestic abuse. Sure Start was highly effective in supporting vulnerable families and giving a child the best support in life

Background brief as part of presentation

Housing legislation from 1970s

1977 Introduction of secure tenancies and re-introduction of rent controls Most private tenants were secure if they paid their rent and looked after their property. Legal evictions could only be via a court order, and could be challenged in court (legal aid was available) However landlords could be stuck with “sitting tenants” where they might have very reasonable grounds to want vacant possession of their property.

1977 Homelessness Act. This clearly defined  local authorities’ duty to homeless applicants. If applicant was “homeless or at risk of homelessness within 28 days” and in “priority need” the local authority was required to offer temporary accommodation whilst making further enquiries. If applicant was “not intentionally homeless “ and had a “local connection” they were required to secure permanent accommodation, (a council house)

CAB clients were often homeless due to relationship breakdown, domestic abuse, loss of private tenancy due to ill health, vulnerability, substance misuse. The big “prize” for most clients was to secure a council tenancy, secure for life, with a fair rent, a reasonable landlord and hopefully some support if they experienced difficulties. There were rarely problems with rent levels causing poverty, no food banks and charitable sources (usually a church) that would help with desperate clients. Disrepair was an on-going issue. District councils in Cornwall did not have enough housing stock to meet the need, and some were notorious in trying to wriggle out of their legal duties.

1980 Right to Buy introduced

1988 Assured and Assured Shorthold tenancies introduced. These were 2 new types of tenancy. Tenancies were automatically Assured, (secure) unless agreements were drawn up in a specific form to create Assured Shorthold Tenancies, with a minimum 6 month fixed term, but landlords could always get possession of property as long as the correct notice, on the correct date was given. Rent were controls scrapped.

With even less council housing and less risk for landlords there was a huge increase in the private rented sector and rise in rents. In 1996 tenancies where the landlord hadn’t given a written contract became automatically Assured Shorthold Tenancies, with no security for tenants. Private secure tenants gradually disappeared; almost all privately renting tenants have no security of tenure, and no controls on their rent.  At this time under 25s were restricted to Housing Benefit based on the average cost of a room in a shared house. High rents have become an increasing source of poverty. Disrepair remains a big issue

Post 2000

2008 Local Housing Allowance, fixed the maximum amount of Housing Benefit which could be claimed at the “average” market rent for a property of a suitable size in the local area. This did not reduce rents, just increased arrears. The rate did not track the local market from 2010, and was frozen in 2016.

2012 Localism Act, major changes to homelessness legislation, giving local authorities more discretion and the ability to discharge their duties by helping homeless applicants to access privately rented accommodation. Single room restriction raised to under 35 year olds, and “bedroom tax” restricted Housing benefit help for social tenants who were “over accommodated”.

3 million working age households claim £17 billion in Housing Benefit, roughly doubled since 1990s. The number of council tenants has reduced by 2/3 since 1970s, now less than 10% of the population.

By Sheila Hutchins, Citizens Advice Adviser

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