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Helping the homeless

Housing the homeless is among the serious of responsibilites for a local authority. New rules should help it to do a better job. One change is that the duty to the homeless could be discharged via a private landlord. Hitherto the arrangement has been that social housing is supposed to be provided. Given the scarcity this has meant families languishing for years in "temporary" accommodation - sometimes a private landlord but sometimes hostels or even bed and breakfast hotels. But they remain the responsibility of the council. The prize is then a lifetime of municipal serfdom and, often, welfare dependency should a council tenancy eventually becomes available.

Private rented accommodation, certainly with proper safeguards against the rogue landlords, offers a better path. Some of the homeless may not see it that way. The distortions of rent subsidies and tenure for life have made for long waiting lists. Yet so often that is a false hope. Who is helped by that delusion? Apart from Socialist politicians hoping to string them along until after their votes have been cast?

There is also a question of fairness. The vulnerable should not be left to sleep on the streets. But does it follow that they should go to the front of the queue for council tenancies?

The DCLG says:

The new power under the homelessness legislation, which commences on 9 November 2012, allows local housing authorities to end the main homelessness duty with offers of accommodation in the private rented sector without requiring the applicant's agreement.

The Housing Minister Mark Prisk said:

"For too long, councils have been restricted in the way they provided homeless assistance when good quality rented accommodation was available right on their doorstep. Today's changes will lead to a
fairer system.

"The safeguards we've put in place today will give vulnerable families the reassurance they need whether they're housed in the private or social rented sector, and with new freedoms and flexibilities, councils can now fulfil their duty and provide a safe and secure roof for the people who need it most."

This reform will give those going through a difficult patch a chance to regain control of their own lives. It is reasonable for the council to carry out checks with the private landlords they are placing people with.

Hannah Fearn in The Guardian says:

At its worst, though, the private rented sector is unstable, poor quality and even dangerous. Now the most vulnerable people will be placed there as a consequence of decades of under-investment in new social housing, leading to a huge shortage of social tenancies.

Not only does that comment ignore the responsibility the council will retain that the landlord be a "fit and proper person." It also disregards the alternative. Does Miss Fearn regard social housing at its worst as good quality and safe? Does she think being shunted from hostel to bed and breakfast hotel is better for children than being settled into a private rented property?

The state should catch people when they fall. But not cling on to them.Where possible it should set them up for independence, for control of their own destiny - not  a life on the waiting list beholden to a housing officer.

Miss Fearn is right that this change is important and under-reported, But she is wrong to see it as an attack on the homeless. This change is a victory for fairness, localism, independence and better housing for those in need.


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