Homelessness prevention for care leavers, prison leavers and survivors of domestic violence

Across Great Britain, tens of thousands of households approach local authorities for support with homelessness. The number of cases of all forms of homelessness has risen in England, while remaining steady in Scotland, though the number of people in temporary accommodation has risen dramatically. In Wales due to legislative changes, more people are having their homelessness prevented than ever before.

Between 2014 and 2016 rough sleeping rose dramatically by over 50% in England. The current safety net is clearly not working as efficiently as it could to prevent and resolve homelessness. The APPGEH was set up to tackle this issue and we believe it is vital that the Government recognises this growing emergency.

Homelessness should be rare, brief and non-recurrent. In our first Parliamentary year we have developed strong cross-party support and provided a platform for homeless people to engage with Parliamentarians and inform the political dialogue surrounding homelessness. Alongside MPs and Peers, the APPGEH works with a wide range of homelessness organisations to enable the group to be fully informed on the debate and understand the diverse homeless population. Our goal from inception was to develop robust policy solutions to prevent and end homelessness.

Preventing homelessness has been the focus of our first year of activity, specifically looking at cohorts which are most at risk: care leavers, prison leavers, and survivors of domestic violence. We brought together people with lived experience and other experts at inquiry evidence sessions to develop policy recommendations which could benefit these groups.

These three cohorts have much in common in relation to the risk of homelessness, with all experiencing transitions in life that can be traumatic. These transitions all involve opportunities and duties for the Government to intervene in effective, timely and successful ways. The Government should be ensuring safety and security is provided for people, whether that is from the public, charities or private organisations. Critically, these interventions should respond to housing needs.

Research tells us that one third of care leavers become homeless in the first two years immediately after they leave care and 25% of all homeless people have been in care at some point in their lives.

Similarly, housing and homelessness are key issues for survivors of domestic violence. In 2016, 90% of women in refuges were reported to have housing needs and in 2015/16, 6,550 people became homeless because of a violent relationship breakdown, accounting for 11% of all homeless acceptances. In 2015, 35% of female rough sleepers left their homes due to domestic violence.

Twenty per cent of prisoners surveyed in 2014 said they had no accommodation to go to on release and there are many barriers which can make finding accommodation on release difficult. Preventative interventions for this cohort should both prevent homelessness and reduce reoffending. Ministry of Justice (MoJ) research from 2012 found that 60% of prisoners believed that having a place to live was important in stopping them from reoffending in the future and reported that 79% of prisoners who were homeless prior to custody, were reconvicted in the first year after release, compared with 47% of those who were not.

A local authority should know exactly when a care leaver or prison leaver is making the transition from institutional life to independence and should be ready and prepared to step in at that stage. Similarly, survivors of domestic violence should be given a crime reference number as soon as they make a domestic violence report to the police. However many survivors feel unable or too afraid to even report abuse to the police in the first place. Time and again these people are getting lost despite, in many cases, receiving assistance from public bodies which should be a trigger to prevent their homelessness.

Between January and March 2017, 11% of rough sleepers in London were care leavers and 37% had experience of being in prison. While there are clear points for intervention for these groups, they are often not acted upon by the appropriate services and there is no systematic oversight or enforcement from central government to make the systems work.

Homelessness prevention for these groups is an achievable goal. In order to design workable and robust policy recommendations we have gathered evidence from stakeholders from across the homelessness, children in care, criminal justice and women’s rights sectors. In addition, we held three inquiry sessions in Parliament with people with lived and learnt experience and with Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum.

The APPGEH found that the problems arising from homelessness for these cohorts are vast and come at a great cost to society as well. There is currently a lack of joined up government policy and service delivery, both of which are essential to prevent homelessness.

We wholly support the Homelessness Reduction Act and championed its journey through Parliament. Significantly, the Act includes a ‘Duty to Refer’ which requires public bodies to make referrals to local authority homelessness teams if they are working with people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The public bodies subject to this duty will be listed in secondary legislation and we would expect children’s, domestic abuse, probation services and prisons to be included. This could reduce homelessness in these cohorts which may not typically come in to contact with local authority homelessness teams. The Government’s support for the Act, and indeed its prevention agenda, is welcome and we believe this report aligns very closely to that programme. The Government is well placed to help these cohorts but homelessness prevention must firstly be embedded into every relevant government department and public service.

We therefore recommend national Government establishes a cross-government strategy, led by Number 10 to prevent and tackle homelessness. The recommendations presented in this report provide an important opportunity for Government to prevent homelessness for a significant proportion of the population within the next Parliament. With so many people already on the radar of the police, local authorities, prisons and social services, it is inexcusable that they should fall through the net. A strategy would also align with the Conservative manifesto which committed to establishing a ‘Homelessness Reduction Taskforce’ to focus on prevention. 

Publication Date: 
United Kingdom