Shelter estimates in its recent study that 128,000 children will be homeless in emergency accommodation this Christmas. This is an increase of 20,000 from last year and 52% higher than 5 years ago. Perhaps the most shocking comparison is that this figure is higher than in 2007 during the financial crisis.
Only the week before, Shelter published more figures stating that it received a call every 22 seconds in the run up to Christmas.
500 calls were made on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 2016 alone and current trends supported by the National Audit Office suggest that figures this year will be even higher. Rough sleepers alone have increased by 134% since 2011.
Although the Shelter study used a small sample group (12 from London and 11 from outside of London), the stories told are all too familiar. All the families in the study shared just one room and some had to share with other families. Three quarters of the families shared a kitchen and six families had no kitchen at all. This impacted the family’s ability to eat healthily and the living arrangements also caused a strain on family relationships.
Children often reported feeling tired during school as a result of long commutes and overcrowded sleeping conditions. Half the families had to share below adequate washing and toilet facilities and a quarter of the families did not feel secure.
Three of the interviewees reported bullying, racial harassment and antagonism from other residents.
Local authorities must provide emergency housing where it has reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless, is eligible (immigration and residence conditions) and in priority need. Families will automatically be in priority need if they have dependent children.
There is no statutory time frame in which the Local Authority must provide its decision and it is often the case that families (and individuals) are trapped in emergency accommodation for longer than the recommended time frame of 33 working days.
Emergency accommodation can range from bed and breakfasts, cheap hotels or large houses with shared facilities. There are statutory instruments that deem bed and breakfast and other shared accommodation not to be suitable for certain types of applicants. These include families and pregnant women for periods longer than six weeks. Nevertheless, families are often kept in these conditions for many months where no other accommodation is made available for them.
This is not an issue which is as visible to the general public as people sleeping on the streets. Families are often too embarrassed to admit their situation to friends and family and are often concerned that the authorities will intervene and separate the family or move them away. Figures continue to escalate and the government is increasingly reliant upon charities for support.
We do not believe that the government’s pledge of more money for affordable housing will be sufficient to resolve these issues. Only 8% of local authorities delivered enough affordable housing in 2017.
Challenges to extended periods in bed and breakfast accommodation can be brought by way of Judicial Review. This is a challenge to the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.
Hodge Jones and Allen are able to assist families and young persons who are placed in unsuitable emergency and temporary housing by Local Authorities. In most cases we are able to secure funding from the Legal Aid Agency and it may also be possible to pursue compensation from the Housing Ombudsman. Families and young people need not feel that this is the end of the road. Help and assistance is available.