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Temporary Accommodation Conference 2023

  • 11 min read |
  • Posted by Justlife
  • On 25 October 2023

Our Temporary Accommodation Conference, held in September this year, brought the homelessness sector together for a day of learning and discussion around how we can make stays in temporary accommodation (TA) short, safe and healthy. At the time of our conference, the latest government statistics placed the number of households in TA at 104,510 including 131,370 children - the highest these numbers have been in 25 years. Against this backdrop, this year’s conference felt all the more important.

Speaking to a diverse audience made up of people with lived experience, Local Authorities, TA providers, landlords, charities and researchers, Christa - our Head of Research, Policy & Communications - kicked off the day with a reminder that while anger motivates us to make change, hope motivates us to make long lasting change. Our hope is that people left the conference feeling hopeful and emboldened by the ways we can tackle this emergency together.

Setting the scene

Crisis - it is a sobering picture but one we can reverse

"It’s fair to say right now that we are in an emergency. All forms of homelessness are steadily rising. That’s something we’ve seen as policy protections have been withdrawn"

Our first speaker was Jasmine Amber, Policy and Campaigns Lead at Crisis, who shared insights from their 2023 Homelessness Monitor which looks at the scale of homelessness and the drivers behind it. Jasmine spoke about the impact of long stays in TA, which is driven by the lack of genuinely affordable homes and frozen Local Housing Allowance. Not only are people plunged into a state of limbo because they don’t know when a home will become available, they are also left with no choice but to accept unliveable conditions. Only 7000 social homes were built last year. Nowhere near the 90,000 per year Crisis and the National Housing Federation recommend to reverse current trends. Jasmine warned of the tidal wave that could still be yet to come without government action but said this is a trajectory we can change.

“We do need a government that will start prioritising this issue, commit to a long-term plan to increase social housing and takes pragmatic steps that are available right now to get people in the most need into safe, settled homes”

London Councils - should we still call this a housing crisis?

“We need to look for a new word other than Crisis. Crisis implies something that is short and time limited. We’ve been talking about a housing crisis in London for decades if not longer”

Sam, Principal Policy and Projects Officer at London Councils, began by questioning whether we should still use “crisis” to describe a situation which has escalated beyond that point. Sam described the homelessness system in London as “broken” at every level; at one end, more are threatened with homelessness while suitable TA shrinks in supply; at the other end, severe social housing shortages and the declining availability of PRS properties is making it harder to relieve homelessness. Sam also spoke about the vanishingly small number of properties in London that are available to people reliant on LHA to pay their rent: just 2.3% in the last financial year. While rents are now 20% above pre-pandemic levels, LHA remains frozen, yet hope remains for the immediate impact its increase could have.

“Homelessness can’t be solved overnight but the main policy tool we have available to have an immediate impact is increasing LHA rates. They could be put up overnight”

The human cost of temporary accommodation panel discussion

“The first 1001 days are the most important time for a child…Children who don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow are so scared to leave their possessions behind and develop what we call hyper vigilant brains, hyper anxious brains”

Our first panel discussion explored the myriad ways TA impacts the people who are placed there, beginning with Professor Monica Lakhanpaul, Professor of Integrated Community Child Health who spoke about how adverse childhood experiences (ACE), such as the environment a child grows up in, can impact development and life chances: “How does the child see the world in those 4 walls, where they can’t walk around because there’s no space for them, where they can’t develop their bones, where they get vitamin D deficiency because there’s no sunlight coming in, where they are iron deficient because there is no food to eat”.

The impact of this on life chances was further evidenced by Sam Pratt, Policy & Communications Lead at Shared Health Foundation, who shared that tragically 34 children died in temporary housing over 3 years, citing a combination of chaos, poverty, deprivation, homelessness and a lack of safe sleeping arrangements as possible contributing factors. Sam pointed out that the overcrowding section of the 1985 Housing Act does not count babies up to age 1 in its protections and that the provision of cots is not mandatory in TA. Both speakers urged our audience to work together to put children at the heart of every homelessness policy, with Sam calling for every homeless child to have somewhere safe to sleep.

Chris Arkam, Lived Experience Rep at the Cardinal Hume Centre, shared her family’s experience of the disruption and devastation caused by sudden moves from property to property: “There was no time to say goodbye to the friends and families we had lived with at the refuge for the last 18 months. We had to pack and leave” Chris spoke poignantly about how this instability was detrimental to her children’s mental health and left them unable to put down roots. Chris’s children are now 19 and 20 and still struggle with their mental health, demonstrating the long lasting impact these experiences can have.

Heather McCluskey, Implementation Lead at Centre for Homelessness Impact, provided a demographic breakdown of the people who live in TA, acknowledging that there are “structural inequalities in society” that mean “ we are not all at equal risk”. Men are more likely to experience homelessness and be in TA, as well as the LGBTQ+ community, particularly as young people. Trans people's access to TA is also more likely to be restricted and can often be more dangerous. People from ethnic minorities are more likely to be poor and experience housing insecurity than white British people, with Black people 3x more likely to experience homelessness in England. Afro-Caribbean and Black households also have a longer average homelessness journey from presentation to being offered secure accommodation; in Scotland an average of 375 days compared to 267 days for White Scottish households.

Sara, Team Leader of our Health Engagement Team, explained how her team uses an “assertive outreach model” to build relationships with people in emergency and temporary accommodation in order to support them to manage their health needs, from chronic illnesses to end of life care. She also highlighted the many barriers our clients face in accessing health care, which are key areas we support them in, such as taxi fares to the hospital appointments, understanding letters and managing prescriptions.

Temporary accommodation and Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE)

“How much choice can we build into the way in which that TA works so that person experiences a degree of agency…How can we help that person keep that space as close to what they want it to be as possible?”

The next session was a discussion, facilitated by Kate Standing our Networks Manager, with Becky Ward, Jennifer Taraby, and Nick Maguire from the University of Southampton, around how to apply the framework of PIE to the specific issues faced in temporary accommodation. An effective care approach for people experiencing homelessness was described as “systems all working together” and building a “network around a person” rather than working in silos. The panel also highlighted the importance of reflective practice, where peer mentors and support workers can “pause, think and reflect on how to do better” in a safe space. The emotional and psychological impact of the built environment in TA was an important talking point as the panel urged us to consider how we can give people as much choice as possible over the design of their space.

The expense of temporary accommodation

With TA costing the public purse £1.6 billion last year and even pushing some Local Authorities towards bankruptcy, our next panel, chaired by MP Siobhan McDonagh, explored different ways LAs are managing this staggering cost. Ramesh Logeswaran, Head of Housing Needs of Islington Council, was up first to tell us about the situation in Islington, which echoed wider reports about LAs struggling to procure TA to meet demand and having little choice but to source accommodation beyond the boundaries of their borough. In Islington alone, there has been a 22% increase in homelessness in the past year, alongside a 13% increase in the cost of TA. To tackle these challenges, Islington Council has purchased 318 ex right to buy homes and is looking to buy 410 more over the next couple of years to use as TA.

Izzy Connell, Deputy Director of Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Programmes from the Department for Levelling Up and Housing, shared what the department has been doing to support LAs through capital investment. This includes the LA housing fund which provides money to acquire homes; devolution deals such as those in GM and the West Midlands which give combined authorities funding to lease accommodation on majority 5 year leases; and a social investment pilot that has worked particularly well in GM to provide larger housing to use as TA or as settled homes for families.

Rob McCartney gave an update on what Manchester City Council has done to reduce the number of families in B&B accommodation from 227 to none at all in the space of six months. They changed their allocations policy to keep people on the housing register when they are privately renting, so that families can always work towards social housing. They also now check a far higher number of homeless cases per week to ensure not only that new cases are addressed, but also that older cases are moved on.

Robert Easton, Director of TA for Notting Hill Genesis (NHG), explained how they acquire properties from the private sector to use as self-contained supported accommodation and commercial TA. Robert commented on the changes to the TA economic market since the pandemic. There has been a huge spike in landlords asking for their properties back as increased private rents have made the private market so much more profitable. Met with the spike in mortgage rates, landlords are finding TA unworkable. NHG is now trying to work with larger property providers, not to plug these gaps, but to be less reliant on smaller landlords.

Steve Sanham, Founding Director of Common Projects, explained their different approach to private property development; namely, that they put people front and centre of everything they do and deliver with a social purpose, rather than to treat them like products. They are in the process of developing around 1000 homes, converting existing areas into larger purpose-built housing areas, and delivering a variety of housing tenures, while aiming to prioritise social housing.

Standards in temporary accommodation

Chaired by Mary D’Arcy, a consultant working with Common Projects, our final panel explored standards in TA, kicking off with Polina Pencheva, an Architect, who highlighted a significant loophole in the Housing Act where minimum space standards do not cover children. In practice, this means that a child under 1 is not taken into consideration but a child aged 1-10 is categorised as “half of a unit”. The reality of this, in a TA context, is that legally families with children can be placed in rooms that fall below the minimum space requirements for a single adult. Polina also stressed that the current legislation used for homeless shelters is largely unchanged since 1935 and that space standards must be updated to recognise the needs of children and people with disabilities to provide the best outcomes. This would include the provision of a cot for every baby, spaces to play, spaces to socialise, spaces for privacy and assistive technology to ensure accessibility.

Hannah Courtney-Adamson, Strategic Housing Lead (People) at Rochdale Borough Council shared a local authority approach to standards when need far outweighs supply and they are operating on deficit budgets. Hannah likened sourcing TA to “reshuffling the deck chairs”and said that LAs are backed into a corner where they have no choice but to rely on expensive nightly rate models to accommodate people. To navigate these challenges, Rochdale is working to ensure the Decent Homes Standard and Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) are being applied, with quarterly meetings to make sure all internal / external properties are compliant. They are also looking at the children’s service practice standards and early help principles to see how these can be incorporated into the provision of TA.

Kadie, an expert by experience, described the horrific conditions her family endured while in TA: mice, mould, leaks, unreliable electricity, brown sludge, and a lack of basic household appliances. Kadie said her family were given just 1 hour to vacate their previous home and little support beyond given a key to TA that was unacceptable for anyone to live in, let alone a family with children for 3 years. While Kadie did raise this with the council, she was told there was nowhere else to move them to, which left her feeling like “you’ve got no voice” and “powerless”.

Our final speaker was Mike Anderson, Head of Housing and Setting the Standard (StS) at West London Alliance, who gave an overview of StS, London’s centralised TA inspection service which inspects and grades all nightly rate B&B, studio and hostel accommodation against agreed standards. The grading system has the following tiers: A-C is free of hazards with appropriate amenities, D has some category 2 hazards or missing certification and alerts LAs to potential risk, E is unsuitable and has a category 1 hazard or multiple category 2 hazards and LAs are warned not to use. Mike noted that worryingly, they are seeing more grade D ratings due to issues with fire doors, damp and mould, cold weather, and a lack of ventilation. To improve standards, Mike called for greater collaboration between providers, LAs, residents and specialists, more funding for enforcement of standards, and suggested linking rent prices to the quality of the accommodation to incentivise providers to uphold high standards.

We’d like to thank everyone who attended and spoke at the conference. We will continue to work towards a future where all stays in TA are short, safe and healthy and we look forward to working with you all to make this a reality.