Nowhere Fast: The journey in and out of unsupported temporary accommodation

Today Justlife and IPPR launch a new report highlighting that single homeless households will be trapped in England’s worst temporary houses unless local government takes action. Click here to read the report: Nowhere Fast: The journey in and out of unsupported temporary accommodation.

Beneath the official figures of 5,000 homeless households spending Christmas in bed and breakfasts this year will be an much larger number of unsupported single homeless people living in the worst temporary accommodation in the market.

The research captures the chaotic and often horrific experiences facing single homeless people, who are bounced between public services and often forced to live in the worst accommodation in the housing market, namely in bed and breakfasts, private hostels and bedsits.

Based on two years of interviews with 45 single homeless households moving in and out of unsupported temporary accommodation (UTA) in Brighton, Manchester and the North East, the research has drawn on the experiences of tenants within these properties to suggest how policy and practice could help address the problem.

The report recommends that:

New formal, local bodies – temporary accommodation boards – should be established to bring together the activities of neighbouring housing authorities, public services and the homelessness sector. Partners should be mobilised to gather, maintain and monitor information about local bedspaces and the individuals living in them, to inform referrals and signposting towards appropriate accommodation.

Temporary accommodation boards should create and maintain live ‘greenlists’ of acceptable local bedspaces and ‘exclusion lists’ of unacceptable bedspaces using the data they gather and aggregate. Tenants should be offered detailed information about their options, while exclusion lists would be used primarily to stop tenants flowing into the worst quality properties, and to incentivise landlords to make improvements.

A clear set of standards should be developed for the unsupported temporary accommodation submarket, and local authority housing teams should make full use of the new powers provided by the Housing and Planning Bill to aggressively target the temporary accommodation sector and improve or close down the poorest properties. Temporary accommodation boards should be charged with developing a single tenancy agreement for local bedspaces, setting out the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, details of services and service changes, and a named point of contact for tenants in the event that issues arise at the property. And tenants should be supported to make complaints, including by allowing them to reclaim, via rent repayment orders, a proportion of the housing benefit previously paid to their landlord.

Arrangements should be put in place to ensure that proper placement and in-tenancy support exists to help individuals manage their stay and to prevent their cycling in and out of unsupported temporary accommodation. This should include ‘warm handovers’, where the person referring the individual goes with the tenant to check the condition of their new home and provide support with paperwork and settling in.

Bill Davies, senior research fellow at IPPR, said: “Homelessness is in the spotlight during the festive period, but for thousands, stop-gap and often sub-standard accommodation is the harsh reality all-year round. Without concerted action, single homeless households will continue to fall into and become trapped in the types of accommodation that should not exist in a modern, wealthy state like the UK.

“For single homeless people, they are last in line when in to comes to receiving help, support and reasonable accommodation to help them through a difficult and chaotic time in their lives. They are driven towards the most dreadful corners of the English housing market: the social and physical conditions in these dwellings are often appalling.

“There is limited political appetite to recognise, let alone address, the problem of single homeless households living in unsupported temporary accommodation. However, without intervention the cycle in and out of temporary accommodation will not be broken, and the problem will not go away. It therefore falls to a coalition of willing local services and the voluntary sector to use their limited resources to intervene throughout the cycle in, out and during stays in unsupported temporary accommodation to make positive change.”

The report describes how the first few weeks of a stay in unsupported temporary accommodation is a critical but often chaotic time. The unsupported temporary accommodation tenants who took part in the research reported many issues, including bullying, violence and exploitation by other tenants and even landlords and management. Individuals frequently arrive at their new accommodation unescorted, unaware of what to expect and often unsure of their rights and entitlements.

Most participants report that their rooms were uninhabitable when they arrived. Complaints include that there was no bed, windows were broken, there was evidence of human and animal excrement, carpets were soiled, there were blood or other stains on walls, mattresses and other furnishings, and doorframes or doors were broken.
The report includes details of a number of participant experiences, including:

“When I first moved in, I had no running water for over a week. I kept complaining about it. So I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t even use the loo, and literally no one would do anything. They kept saying that someone would do something, and every day I’d come back and it would still not work. It was just so frustrating. And also I think I’d want to know that there’s no cooking facilities at all.”

“And we had to tidy [the room] up – it was full of needles and full of rubbish. No one had even tidied it up.”

This three year research project is funded by LankellyChase Foundation.