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Rough sleepers: access to services and support (England)

Published Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rough sleepers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, many with high levels of complex and interrelated needs. This paper provides an overview of the support and services - including accommodation, health, welfare, training, employment and voter registration - that are available for rough sleepers in England, and the challenges rough sleepers can face in accessing them.

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The number of rough sleepers in England is increasing. Many rough sleepers have high levels of complex needs; mental health problems, drug and alcohol dependencies, and institutional experiences are common factors. The longer someone sleeps rough the greater the risk that physical and mental health problems will worsen. Rough sleeping is costly to society as a whole; rough sleepers are likely to have more frequent and sustained contact with public services compared to other citizens.

Access to accommodation

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide advice and assistance to homeless people who are not in priority need in order to help them find accommodation. However, there is growing evidence of inconsistent standards in the advice and assistance provided. Commentators have called for greater monitoring of local authority homelessness services, and the strengthening of local authority statutory duties to provide greater assistance to single homeless people.

A number of national approaches to addressing rough sleeping have been rolled out, including: No Second Night Out (NSNO), Streetlink and Reconnection. The Government’s 2016 Budget announced £10 million over two years to support innovative ways to prevent and reduce rough sleeping, and £10 million to develop a national Homelessness Social Impact Bond. The Mayor of London has set up a ‘No Nights Sleeping Rough’ taskforce to tackle the increase in rough sleeping in London.

The voluntary sector and the Church play a key role in providing emergency and temporary accommodation for rough sleepers, although there is significant local variation in provision and access criteria. In 2015 there were around 1,253 accommodation projects in England for single homeless people.

Local authority and voluntary sector homelessness services are under pressure due to increasing demand for services and decreasing funding. Broader factors, such as a lack of affordable housing and welfare restrictions, are also having an impact. Furthermore, homelessness organisations have expressed concern about the uncertain future of supported housing funding.

Access to health services

Rough sleepers face particular health issues associated with homelessness and challenges in accessing health services. It has been estimated that homeless people consume around four times more acute hospital services than the general population

Health services and local authorities have a number of tailored services that are intended to meet the specific needs of rough sleepers, although provision varies across England. In London the NHS has taken steps to address the increase in tuberculosis (TB) amongst rough sleepers.

Concerns have been raised about the lack of suitable, specialist mental health support for rough sleepers. The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has called on the Government to develop an action plan to address the mental health needs of homeless people, including rough sleepers.

Access to welfare benefits

Rough sleepers may, depending on their circumstances, be able to claim mainstream social security benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The Government has eased JSA jobseeking conditions to take into account the difficulties faced by homeless claimants. Nevertheless, concerns have been raised about the high rate of benefit sanctions amongst homelessness service users, and the impact of sanctions.

Local welfare assistance schemes may also provide assistance to rough sleepers, although schemes vary considerably in their scope and eligibility criteria. A National Audit Office report in January 2016 highlighted uncertainties over the future of local welfare provision due to pressures on funding. A 2016 report by the Work and Pensions Committee concluded that central and local government should co-ordinate better to fill gaps in the welfare safety net.

Food Assistance

A wide range of Church and other voluntary organisations (estimated to number more than 1,500) provide food assistance to those in need. Assistance may range from a hot meal provided by a ‘soup kitchen’ to a food package provided following referral to a ‘food bank’.

Training and employment

Rough sleepers, particularly those with high support needs, face huge challenges in gaining employment. Nevertheless, St Mungo’s homeless charity has reported that 80% of their clients said that work was one of their goals.

The Ministerial Group’s report Addressing complex needs: improving services for vulnerable homeless people (March 2015) highlighted some of the actions the Government has taken to support vulnerable homeless people into or towards work. Claimants sleeping rough may be able to get help to address specific barriers to moving closer to or into work through the Jobcentre Plus Flexible Support Fund (FSF). Many homelessness organisations, day centres, and hostels also provide employment advice, training and opportunities for homeless people.

Registering to vote

A rough sleeper with no fixed address who is eligible to vote can register to vote through a declaration of local connection.

Further information

The House of Commons Library Briefing Rough sleeping (England) (02007) provides background information on the problem of rough sleeping and examines Government policy on this issue. Separate briefing papers cover Statutory homelessness in England (01164) and Homelessness: Social Indicators (02646). There are now significant variations in approaches across the UK – these variations are outlined in Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (07201).

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7698

Authors: Hannah Cromarty; Neil Johnston; Steven Kennedy; Tom Powell

Topics: Benefits administration, Benefits policy, Health services, Homelessness, Mental health

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