17 January 2018
The Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee is undertaking an inquiry into rough sleeping in Wales.
But what does ‘rough sleeping’ mean, and how big is the problem in Wales?
The Welsh Government defines rough sleepers as:
People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting in/on or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations or “bashes”).
The scale of rough sleeping in Wales
Local authorities carried out a national rough sleeper monitoring exercise on behalf of the Welsh Government in 2015 and 2016 to gauge the level of rough sleeping across Wales. The information was gathered by local agencies, health organisations and other community service groups in contact with rough sleepers.
The data shows an apparent increase in the number of rough sleepers in Wales between 2015 and 2016.
The 2016 data shows that:
- In the two weeks from 10-23 October 2016, 313 persons were sleeping rough across Wales;
- Local authorities reported a total of 141 individuals observed sleeping rough in Wales between 10pm on Thursday, 3 November and 5am on Friday, 4 November 2016; and
- Local authorities also reported that there were 168 emergency bed spaces in Wales of which 40 (24%) were unoccupied and available on 3 November 2016.
The 2015 data shows that:
- In the two weeks from 2-15 November 2015, 240 persons were sleeping rough across Wales;
- Local authorities reported a total of 82 individuals observed sleeping rough in Wales between 11pm on Wednesday, 25 November and 3am on Thursday, 26 November 2015; and
- Local authorities also reported that there were 180 emergency bed spaces across Wales, of which 19 bed spaces (11%) were vacant and available on 25 November.
Causes of increases in rough sleeping
The Crisis Homelessness Monitor: Wales 2017 report highlights a range of issues that could account for the apparent recent increase in rough sleepers in Wales, including:
- Increase in European Economic Area nationals ineligible for mainstream welfare benefits;
- A belief amongst urban authorities that people who become homeless in rural areas gravitate towards urban areas where there are better services;
- Better information/intelligence about the number of people sleeping rough;
- Removing automatic priority need status for ex-offenders; and
- Welfare reform and benefit sanctions in particular.
Impact of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014
Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 introduced a new approach to tackling homelessness based on early intervention (up to 56 days before a person becomes homeless) and prevention. While help to secure accommodation is now available to most people, local authorities only have a duty to secure accommodation for those considered to be in ‘priority need’. Sleeping rough, in itself, does not establish priority need status. Priority need groups include people with dependent children, pregnant women, 16 and 17 year olds and people who are vulnerable as a result of “some special reason” such as old age. Following implementation of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, ex-offenders are no longer automatically a priority need group.
The Welsh Government’s Code of Guidance to Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness 2016, issued under Section 98 of the 2014 Act, notes that people sleeping rough are likely to be vulnerable for an ‘other special reason’ due to the health and social implications of their situation. The guidance also notes that:
In order to mitigate the worst effects of rough sleeping all Local Authorities should have a written cold weather plan stating their arrangements to give assistance in periods of cold and/or severe weather.
Shelter Cymru and Crisis have highlighted the significant numbers of eligible households whose application for assistance under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 has been closed on the grounds that: assistance was refused, they ‘failed to co-operate’ or had their application ended for ‘other reasons’.
Around a fifth of applications under Section 66 (applicants assessed as threatened with homelessness) and a similar proportion of applicants assessed as actually homeless (under Section 73) ‘fall out’ of the system in this way.
Welsh Government policy
The Welsh Government’s National Strategy, Prosperity for All, states that “it is unacceptable that people are forced to sleep on the streets in a prosperous society.”
The Ten Year Homelessness Plan for Wales was launched in 2009. It notes the many challenges in eliminating rough sleeping, including getting homeless people to engage with services.
In a recent letter to the Chair of the Petitions Committee, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Rebecca Evans, outlined some of the planned expenditure on projects to tackle homelessness, and rough sleeping in particular:
- The £5 million homelessness prevention grant that supports services, including rough sleeper outreach, day services, night shelters, and youth homelessness prevention;
- An additional £2.6 million of funding announced in summer 2017 for projects to further improve services to help people off the street, with a particular focus on tackling rough sleeping and youth homelessness;
- The draft budget for 2018-19 includes an additional £6 million in the Revenue Support Grant for 2018-19 and 2019-20 for local authorities to continue homelessness prevention activity previously supported via transitional funding. This money is in addition to the £6 million already in the settlement for this year (2017-18) in recognition of changes to the funding of temporary accommodation management fees, and is intended to build on the progress to date in implementing Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014; and
- There will be an increase in the homelessness budget of £4 million a year for the next two years to support the drive to end homelessness, with specific work to tackle the Welsh Government’s priorities, including ending the need for anyone to sleep rough.
On 17 December the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, announced an additional £10 million in funding to support the Welsh Government’s mission to end youth homelessness in Wales by 2027.
On 10 January, there was a Plaid Cymru debate in Plenary, Housing for the Homeless. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Rebecca Evans, responded to this debate by stating that:
… I’ll be announcing further plans for my homelessness policy in early February, when I intend to make an oral statement, and I will give this Chamber my commitment that tackling homelessness is going to be a year-round priority for me…
The terms of references for the Committee’s inquiry, and its planned evidence sessions can be seen on its webpages.
Article by Megan Jones, National Assembly for Wales Research Service