Cabinet Member calls for government support for the homeless as COVID-19 restrictions ease
Published 5th August 2021
Councillor Zahoor Ahmed has written to the government, asking for the restrictions on councils’ support for homeless people to be relaxed.
Cllr Zahoor Ahmed, Sandwell Council’s Cabinet Member for Quality Homes & Thriving Neighbourhoods, has written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, asking for the restrictions on councils’ support for homeless people to be relaxed.
The move comes after step four of the government’s COVID-19 roadmap has been reached, easing most legal restrictions in England.
As part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative during the pandemic, approximately 15,000 vulnerable people were housed in hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation across the country. These included people coming in directly from the streets, people previously housed in shared night shelters, and people who became vulnerable to rough sleeping during the pandemic.
Since March 2020, Sandwell Council’s Housing Solutions Service has helped more than 4,000 people who were at risk of losing their homes. The service advises people at risk to get in touch sooner rather than later. People in rent arrears or at risk of losing their home due to difficulty paying the mortgage are especially urged to contact the team.
Cllr Ahmed has requested that the government now relaxes the restrictions on local authorities to accommodate and support people who are homeless and who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF).
In Sandwell 26 people in this category were accommodated over the course of the pandemic. The council continues to accommodate 17 people in order to keep them safely housed while COVID-19 remains a risk to public health.
This is not a sustainable situation as the council is prohibited from providing long-term housing under housing and homelessness legislation for these individuals until they become eligible for housing.
Cllr Ahmed said: “‘Everyone In’ was a remarkable achievement, and the result of hard work delivered by a range of partners – local government, the NHS, health bodies, agencies, charities and people from an array of communities. All of these organisations and groups helped to get people off the streets and into safe accommodation. Our combined efforts protected the most vulnerable in our society, and played a part in saving lives.
“I have now written to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick, requesting that the government relaxes the eligibility criteria for homeless people who are NRPF, as was done under the ‘Everyone In’ initiative, until March 2022.
“I want the government to provide funding to councils so that we can accommodate this group of people. The government does provide winter funding for all rough sleepers who are NRPF, but this would only cover the cost of ten beds in Sandwell.
“I believe that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office should work with local authorities, like Sandwell Council, to develop a pathway of support. This would include strengthening the support for voluntary repatriation where all other options have been exhausted.”
Councillor Rajbir Singh, Leader of Sandwell Council, said: “The pandemic demonstrated Sandwell’s community solidarity and resilience. People, businesses and other organisations played their part and supported each other, especially those that were homeless.
“We want the government to support our efforts so that everyone in Sandwell has a place they can call home; where they feel safe, valued and cared for; and where no one is left behind.”
Anyone at risk of becoming homeless or already homeless should register online at Housing Jigsaw Customer Portal (and select Sandwell) or call 0121 368 1166 (Option 2) or if you find yourself with nowhere to stay outside office hours or over the weekend you can call 0121 569 6883.
If you are a private landlord with a property to rent you can find out more information at www.sandwell.gov.uk/landlordproperty
The council’s Housing Solutions Service can help with the following issues:
• if you are in rent arrears in a private rented property or council property;
• if anti-social behaviour (ASB) means you are being evicted or you need to move due to ASB from someone else;
• you can’t continue to stay with friends and family;
• your landlord is selling your property;
• you are suffering from domestic abuse and need to leave;
• you are in mortgage arrears and at risk of losing your home;
• you have nowhere to stay tonight.
The majority of the people being helped are at risk of being evicted from their rented property and the team works closely with tenants and landlords to prevent evictions and help people and help people stay in their homes.