Newcastle Homeless households 2011-17 (Shelter databank)
Newcastle Homeless households 2011-17 (Shelter databank)
For definitions and background information see: https://newcastleareas.wordpress.com/homelessness/  When the Homelessness Reduction Act becomes law councils will be expected to help all homeless households including single persons.

Homelessness in NE England – contrasting figures

The National Audit Office produced a major report on Homelessness in England in September 2017.  The NAO data shows that in NE England the number of people housed in temporary accommodation declined 36% from 220 in 2010-11 to 140 in 2016-17.  Relative to the rest of England, cases of homelessness prevented was higher and numbers in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough lower.

  • Explore the maps and charts associated with the NAO report  Visualisation

Newcastle – homelessness declining?

The quarterly figures on homeless households for Newcastle 2011-17 (graph above) suggest an overall pattern with periods where there is a significant downward fall followed by a blip when numbers reverted to previously higher levels.  Note that those deemed to be in ‘priority need’ only accounted for a proportion of those households who were homeless and by far the greater majority didn’t fall in to one of the priority categories.

According to the housing charity Shelter, in the twelve months from October 2012 to September 2013, there were 1,869 mortgage and landlord possession claims in Newcastle (that’s one household in every 63 at risk of losing their home).  Far from all claims translate into homeless households.   Newcastle only ranked 23 out of 325 areas nationally for possession claims with the top 16 areas all in London (ranging from one in 35 to one in 59).

Those in priority need are ‘accepted’ as homeless by their local authority under the 1996 Housing Act.  A study undertaken into Newcastle by a group of university researchers published in September 2013 found that while the number of homeless ‘acceptances’ rose in England from  40,020 in 2009-10 to 53,325 in 2012-13, in Newcastle they fell slowly from 233 to 220.   This pattern was out of step with other core cities where the numbers had risen.  This could be attributed to Newcastle’s culture of cooperative prevention (see below).  (Note that requirements being introduced following the 2017 Act puts new duties on councils.)

Newcastle has been chosen as one of the Government’s Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer areas are to develop innovative approaches to prevent homelessness (HM Govt Homelessness Prevention Programme Oct 17th 2016).  Newcastle council  aim to set up  a Homelessness Prevention Board to link up services including housing and health, so people at risk of losing their home can get advice and help with debt and employment.

Joyce McCarty, the deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “Newcastle has a good record of preventing homelessness and we are pleased that this work has been recognised by Government.  We look forward to building on our work and making the prevention of homelessness the norm and supporting someone at crisis point the exception.” Newcastle Chronicle Oct 17th 2016

Who is homeless in Newcastle?

This can be difficult to pin down.  The NAO report data shows relationship breakdown was the biggest cause of homelessness in NE England throughout 2010-16.

The definition below from one expert in the field may reflect those who come into contact with the People’s Kitchen but excludes the less visible ‘hidden homeless’ staying in temporary or unsuitable accommodation, such as those ‘sofa surfing’ with friends, and who don’t seek charitable help.

“The majority of the homeless are of male gender, British white and of working age, mainly originating from the North East, with over one third who have criminal records and one fifth who were in local authority care as children.  Thirty per cent have experienced rough sleeping over the last three months and nearly fifty per cent are suffering from a combination of poor mental and physical health, resulting in emotional ill-being, combined with substance abuse.”   Bob Eldridge, chairman, The People’s Kitchen http://www.policynorth.com/housing-and-planning/ (June 2016)

Newcastle’s approach to homelessness

Prior to the scheme announced in October 2016 Newcastle had already adopted a culture of prevention and continues to be committed to partnership working.  The council run a housing advice centre where staff offer free confidential advice with the aim of helping people to keep their home or assisting them to find one which meets their needs.  The overall housing shortage may not be as acute in Newcastle as other places, but there is a shortage of social housing (local authority or housing association), so the council try to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. If this is not possible, the advice centre staff try to find a solution to make sure people have a safe place to stay.

“We start from the premise that preventing homelessness is everyone’s business. We aim to prevent people getting to the stage of crisis, because we know it’s worse for them and more costly to the state if all we do is try and pick up the pieces when things have already gone wrong…  That does not mean that you will never see a person sleeping in a shop doorway, but it does mean that if you do you can be certain that they will be approached by an outreach team and offered a place to go where they can get a shower, a hot meal and a warm bed.” Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes [Chronicle article 23 Feb 2017]

Helping people at risk of eviction or repossession to keep their home takes different forms.  Council tenants in rent arrears can set up a realistic repayment plan by talking to a housing officer and may be referred to a support worker.  People can also get advice about debt and mortgages. The Newcastle City Council Money Matters team and the Citizens Advice Bureau have worked together to provide a debt advice helpline.

The advice centre provides those experiencing violence or abuse with emergency accommodation.  They work with the Police Domestic Violence Liaison Team and a number of voluntary agencies including Women’s Aid.  A case study on the Newcastle Women’s Aid website illustrates how agencies worked together to help Mary and Sammy escape abuse and in time establish a safe and permanent home.

The city council is committed to ending rough sleeping and takes a proactive approach to supporting rough sleepers off Newcastle’s streets.  Anyone who sees a rough sleeper can report this to the council by email or call the rough sleeping helpline so that help and assistance can be offered.  There have been other associated initiatives such as Housing First, run by the charity Changing Lives, which employs people who have experienced rough sleeping themselves.

The cooperative approach taken by Newcastle does mean it has compared favourably with other English cities.  The September 2013 evaluation by university researchers suggests homelessness relieved through positive action is at a comparatively high rate in Newcastle (29.6 preventions per 1,000 households – three times the rate of England as a whole).  Behind Newcastle’s approach is a commitment to understanding the reasons for homelessness and using this understanding to inform what they do.

“In 2015-16, 3,775 cases of potential homelessness were prevented. We have not placed people in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation for 10 consecutive years. Evictions by Your Homes Newcastle dropped to 48 – their lowest ever level and a decrease of 149 from 2007-08.  And despite our financial difficulties we are looking to the long term by building new homes. About 3,000 are projected to be built over the next three years including specialist properties for individuals and families with disabilities.” Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes [Chronicle article 23 Feb 2017]

During the year 2017-18 4,876 cases of potential homelessness were prevented according to the city council’s refreshed Housing Statement (July 2018).

Newcastle and Gateshead councils working together have also secured up to £1.54m outcomes funding for a social impact bond to work with entrenched rough sleepers; the service started working with clients in January 2018.

Threats to progress: Austerity and Universal Credit

Sustaining progress in a period of government austerity has been difficult.  Newcastle’s funding gap, the reduction in net revenue budget from one year to the next, was set to average 5.6 per cent over the five year period 2011/12 to 2015/16 according to a Joseph Rowntree report.  At the same time as vulnerability to homelessness was rising due to household financial stress, Newcastle council had to make difficult spending decisions and cut costs including reducing its staff by about a third.  As one employee put it to researchers:

 “We’ve lost a lot of personal contact, because obviously people have left and changed, so those one-to-one relationships that you had with people have been changed or fractured…and people are busier because they’ve lost staff so it’s harder to maintain those relationships. And I think a lot of the work that we did was down to those relationships.” Evaluation of Newcastle’s Cooperative Approach (September 2013) p24.

Perhaps this provides part of the explanation for the rise in Newcastle’s homeless households in 2014 (graph above).

This inevitably shifts some of the burden to other agencies and charities and puts pressure on communities to provide their own self-help solutions.  There are many charities at work seeking to help those in poverty and who are vulnerable.

“Many Charities in the region appear to be pitching for funds to provide services targeted towards those in need, but there is no over-arching journey or joined-up thinking.  Hence, vulnerable people have to deal with different providers throughout the weekly calendar.  … There appears to be a fragmented and over-complicated approach with, basically “too many players” trying to address the problems of those coping with poverty. The homeless are most vulnerable at weekends and evenings when most agencies (except The People’s Kitchen) are inaccessible.” Bob Eldridge, chairman, The People’s Kitchen http://www.policynorth.com/housing-and-planning/ (June 2016)

It is to be seen whether the Government’s homelessness prevention funding and the 2017 legislation can help to create a more joined-up response.  However the impact of the introduction of the new Universal Credit benefit suggests thinking is not as joined up as might be hoped. The Department for Work and Pensions designed Universal Credit to replace six means-tested benefits for working-age households (Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit). The new combined benefit is administered by central government Job Centres and was trialled early in some areas including Newcastle.

In evidence to a parliamentary Commons Work and Pensions Committee at Westminster Donna Gallagher of Your Homes Newcastle, the council’s arms length provider of local authority housing, highlighted the difficulties the implementation of Universal Credit benefit had brought about.  New benefit claimants were forced to wait for payments and delays meant those tenants didn’t have money to pay the rent and were forced to turn to food banks.

“In terms of rent arrears, we’ve got over £1.1m additional rent arrears as a result of the cohort, which is just shy of 3,000 that we know about, that is claiming Universal Credit full service. …From a customer’s point of view it can be quite challenging and it is putting pressure on the landlord.  We are having to invest in time to put more resources in to try and support our customers, to prevent more homelessness.” Donna Gallagher of Your Homes Newcastle [Newcastle Chronicle, Sep 14th 2017]

Nevertheless, managers at Your Homes Newcastle, with council support are helping struggling claimants to try to prevent them becoming homeless.  According to Newcastle city council leader Nick Forbes Universal Credit is ‘a disaster’:

“…we’ve found that the vast majority of people on Universal Credit in Newcastle are in rent arrears.  And if they are in rent arrears in the social rented sector then we can deal with that, because we can work with them and provide them with support.  But if they are in rent arrears of sometimes 16 to 18 weeks in the private rented sector, that is causing havoc with homelessness and making sure that people feel secure in their own homes.” Nick Forbes, Newcastle council leader [Newcastle Chronicle Sep 26th 2017]

Almost year later this pattern of increased rent arrears following the introduction of Universal Credit was confirmed in a Department for Work and Pensions report Rolling out Universal Credit (June 15th 2018). A linked rise in demand for help for those experiencing homelessness was confirmed by an Observer investigation which interviewed various homeless charities in England and described the situation as a crisis [The Observer October 28th 2018].

Last updated October 28th 2018.
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