Last updated:2023-09-18
Homelessness legislation reform high on the agenda at housing conference
Conservative MP Bob Blackman is championing a private members’ bill on homelessness. Speaking at the LAG Housing Law Conference last month, Heriot-Watt University’s Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick (pictured) confirmed that the Homelessness Reduction Bill was receiving its first reading in the House of Commons later that day (29 June 2016).
The bill’s second reading is scheduled for 28 October 2016. Fitzpatrick, who is the chair of the panel pressing for new homelessness legislation, told the conference she believed that the Department for Communities and Local Government would support the bill and that this would improve its chances of becoming law.
New legislation alone is not enough, though, Fitzpatrick said, as we ‘have to work on housing supply and the welfare benefits system’ to solve the housing crisis. She also stressed that ‘protecting what’s already there’ in homelessness legislation is important, as well as, ‘inspired by the Welsh model’, introducing new measures on ‘prevention and relief covering all homeless people’ (see June 2016 Legal Action 3 and page 11 of this issue).
A survey of local authorities cited by the charity Crisis showed that 56 per cent of them support the proposed reforms to homelessness legislation to move closer to the Welsh model (No one turned away: changing the law to prevent and tackle homelessness, Crisis, May 2016, page 21). However, according to Fitzpatrick, this drops to approximately a 50/50 split among councils in London, where there is an acute shortage of affordable housing in the rented sector, as well as increasing numbers of tenants caught by the benefits cap.
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The conference was attended by over 100 housing lawyers and advisers. Speakers also included Diane Astin (author of LAG’s Housing Law Handbook, 3rd edn, 2015) and Claire Sephton, who demonstrated LAG’s new app (on which it is currently working) to assist those advising clients with rent arrears. The app is being developed with the assistance of students at the University of Westminster, where they are both lecturers.