Understanding homelessness under the new political regime: Conference Report

Conference image


Understanding homelessness under the new political regime: What comes next?


Joint conference held on Thursday 16th July 2015


This joint conference aimed to provide an opportunity to discuss the challenges and identify a way forward for ending homelessness in the context of a new political regime, and with the benefit of lessons from research carried out in the North East and elsewhere.


Over 100 booked to join in the discussion, including people from homelessness and housing organisations, health services, services working with offenders, with young people, social work agencies, employment advisers, and universities.


There was a full day’s discussion with key note speakers, workshops, a video and displays of material from a range of homelessness and housing organisations.


The themes for the event were chosen along the lines of the NEHTT Homelessness Charter developed before the General Election – this can be read here.


All presentations can be found on here the YHNE website.



Keynote speakers


Chair: Val Keen Youth Homelessness Adviser at St Basil’s, Birmingham

Val reminded delegates that there had been little talk about homelessness before the 2015 General Election, but that a raft of announcements made since May 7th will have an impact on homelessness and benefits. This conference provided a good opportunity to get stuck into working out how the sector will respond.


Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive Crisis

Jon’s presentation


Jon noted that the Conservatives have a new confidence in the mandate given to them since the election. He thought that it is not sufficient to throw rocks at their policies, but that we need to learn to work with them. Crisis, which started in the 1960s at a time of outrage and anger at the homelessness crisis then, is still needed, almost 50 years later, and still has the aim of ending homelessness.


Sadly, all forms of homelessness have increased in England over the last 5 years. The example of Scotland, however, tells us that homelessness can be reduced, but even there, there is a backlog of people waiting in hostels and B&B to find settled housing. In England, we have the prospect of homelessness increasing, not just for the next 5 years, but potentially for the next 10.


Jon noted that there is no measurement made by the Government of single homelessness across England, though there is currently a review of the validity of the statistics by the UK Statistics Authority. Crisis has pointed out not only the human cost of homelessness, but also the financial burden: successful homelessness prevention for a young person with some additional needs can make a saving of at least £10,000 within 12 months. A critical issue is jobs to go with homes: we need to make sure that there are tailored employment opportunities, without the threat of sanctions, alongside genuinely affordable housing, to make the most difference to young people in particular.


Having recommended this to Government, without success, Crisis is now embarking on a major review of single homelessness across the country, focused on prevention and based on research evidence.



Charlotte Harrison, Northern Housing Consortium

Charlotte was unable to attend the conference, but her presentation can be read here.



Mike Clark, Chair, YHNE

Mike’s presentation

Mike spoke from the position of over 30 years of experience in both the public and private housing sectors. From this vantage point, he could say that not enough resources are put into housing vulnerable people including young people. Mike drew attention to the fact that the social housing sector could be doing more to help, through making more provision for young homeless people, and through influencing policymakers. It was important to remember that Cathy Come Home, made in the 1960s, was successful in influencing policy because it embarrassed politicians through an emotional message about the impact of homelessness. We need to be talking to people at a high level about what could be different today, but often laudable statements do not get translated into practical actions.


Mike challenged the view that the North East needs many more homes, given the number of empty properties; more resources need to be put into bringing homes back into use, but also to campaigning on the need for more variety of housing stock, a different and more flexible housing offer for young people, and more supported housing. The main challenges for us are to meet the needs of the increasing number of young people with complex needs and those lacking independence skills. His concluding message was that we need to make more of a stink about youth homelessness.




Questions to the Panel

Questions covered the following points:

  • Is early intervention or prevention more critical?
  • What exemptions might there be for under 21s to receive Housing Benefit?
  • How do we encourage a more unified approach to tackling homelessness across the country?
  • How do we develop affordable rents for young apprentices?


On the question of which groups might be exempt, it was thought that care leavers, vulnerable young people (but by whose definition?), and people in and moving on from supported housing might be included, as well as those who were in work and had been for at least 6 months.


Action point for NEHTT: seek to influence the discussions at DWP about exemptions for under 21s claiming Housing Benefit by setting out which groups should be exempt



Learning from research findings


YHNE 4th Annual Survey of Youth Homelessness in the NE

Adele Irving, Research Fellow, Northumbria University

Adele’s presentation

Key points were that youth homelessness appears to be at a stable level in the NE, with consistently more positive findings than across the country, though homelessness presentations have gradually increased, along with the number of young people with complex needs. The impact of legal highs was a new issue raised in the survey, and this appears to be more significant in the N E than across the country as a whole, particularly for young people in the Looked After system and in supported housing.


Joint work with Children’s Services seems to be mostly effective in the NE. We also have low use of B&B for young people but there was a note of caution here as only homelessness services have to report how many young people are placed in B&B and other services – Youth Offending Teams, Children’s Services and the NHS – may make use of this type of temporary accommodation.


Move-on accommodation still presents a major challenge for young people, and here legal highs appear to having an effect, as young people using these seem to be less ready for a move onto independence. Some agencies are developing shared accommodation as a solution to the problem of barriers to moving on, but this is not always what young people would ideally like. Other big challenges are the level of sanctions and Bedroom Tax restrictions imposed on young people, addressing the needs of young people in rural areas, and finding the right solutions for older care leavers and for young offenders.



NEHTT research: Sanctions: is there an alternative?

Dr Jamie Harding, Senior Lecturer, Northumbria University

Jamie’s presentation

NEHTT’s research, published at the conference, has highlighted the increasing difficulty and disengagement for homeless people as a result of benefit sanctions, and the consequent problems for the organisations working with them. Sanctions are being applied to many young people and adults in the homeless sector, sometimes very harshly and sometimes unfairly or as a result of errors made by DWP rather than the claimant. A failure to attend a job interview was the most common reason for a sanction being applied.


Sanctions are taking some people backwards in their lives, leaving people with little or no resources, dependency on others for food and other basic essentials. Additional barriers are also arising for people trying to move on to independence, if arrears of payments for supported housing are seen by social providers as a reason not to accept the person as suitable to be a social housing tenant.


Over half of the organisations surveyed stated that sanctions were on the increase. The research showed that communication with claimants and the homeless sector is often poor, with the DWP expectation that claimants be allowed to put their side of the story before being sanctioned not always being met. Homeless people were often aware that they had been sanctioned only when going to draw out cash. There was also far lower knowledge than had been expected about the easements available for newly homeless people.


There were, however, signs of hope, with better communication with claimants being put in place, joint work between supported housing organisations and JCP, and specialist teams working with homeless and other groups. People should be encouraged to appeal for sanction as there is a high success rate.



The report is accompanied by a video which shows the experiences of 2 claimants, and highlights the recommendations from the research. The video can be viewed here.



Unsupported temporary accommodation, and the housing options of offenders

Sheila Spencer, housing consultant and NEHTT, and Bill Davies, IPPR North

Bill and Sheila’s presentation

Bill and Sheila summarised research which had focused on the impact of living in “unsupported temporary accommodation” – B&Bs, private hostels and Houses in Multiple Occupation. Sheila raised the issue of the difficulty of knowing who and how many people are staying in this sector, whilst Bill summarised findings from research carried out in Manchester and Brighton which looked at the impact on individuals, and the routes into the accommodation, as well as the policy issues concerning this sector.


The presentation also looked at the continuing challenge of resolving offender housing needs, despite the intentions of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.



Questions to the Panel

Questions covered topics such as:

  • Would the repeal of the Human Rights Act make in impact on our sector?
  • Is there a link between sanctions and people in unsupported temporary accommodation?
  • Is it more important to focus on meeting the emotional needs of our clients who have faced traumas, rather than on bricks and mortar solutions?
  • How can we get more people in the homeless sector to vote?


Martin Gill, Director of Housing and Support, Centrepoint

Martin closed the conference, with a set of concluding points and priorities for action, which can be read here.




Priorities coming out of the workshops


  1. Youth Housing Charter, Young people’s evaluation
    • There needs to be more promotion of the YHNE Charter across the region and make more frontline workers aware of the Charter and its aims
    • The clear priority for professionals, above all other Charter priorities, is to ensure that housing is based on a rapid response
    • The clear priority for young people, above all other Charter priorities, is to have one single key worker


  1. Measuring single homelessness
    • A standardised, meaningful and manageable set of data should be collected consistently across all authorities, with performance benchmarks
    • Collect data from other sectors using the Centrepoint Data Bank Collection idea
    • Establish systems to share data across sectors (e.g. statutory and voluntary agencies, and not just homelessness, but health and others too) – multi-agency openness and communication


  1. Housing Benefit for young people (and workshop 5)
    • Need further clarity on who will be exempt – we need to lobby DWP for this
    • Build stronger relationships with HB offices and JCP staff
    • Inform young people about changes to their entitlement – be honest but protect them from “scary” media stories
    • The current arrangement for 16-17s should be taken forward for 18-21s
    • All young people should be assessed by the housing office at the local authority, not the HB office, and their homelessness should be prevented
    • Support should be put in place, with people to be exempt if there is no support
    • It is concerning that supported accommodation (exempt from UC) could become oversubscribed if young people cannot access other forms of accommodation


  1. Health and multiple and complex needs
    • Develop positive relationships – clients need to have trust and someone to advocate on their behalf, and to take them to services
    • Develop “under one roof” approaches as in Elliott House – a drop-in with a range of medical professionals e.g. dentist, GP, nurses etc
    • Services need to be inreach rather than outreach, with frontline workers being aware of what is available


  1. The implications of Universal Credit for homeless people and organisations

v  The need for training to raise awareness about how UC works, and the timetable for it coming into the NE, must be raised across the region.

v  Action is also needed to inform clients around UC.


Alternatively download the conference report here


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