Nightshelter uncertainty must not prevent support

Thursday, 13 June 2013 - 3:27pm

A recent ruling in North Wales, which found that Housing Benefit should not be paid to a night shelter, has led to similar cases throughout the country. While local and national government consider their next steps, the issue must not get in the way of helping people off the streets.

A night shelter is not a home, so went the argument behind a recent judgment in Anglesey, therefore it should not be subsidised by Housing Benefit.

DWP must urgently clarify the national position and communicate this to councils

Of course it is true that night shelters aren’t permanent homes. They don’t pretend to be, but they do offer a vital lifeline for some of the most excluded people in society - and many of them rely on income from housing benefit to provide that support.

Now that other local authorities are following in Anglesey's footsteps, we are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact this will have on local emergency provision.

11 local councils have already withdrawn some or all payments to night shelters, or they are insisting on modifications to services. From council to council there is a wide range of interpretations of what should be paid and for what service.

This has inevitably raised the question of what will be done in those areas to ensure that there is still provision both for emergency and longer term accommodation to ensure that rough sleeping does not rise.

Whatever the answer, given the different types of emergency accommodation available – from winter shelters on church floors to year round No Second Night Out projects – the local impact could be devastating even before the challenges we expect to see under the monthly assessment structure of Universal Credit.

In our policy briefing on the issue we highlight the actions that central and local government must take if we’re to avoid an unintended rise in rough sleeping in the areas affected:

  • DWP must urgently clarify the national position and communicate this to councils.
  • DWP also needs to communicate whether night shelters will or will not be exempt from Universal Credit reforms
  • Local authorities must avoid suddenly withdrawing funding from services, especially if there is no alternative emergency accommodation in place.

Above all, what this issue highlights is the fundamental need both for secure long-term funding for effective emergency accommodation, as well as accommodation that provides people with a secure base that they can call home.

Policy briefing: Risk of Benefit Ruling to night shelters

A recent judgment in Anglesey found that Housing Benefit was not payable to a ‘Night Shelter’ because it could not be classed as a ‘home’.