Nightshelter update: the law hasn’t changed

Thursday, 27 June 2013 - 12:51pm

Will new clarification from the Government help tackle the current nightshelter confusion?

Photograph: Henry Hemming (Flickr)

After extensive conversations between homelessness organisations and the Government, DWP and DCLG have sent a note to councils which we hope will address an issue which, arguably, should probably never have become an issue in the first place.

There has been “no sudden change in the law,” no precedents were set in Anglesey, so there was no reason to start acting differently.

We commented recently on a succession of local authorities which had changed their approaches to dealing with housing benefits payments for people who stay in nightshelters, in the wake of a judgement in Anglesey which ruled that housing benefit should not be paid to a local nightshelter.

One nightshelter in Salford has already closed following the judgement, and 11 local councils have already withdrawn some or all payments to night shelters, or they are insisting on modifications to services.

This note from the Government seems to suggest they acted unnecessarily.

‘No sudden change in the law’

The central message from DWP and DCLG is that the Anglesey judgement changes nothing. There has been “no sudden change in the law,” no precedents were set in Anglesey, so there was no reason to start acting differently.

These three points, bolded in the note, are crucially important:

  • Housing Benefit rules have not changed over the basic principle of entitlement
  • The Government has no plans to change the current Housing Benefit and Universal Credit rules
  • The Government believes that Housing Benefit can continue to be paid to users of the majority of shelters so long as the person’s circumstances meet the housing benefit rules.

Long awaited clarification

The Government points out that the decision to not pay housing benefit in Anglesey was based on particular circumstances, and that it was not the judge’s intention to prescribe how housing benefit cases for rough sleepers elsewhere should be decided.

The note makes it clear that each claim for housing benefit should be judged against the current eligibility rules. This includes consideration of whether the claimant lives in the property in question as a home, and it should be the approach irrespective of the type of property. It is irrelevant whether the property is a nightshelter, hostel or B&B.

Finally, they stress their understanding of the important role nightshelters can play in tackling rough sleeping locally, so to suggest that support for nightshelters has been withdrawn is inaccurate. They recommend that local authorities and nightshelters may wish to discuss the issues raised by the judgement.

What needs to change?

It is our view that if a property had received housing benefit prior to the Anglesey judgement in February, there is no logic to its housing benefit being suspended following the judgement. Local authorities will have checked that the property met the criteria when they made an initial decision to pay. There is no reason why an isolated judgement, based on very specific local circumstances, should change that.

And where change has already happened and funding has been withdrawn, we encourage councils to reconsider, and reinstate the emergency accommodation that people facing homelessness rely on for help.

The “Anglesey Judgment” - misunderstandings about the role of Housing Benefit in night shelters

DWP & DCLG response to questions about the eligibility of people using night shelters for Housing Benefit.