Changes that could result in more destitute rough sleepers from abroad

Monday, 31 March 2014 - 4:07pm

A new measure to 'toughen up' the benefits system for migrants could have a dramatic impact on homelessness services.   

Photograph; James Cridland (Flickr)
Photograph; James Cridland (Flickr)

“It’s unclear what is new, what has been modified and what is just clarification of existing arrangements.”

These were the words I wrote in a February blog describing general Government statements that they were going to “toughen-up” the benefits system for migrants.

Today, one of the most the most potentially drastic changes is being introduced, which could have a dramatic impact on homelessness services.

What is happening? Who will it affect?

From the 1st April 2014, migrants from the European Economic Area will have severe limitations placed on their rights to Housing Benefit.

Basically, anyone who arrives in the UK from tomorrow will never be able to claim housing benefit unless they find employment.  When that job ends they will only be able to claim housing benefit for a maximum of six months.

That in itself represents a tightening of the rules. But these changes also extend to EEA migrants who were here before April.

Impact on those in homelessness services

If the benefit situation of an EEA homelessness clients changes (usually this will mean they move to a different local authority or get a job) their right to housing benefit will lessen or completely end.

We are concerned that this is likely to create fear amongst people currently getting housing benefit who may well be afraid of trying to improve their situation by obtaining a cheaper flat or moving into work. We believe this policy runs counter to other Government policies about incentivising paid work and encouraging people to make realistic housing choices. 

Hostel and supported housing providers could face difficult decisions about current residents who are ready to move out or get a job but will lose housing benefit as a result, or what to do if they get a referral for someone in need, who will only be able to get housing benefit for six months with no entitlement afterwards. 

Potential increase in destitution

According to recent research on rough sleeping, an estimated 20% of rough sleepers outside London are EEA nationals. The changes coming in today could make it harder to help these individuals.

If charities are supporting migrants who have not worked before, they will find it harder to get them off the streets and into shelter using housing benefit funding, increasing the risk of them remaining homeless or at risk of being destitute. Many areas have seen an increase in rough sleeping by individuals from abroad, for whom no publicly funded help exists. We fear that the new rules brought in today could add to these numbers.

Unanswered questions

The confusion I mentioned at the start of the blog has only been partly addressed in terms of this change.  The circular (HB A6/2014) explaining the changes only came out 16 days ago and has  left many questions partly or completely unanswered. 

We have published a briefing in partnership with Crisis on the information that we know about but will update this as we seek answers from DWP.

Summary of the new Housing Benefit rules for EEA migrants August 2014

On Tuesday April 1st 2014, new rules came in restricting European Economic Area migrants’ access to housing benefit. This briefing, produced in partnership with Crisis, explains what these changes mean and how they will affect both new and existing claimants.