Ministers consider backing new law to prevent people becoming homeless

The Bill would require councils to help people given eviction notices

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Ministers are considering backing a new law to strengthen local councils’ duties to stop people becoming homeless.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, put forward by Tory backbencher Bob Blackman, would require councils to help people deemed likely to become homeless within 56 days. 

Crucially, a so-called “section 21” notice – effectively an eviction notice – would be deemed in law to put someone at risk of homelessness. 

Currently many councils in practice do little to stop people becoming homeless until they are literally evicted by bailiffs and present themselves to authorities as homeless.

Local government minister Marcus Jones said he would attend the House of Commons debate on the bill - and did not rule out voting for it.

“We are looking very carefully at Bob’s bill, I’m getting lobbied myself by my own constituents, I know that many members of parliament are getting lobbied hard by their constituents on this. It’s an important issue for the nation,” he told a meeting at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

“I can assure you that we’re listening very carefully to Bob and hopefully as we go forward we can make a real difference to this really important issue.”

Asked which way he would vote he said: “That’s a very good question and one that I can’t respond to now.”

Baroness Stroud and Bob Blackman MP (Jon Stone for The Independent)

Mr Jones said helping the homeless chimed with Theresa May’s plan to build “a government that works for everyone”.

The Government has however imposed sharp cuts on local councils, with homelessness and rough sleeping having risen sharply since 2010.

The Department for Work and Pensions also effectively announced last month that it was cutting funding for homeless hostels by reducing supported housing benefit rent payments for three years. 

Mr Blackman said the fact people were sleeping rough was a “national disgrace” and that the “spiral of despair” experienced by many rough sleepers needed to be stopped. 

Other provisions included in the bill include a duty of public services to refer homeless people to homeless services and a requirement of local authorities to take reasonable steps to find accommodation for single people.

Baroness Stroud, a Tory peer who backs the bill, told the same session that the cost of the new law was estimated at £44 million. 

She described the amount of money as a “rounding error” in terms of Treasury spending and said the cash would be offset by a £47 million reduction in spending on people who were already made homeless.

The Bill has been backed by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, of which Mr Blackman is a member. 

Councils however say the bill is undeliverable. Martin Tett, Housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, said:  “There is an urgent need to address the factors driving up homelessness, the availability of suitable housing and rents spiralling above household incomes, and to gear all public services to respond to the personal needs of every individual at risk of homelessness or who is homeless. 

“Simply rushing through extensive new duties on stretched councils already doing everything they can to prevent and solve homelessness risks unintended consequences for those people that we are all trying to help. Any new duties must be fully thought through, deliverable, and fully funded.

"Giving councils the powers and funding to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes is also vital to end homelessness."