Working towards ending homelessness in Wales – thoughts on the White Paper proposals

On World Homelessness Day earlier this week, the Minister for Climate Change and Housing, Julie James, launched a new White Paper on Homelessness reform. David Rowlands, Policy Manager, reflects on the potential changes.  

While homelessness can happen to anyone, we all know it affects some communities and groups of people more than others. An evaluation by Crisis of its Sky Light project showed 39% of people they supported were disabled while research undertaken by The Refugee Council found that, of 54 refugees interviewed, none had found somewhere to live by the time they had left Home Office accommodation. Meanwhile, as many as 1 in 4 young people who are homeless identify as LGBTQ+. If we are to end homelessness, these stats present a challenge for the Welsh Government. It is essential that policy and legislation meets the needs of all of Wales’ diverse communities; a central finding of research Tai Pawb undertook to inform this White Paper.  

So, what is the White Paper proposing? Well, the Welsh Government has certainly made some bold proposals which will grab headlines and, if/when implemented, fundamentally alter homelessness law and provision, including:  

  • Increasing duties of prevention for people at risk of homelessness from the current 56 days to 6 months. 
  • The scrapping of ‘priority need’ and intentionality 
  • Increased duties on public bodies to prevent homelessness and refer people to support services 

Digging a little deeper – it is clear there are also some positive changes aimed at supporting diverse groups in Wales. These are changes we welcome and undoubtedly will make a difference to people when they need help: 

  • For LGBTQ+ people, there is a recognition that friendship networks can perform the same role of families, so in future, local connection tests should take account of this.  
  • In terms of communication between local authorities and people seeking support, there is a recognition that people’s communication preferences must be taken account of – for instance neurodiversity – to ensure that decisions and updates are easily understood. 
  • All local authorities legally required to hold an accessible housing register and regularly review it.  
  • Local authorities will be required to ask people who identify as Gypsy, Roma, or Traveller if their preferred accommodation is site-based as opposed to ‘bricks and mortar,’ and provide suitable accommodation based on those requirements.  
  • A commitment to consider the views of people with lived experience of homelessness and the role they can play to inform and shape systems and future services. 

Sadly, though there still remain challenges for some communities – in particular for people with no recourse to public funding (NRPF). Undoubtedly, legislative power retained in certain policy areas at Westminster is a factor. But to borrow the Covid phrase of “Everybody in,” if we are to end homelessness – tricky as it – we can’t ignore these challenges. 

Moving to implementation, colleagues in local government and housing associations may have concerns given they are already stretched and face a challenging environment. How will they be able to deliver these changes given they are likely to cost? Especially at a time when the Welsh Government has a sizeable black hole in its budget. Additional funding for these changes is integral – they won’t take place on their own. And doing this will be reliant on the current (and any future) Housing Minister securing sufficient funding in budget rounds to enable these long-term changes.  

The question is: how can this be best achieved? Should ending homelessness be reliant on discretionary budget negotiations between Ministers or annual campaigns? Or is there an alternative? Tai Pawb, and our Back the Bill partners, passionately believe the answer lies in incorporating the right to adequate housing in Wales. Doing so will commit the Welsh Government to using the maximum available resources (including finance, staff, land, technology) to ending homelessness, providing a level of budget security for housing policy commitments. It also ensures checks and balances through greater accountability, enabling Members of the Senedd to scrutinise regular progress reports. 

The positive changes proposed in the White Paper will play a role in addressing homelessness and we are really pleased to have supported this work, through both our research and the participation of our board member, Nazia Azad, in the Expert Review Panel 

We recognise the positives and commend the changes proposed by the Welsh Government. We now move to a period of consultation that needs to encompass a realistic conversation on funding, highlighting the importance of the right to adequate housing as both a driver and protector of reform.