Iain Wright MP

 Iain Wright MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Allocations policies: effective practice to prevent homelessness

Date of speech 20 November 2008
Location Alton Towers Hotel, Staffordshire
Event summary Chartered Institute of Housing's Lettings and Homelessness Conference

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

Thank you Bob for the kind introduction, and for inviting me to address you today.

This is a really exciting and historic week for all those working to prevent homelessness. Earlier this week, I launched 'No-one left out' - our strategy to end rough sleeping for everyone, for ever, by 2012.

This isn't an empty target, or just an ambition. I firmly believe that if our record of success over the past few years is anything to go by, then there is no doubt we can achieve this shared goal.

In some ways, we've already achieved the impossible, with such substantial and sustained cuts in rough sleeping. But I believe that we can go even further. We can be the first country in the world where rough sleeping is a thing of the past.

Our strategy is based on what works - the principles which you live and breathe every day - and applying them consistently, so that best practice becomes standard practice.

It's about prevention. Intervening at the trigger points where people might become homeless, fully involving friends, family and the wider community to stop them reaching crisis point.

It's about partnership working. All government departments taking responsibility and all local services working collectively together.

And it's about personalised, comprehensive solutions. Not just getting people off the streets, but helping them to rebuild their lives through training, work and positive activities.

I recognise that in the current economic climate, this is going to be tough. But we shouldn't shy away from doing what is right, just because it isn't easy. Having come this far, we have a responsibility to make this final push.

But of course, rough sleeping is just one manifestation of homelessness and housing problems. The challenges are much wider.

And new difficulties are emerging all the time, as the global financial turbulence starts to take it's toll.

What began as an abstract concern about liquidity and the Libor is now beginning to have profound effects in the real economy, with consequences for every business and every family in the country. We have to be alert and ready to respond.

My absolute first priority - and I know this will be yours too - is to help people stay in their homes where-ever possible.

As part of our support package for the housing market, we've announced a £200 million mortgage rescue scheme. It will help the elderly and the vulnerable who can't afford their repayments, but who would be eligible for homelessness assistance if repossessed.

Those who've experienced a few payment shocks will be able to join a shared equity scheme; those on low income with more fundamental problems will be able to rent their homes back from the government.

I know that many of you are working with us to get this off the ground as soon as possible, and I am grateful for your efforts.

But the big focus for today is about improving allocations policy, making best use of our scarce existing housing stock.

Allocations might seem like a rather technical policy concern; simply a matter of matching supply to demand.

But we all know that it is far more complicated than that. And where it is not working; families pay the price.

We know, for example, that overcrowding continues to be a major problem for many local authorities.

Last December, we published an action plan aimed at reducing overcrowding in the authorities worst affected. With £15 million, together with more effective housing options and advice services, their experiences will inform national action.

One of the ways in which we could start to address these concerns is by making better use of the private rented sector.

You will all be familiar with the recent review conducted by Julie Rugg. She made it very clear that while the private rented sector is just a temporary stepping stone for some; for many others it can be a serious long term solution.

So we shouldn't treat the private rented sector like it's second best - we should be looking to make the most of it. Her report makes extremely interesting reading; and we are currently working out how best to take her recommendations forward.

In his major review a couple of years ago; John Hills noted the success that housing options services were having great success in preventing homelessness. He suggested that we could expand on this approach by enhancing existing options services.

The idea is to create services which offers more comprehensive advice, to more people.

Where people don't just come to fill in forms and join a waiting list for social housing, but can find out about their choices in the private sector, or for low cost home ownership, or even just staying in their own home.

Where the aim isn't just to solve a person's immediate housing problems, but also to look at their overall circumstances. Advice about childcare, healthcare, training and employment might also be available, with clear links to other services where appropriate.

In July, we announced the twelve 'trailblazer' areas who would be testing out this approach, acting as guides and mentors for others.

I'm today delighted to announce that twenty further trailblazer projects, covering sixty local authorities, are now joining the programme. The idea is both to strengthen their own services, and support others to do so as well. A further ten areas will benefit from 'kick start' funding to get their projects off the ground.

I wish these authorities every success in their efforts, and look forward to learning from their experience.

Let me finish by thanking you for your efforts over the past few years. As a result, we've seen some incredible progress.

Not just in cutting rough sleeping. But also more than halving new homelessness. Cutting the numbers in temporary accommodation by a quarter. Ending the long term reliance on bed and breakfast accommodation for families - and you are well on the way to ending this for sixteen and seventeen year olds.

It is really quite incredible, but I think largely unsung. Too often, you don't get the recognition or credit you deserve. But I want to express my personal gratitude and say that it has really been an honour to work with you over the past eighteen months.

I know that for me to come here and ask more of you may seem like a step too far - especially in these tougher times. I'm sure you're feeling under huge pressure, with more people to help, and perhaps budgets being squeezed too.

I would stress that this is about working differently; working more effectively, not about doing more. And I firmly believe that with all your collective experience and energy, you will continue to make a difference to hundreds of thousands of families.

Thank you very much.

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