So what is priority need – and why do we want to get rid of it?

This week an Assembly committee called for the Welsh Government to make some radical changes to how street homeless people are helped.

One of the most significant recommendations was that Welsh Government should establish a timetable for abolition of the ‘priority need’ test.

Shelter Cymru has been calling for an end to priority need for many years – decades, in fact. Not so long ago we were the only voice in Wales pointing out how the priority need test stands between people and the homes they need.

Slow and steady is often what wins in campaigning. Hearts and minds take time to change. Where once an end to priority need was seen as a hopeless idealist’s dream, it is now an ambition that is moving firmly into the mainstream.

So what exactly is priority need? What are the problems with it, and how do we get past it?

 

What is priority need?

Under the Welsh homelessness legislation, people who are in certain ‘priority need’ groups have an enhanced right to accommodation. Priority need groups include:

  • Pregnant women
  • People with dependent children
  • People who are vulnerable as a result of some special reason such as old age or disability
  • Care leavers aged 18 to 21
  • Armed forces veterans.

If a homeless person can demonstrate that they are in a priority need group, they have a right to interim accommodation as well as a right to settled accommodation.

If people aren’t found to be in priority need, the council will still help to prevent or relieve their homelessness – but the council doesn’t have to give them interim accommodation. And if the help isn’t successful, there is no right to settled accommodation to back that up.

Last year in Wales more than 1,200 homeless households – most of them single people – were found not to be priority need, and as a result were still homeless when the council ended their duty to help them.

 

What are the problems with priority need?

  • Councils spend time and money investigating priority need – resources that would be better used by helping people, rather than looking for reasons not to help them
  • Proving you are vulnerable enough to be in priority need means presenting a ‘sob story’ to councils which can be a very humiliating experience for people
  • There is lots of inconsistency – the Assembly inquiry heard evidence that some councils routinely find rough sleepers priority need, while others do not
  • Our upcoming study on rough sleeping – to be published in July – has identified that a lack of priority need is keeping people on the streets.

 

So how do we end it?

The legal bit is easy – the Housing Wales Act gives the Minister the power to amend priority need or remove it without primary legislation.

What’s more challenging is ensuring that ending priority need doesn’t place a massive additional burden on temporary accommodation.

The Assembly committee was correct to call for a phased approach. In Scotland priority need was ended over a ten-year period. In Wales we are in a stronger position than Scotland was – and we can learn from their experience.

Nobody wants to spend months on end living in the limbo of temporary accommodation. The focus must be on increasing the supply of permanent, affordable homes, not only for homeless people but also for people living in homes that are inadequate for their needs.

Welsh social landlords can and should play a much bigger role – only 18 per cent of social housing currently goes to homeless households, the lowest in the UK.

There is much that can be achieved, and a long term goal will help us to focus efforts where it’s most needed.

We’re one step closer in Wales to recognising that a home is a human right.

‘Waste Not, Want Not’… the next step in our campaign to make the most of Discretionary Housing Payments

This week we re-launched our ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ campaign to raise awareness of a fund known as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).

These payments are meant to help people whose Housing Benefit doesn’t cover the cost of their rent. Councils may award someone a DHP for a range of reasons such as: helping people cope with welfare cuts such as the benefit cap and bedroom tax as well as the introduction of universal credit.

Each year the money is given to Welsh councils by the UK Government. It’s up to councils to give the money out to people who need it. But if the money isn’t all spent by the end of March, the UK Government takes it back.

Our campaign has aimed to encourage councils to make full use of this resource and help as many people as possible. For thousands of people in Wales, DHPs are all that stand between them and homelessness.

We carried out a Freedom of Information request to find out how much money councils had left in their DHP pots. The results were – for the most part – really positive.

Welsh local authorities had a tough job this year to spend DHPs as the pot for Wales has been increased by 24%. However, the majority of councils have risen brilliantly to the challenge.

So far this year local authorities have given out more than £8.2 million which is a fantastic 36% higher than the same time last year.

More than 45,000 people have been helped to avoid homelessness – this is around 12,000 more people than this time last year.

Almost every council is on track to spend the full amount. Five councils have already added in extra funds and others are promising to do so when the need arises.

And the council that’s helped most people this year is:

Torfaen, which has already spent their whole allocation and topped up by £80,000. This council has helped more people than any other local authority – nearly 6,000 people so far.

Most improved:

There are some councils that have made huge strides in improving their performance in the last year.

Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd, Newport and Wrexham have all increased their spending by more than 50%, some of them by more than 100%.

Blaenau Gwent council has shown massive improvements in their performance. This time last year more than half the DHP pot was still unspent. This year the council has already spent the whole sum and topped up by more than £44,000.

Room for improvement:

The only council currently giving cause for concern is Merthyr Tydfil which still had 42 per cent of their pot unspent at the beginning of January.

So what needs to happen next?

For the last three years Shelter Cymru has been campaigning to ask local authorities to ensure that they give out their whole allocation and don’t return any money to Westminster.

We are pleased that our campaigning has had a positive effect on councils’ use of DHPs and that less money is being returned to Westminster year on year. It’s fantastic that by working together Wales is achieving such great results.

At a time when more than 25,000 people become homeless every year, including more than 2,800 children, it’s vital that we make the most of every penny to keep people in their homes.

Last year £189,000 less was given back to Westminster than the previous year. Let’s all ensure that in 2018, every penny of DHP is spent on keeping people in their homes and no money is returned to Westminster.

Shelter Cymru is also calling on the public to let friends and family know that they may be eligible to apply to the fund. Our website includes information on how much money councils have left and how to apply.

Former tenant arrears and the Welsh social housing lock-out

It’s one year since we launched our report Accessing and sustaining social tenancies which asked whether some people in Wales were being deemed ‘too poor’ for social housing.

The report focussed on the use of financial assessments in the pre-tenancy stages and found evidence that some landlords were using these to deny people tenancies on affordability grounds, even when the rent would be fully covered by housing benefit.

This was particularly evident for households who had previously accrued rent arrears in a social housing tenancy. Landlords explained that in these cases they would expect the household to set up a repayment plan and if that was followed they would then be able to re-register for social housing. In many of these cases, landlords were able to evidence that repayment plans were in line with what people could afford.

Since the report was published we’ve continued to monitor the situation, and in recent months we’ve noticed a trend towards harsher polices on former tenant arrears.

In some cases these new policies are so strict that they are in effect barring large numbers of vulnerable households from the major social housing provider in their local area.

Here are some examples of what we mean:

  • Many landlords are requiring people to pay off old arrears from years ago, even longer than a decade. These arrears will be statute-barred, meaning they can no longer be pursued through the courts. They will have been written off social landlords’ business plans as bad debt long ago. Despite this, some of our clients have been told that they can’t have a new tenancy unless the old statute-barred arrears are added on to their rent account, leaving them heavily in debt from the outset.
  • One landlord has recently introduced a calculation which it uses to determine how much arrears people need to pay off before they can bid for homes. This calculation, which isn’t available for public scrutiny, has determined that people with higher levels of arrears must pay off £500 per month – even if they are receiving means-tested benefits.
  • One local authority landlord won’t allocate to households who have former tenancy arrears from the private rented sector – absurdly excluding people from affordable housing if they have previously struggled to afford market rents.

We know that most evictions from social housing are due to rent arrears and we understand that landlords have to ensure tenancies are affordable in order to let in an ethical manner. However, the impact of being excluded from accessing the social housing register leaves households with limited options other than to find accommodation in the private rented sector or become homeless.

We’ve asked the Welsh Government to look again at the statutory guidance on allocations. Currently, allocations policies get a lot of discretion on former tenant arrears – but in light of welfare reform-related concerns in the sector, it’s clearly time to mark some lines in the sand to ensure that social housing continues to be available for those who most need it.

We’ve asked Welsh Government to require that allocations policies:

  • Don’t exclude people for arrears from private rented accommodation which by its nature is less affordable then social housing
  • Don’t exclude people for arrears that are statute-barred (that is, older than six years)
  • Are transparent and not based on calculations that are hard for the public to understand
  • Are more considerate in respect of households coming via homelessness or who are vulnerable. Requiring people to keep to a repayment regime lasting several months may not be possible if people are facing or experiencing homelessness.

Although Universal Credit is still only partly rolled out in Wales, social landlords have done exceptionally well at protecting their financial health in recent years. It’s vital that this doesn’t come at the expense of social purpose. The alternative is higher rates of homelessness and greater misery for households who are currently locked out of Welsh social housing.

London Assembly – Hidden homelessness report

Our research is cited in London Assembly report on hidden homelessness.

Read here:

Statutory homelessness in Wales is up 58 per cent in a year

Last week the Welsh Government published a rather important set of statistics on homelessness.

The figures mean that for the first time we can get a sense what’s been happening in Welsh homelessness over the last two years since the law was changed to increase prevention work and help more people.

And the picture that’s emerging is a pretty stark one.

From every angle, the figures tell the same story: homelessness is high, and is continuing to grow.

Limitations with the data
As ever, we need state up front that there are shortcomings with Welsh homelessness data. There is considerable potential for human error in the way figures are currently recorded.

It’s a constant source of frustration and yes, there are better ways of doing it and yes, we have asked Welsh Government to look at alternatives.

It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that the official stats only count people who have been all the way through the system, not those who are still owed a homelessness duty. If they included open cases, the numbers would be even higher.

Demand on local authorities
Unfortunately, numbers of homelessness assessments aren’t currently monitored. However we can make a good estimate – and our analysis suggests that, over the course of Year Two of the legislation, the number of households having their homelessness assessed by local authorities has increased by 32 per cent.

That’s on top of a 27 per cent increase in Year One.

More and more households are seeking help. Is this because people have more rights now, and are more likely to come forward? Or is it because more people are experiencing hardship?

The recent 72 per cent rise in rough sleeping would suggest the answer is the latter.

The stats also reveal a change in the nature of the work local authorities are doing. During Year One there was roughly an equal amount of activity taking place under prevention (stopping households from becoming homeless) as under relief (helping households who are already homeless).

We can now see that in Year Two, a considerable gap has opened up. Local authorities are now doing more casework to deal with homelessness once it has already happened, than to prevent it happening in the first place.

While the number of households threatened with homelessness has gone up by 29 per cent in the last year, the number that are actually homeless has increased by an astonishing 58 per cent, to 10,884 households.

Figure 1: Outcomes under prevention and relief of homelessness, by quarter

What’s going on? Is prevention not working anymore?

Our caseworkers find that prevention can be extremely challenging, due to a fatal combination of welfare reform, benefit cap, universal credit and a large number of private landlords either leaving the market or refusing to take on benefit claimants as tenants.

Although private landlord licensing under Rent Smart Wales has brought many positives, it can’t be denied that it does make it harder to find accommodation for homeless households.

But the statistics don’t suggest that prevention is failing. In fact local authorities successfully prevented homelessness for 62 per cent, which is only slightly below their performance in Year One. For single households the success rate was 60 per cent, even higher than last year.

Given the scale of increases in demand, this is a massive achievement.

Bypassing prevention
What the stats do suggest, though, is that more people are going straight to the relief duty and bypassing prevention altogether.

There are likely to be a number of reasons for this:  the economic climate, levels of poverty and other drivers of homelessness in society; local authority workloads; and also changes in practice in some authorities.

For example, we’ve seen a small number of recent cases where our client isn’t yet homeless but the council is treating them as if they are, and fast-tracking them to the relief and final duties.

Sometimes this might be in the individual’s interest. But sometimes it risks closing them off from assistance too soon, especially if they aren’t in a priority need group.

And it suggests a lack of faith in the whole concept of homelessness prevention – an attitude that’s very much a hangover from the old system.

Supporting the prevention agenda
Wales is now more than two years into the new homelessness system, and here comes the acid test: how well can we cope with a significant rise in the number of people seeking help?

Our caseworkers and our research suggest that more needs to be done to expand the inventiveness of prevention activity, making it more bespoke to people’s needs and more focused on helping people to keep their current accommodation.

What we’re seeing is an over-reliance on a narrow set of standard interventions: PRS lists, bond board, pay-offs from prevention funds.

We need to think bigger.

But this kind of service improvement is incredibly hard to achieve when you are running at full pelt just to stand still.

People working in frontline homelessness services need to be supported – with funding, with training, with good practice guidance, with decent wages.

And everybody needs to do their bit. This includes health services, social landlords and other council departments.

Because homelessness carries a cost to the whole of society, and preventing it is everybody’s business.

Jennie Bibbings
Campaigns Manager, Shelter Cymru
JennieB@sheltercymru.org.uk

Waste Not, Want Not… making the most of Discretionary Housing Payments

Earlier this year we launched our ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ campaign to raise awareness of a fund that is a crucial source of financial assistance for people struggling with their rent.

The funds, known as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), are meant to help people whose Housing Benefit doesn’t cover the cost of their rent. Councils may award someone a DHP payment if, for example, they are affected by the bedroom tax or benefit cap.

Each year the money is given to Welsh councils by the UK Government. It’s up to councils to give the money out to people who need it. But if the money isn’t all spent by the end of March, the UK Government takes it back.

Our campaign aimed to encourage councils to make full use of this resource and help as many people as possible. For thousands of people in Wales, DHPs are all that stand between them and homelessness.

The campaign had a fantastic response:

  • Our campaign supporters added their names to the campaign and even contacted councils directly to encourage them to spend the money
  • Some councils drafted in extra staff to help process applications and changed their policies so more people could be helped
  • By the end of the year, councils had spent more than £8 million, and returned £180,000 less to the UK Government than the previous year.

Some councils went above and beyond and added extra money to their DHP pots. In total, councils topped up by more than £280,000.

The top five councils that spent the most and boosted their funds were:

  1. Torfaen
  2. Monmouthshire
  3. Cardiff
  4. Vale of Glamorgan
  5. Isle of Anglesey

However, the picture was not the same across Wales with some councils not only to failing to add to their budget but not even spending their full allocation. The five councils with the most returned to the UK Government were:

  1. Carmarthenshire
  2. Gwynedd
  3. Blaenau Gwent
  4. Ceredigion
  5. Wrexham

These councils were responsible for around 75% of the £100,000 under-spend that was returned to the UK Government. This money would have helped more than 300 households to stay in their homes.

Why did this money not get spent? Is it because councils have a culture of not spending, or are they not sufficiently in touch with people in their local area who are struggling? We know the need is high across Wales. With more than 15,000 people becoming homeless every year, including more than 2,800 children, this fund is incredibly important.

Shelter Cymru contacted the councils with the biggest underspends. Those who responded told us that they had actively encouraged applications, that they had promoted the fund locally and tried to be as inclusive as possible in their decision making.  Several councils said that despite their efforts, application numbers were still too low.

This year we are going to continue to encourage councils to spend their full allocations and demonstrate their commitment to supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Wales by using their resources to prevent homelessness.

It is not good enough to continue to penny-pinch when people’s homes are at risk. More than half of Welsh councils, 12 out of 22, had an under-spend. The amounts sent back ranged from £146 to £24,473 – money that could have stopped people from becoming homeless or getting into arrears and debt, but instead has gone back into the UK Government’s pocket.

This year, DHPs have become even more important as the total amount given to Welsh councils has increased by 25%. This means more people can be helped – provided councils ensure the money gets to the people who need it.

We hope that all councils recognise the importance of our campaign. They need to work together with the Welsh Government to ensure they are spending consistently and fairly. They also need to ensure their Housing Benefit teams and Homelessness teams are working together closely so that DHPs are fully utilised.

Congratulations to the top five councils and well done to all of our super campaigners who played a vital role in making this a success!

Table 1: DHP Top-ups and under-spends

Grenfell Tower and Wales: what happens next?

For many people in Wales, what happened at Grenfell Tower brought back painful memories of Aberfan half a century ago.

Both tragedies involved safety failures leading to the deaths of many children and adults. Both involved working class communities who were completely ignored when they tried to warn that their lives were being put at risk by cost-cutting measures.

Both revealed, with devastating clarity, the scale of the power difference between individuals and the corporate interests that shape their lives.

And like Aberfan, the implications of Grenfell are likely to reach far into the future.

Within Wales, the reaction has been swift: the Welsh Government set up an expert group to examine all the lessons to emerge from the Grenfell Tower tragedy and what they mean for Wales. Housing associations have sought to reassure their tenants and the public that none of their high-rises have the same type of cladding as was used in Grenfell.

Despite this, however, we believe few landlords have so far sent samples of cladding for testing via the free service set up by the UK Government. This has led Carl Sergeant AM, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, to order social landlords to use the service if they suspect this type of cladding might have been used.

This is a highly welcome move in light of new information suggesting that two areas in Wales may have high-rises using that type of cladding.

Social tenants in Wales deserve solid test results, not verbal reassurances.

But what about the thousands of people in Wales who live in private high-rises, either as tenants or homeowners? What reassurances can they be given?

Back in 2011, Ann Jones AM came in for severe criticism for proposing legislation to make sprinklers mandatory in all new builds. Four years after the law was finally passed, those who opposed it increasingly seem on the wrong side of history.

But it’s not currently clear whether sprinklers would have averted the disaster at Grenfell. And there are many high-rises in Wales built before the law came into force.

The UK Government has now offered the free testing service to private high-rise building managers and owners.

In Wales, we are better placed to reach out to private landlords and agents via Rent Smart Wales – the new mandatory licensing regime.

Welsh Government’s assertive response to Grenfell could be continued and strengthened by ordering the private rented sector to get cladding tested.

Looking further ahead, when the Welsh Government’s long-delayed Fitness for Human Habitation Regulations are finally published for consultation later this year, a focus on fire safety – and, crucially, enforcement of tenants’ rights – will be incredibly important.

We also need to ensure that tenants’ views are taken seriously – a challenge that will undoubtedly be harder in the wake of recent funding cuts to grassroots tenant groups.

In the meantime, the people of Wales have carried out many acts of solidarity with Grenfell residents, raising funds, offering spare beds and emergency supplies.

Sometimes it’s hard to see history repeating itself.

For rent: 3-bed family home, no DSS, no pets… no kids

Moving is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. Anyone who has had to move home will understand this, but put yourself in Emma’s shoes…

Imagine having to move with your child four times in three years, through no fault of your own. Worse yet, imagine that when you are searching for private rented properties they are either too expensive, too far away from your family and friends, or in a poor condition.

Imagine the relief you feel when you find a property in decent condition, affordable and in an area you and your family are familiar with. Now, just imagine for a minute how you would feel when the letting agent tells you, ’Sorry, it’s not suitable for children’.

This is a three bedroom house in a residential area.

Anyone who has recently had to look for private rented properties will be aware of the all-too-common ‘No DSS, No Pets, No Smokers’ restrictions. But with local private rented markets becoming increasingly competitive, some are now adding ‘No Children’ to the ever-growing list of undesirable tenant characteristics.

Emma’s story is not an isolated case. Evidence from our casework has highlighted that this is an increasingly common issue facing our private renter clients.

A quick property search online throws up plenty of examples including a four bedroom house , two bedroom ground floor flat and three bedroom house  for rent in residential areas of Cardiff. Two of these are advertised as a ‘family home’, yet all include an extensive list of restrictions, including children.

So not quite a family home then?

Each of these properties would provide a lovely home for a family with gardens, local amenities and local schools. Why are they then off limits for children? Are there legitimate reasons, or are there judgements and assumptions being made about families that are putting children at increased risk of homelessness?

Considering around 112,000 children are living in private rented accommodation in Wales, this is a worrying trend. These restrictions make it increasingly difficult for families to access what is already an overheated market.

Our caseworkers are reporting that it is almost impossible for our clients to secure private rented accommodation, especially in Cardiff. This is adding to the length of time households spend homeless or in insecure and temporary housing.

The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 highlighted the need for the private rented sector to step up and play a key role in accommodating households in Wales. But the high demand for homes is clearly resulting in increasingly choosy landlords. This works against the Welsh Government’s wider aim to prevent homelessness.

Luckily, in the end Emma managed to find a new home. But after weeks of fruitless searching she had only 10 days to carry out the move, making what is already a highly stressful experience considerably harder.

The obvious solution to this problem – although far from a quick fix – is to invest heavily in social housing to take the heat out of the private rented market and force landlords to be a little less picky. This is a message that Welsh Government is acting on already. But tenants shouldn’t have to wait for years or even decades for market forces to shift in their favour.

What can we do about this now, in Wales? Rent Smart Wales has introduced mandatory landlord licensing, together with a Code of Practice that all landlords must follow. This would be an ideal vehicle for addressing discrimination against families – and given Welsh Government’s support for the rights of the child, including the right to housing, perhaps this is an issue where Wales should be taking the lead.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Welsh Government’s drive to improve private rented housing could give Emma’s child, and other children, a better chance of finding a good home?

Homelessness and failure to cooperate: we need to talk about this

There’s an aspect of Welsh homelessness legislation that we’ve always been deeply uncomfortable with.

When the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 gave new powers to local authorities to discharge their homelessness duties if they decided that a household is ‘unreasonably failing to cooperate’, we and others predicted it would lead to highly vulnerable people being excluded from assistance.

But trends are now emerging in our casework which suggest that the effect of failure to cooperate is running even deeper, even working against Wales’ whole approach to prevention.

Let’s illustrate this. A few weeks ago, one of our caseworkers took a call from a council homelessness officer who said that they were investigating failure to cooperate in relation to a client of ours. The client was a private tenant who’d been threatened by her landlord and illegally evicted. The homelessness officer wanted to know whether she’d been in touch with us – saying that if she hadn’t, then the council would be looking to refuse to provide her and her family with temporary accommodation.

This, of course, rang immediate alarm bells for our caseworker. We confirmed to the council that the only reason our client hadn’t been in recent contact was because there hadn’t been any change in her situation, not because she was failing to cooperate. Thankfully, the council had a change of heart and agreed to accommodate her and her family.

This isn’t the only time we’ve been asked to inform against our clients in relation to failure to cooperate. It raises a number of worrying questions.

  1. How much resource are councils spending on investigating failure to cooperate? The Housing Act was supposed to signal a shift of resource away from investigations and towards helping people. But while intentionality has fallen to historically low levels, failure to cooperate has taken its place: since April 2016, rates of failure to cooperate have been eight times higher than rates of intentionality. Failure to cooperate is the outcome for 6.3 per cent of households owed a duty – a sizeable chunk of the 20 per cent who are currently dropping out of the system due to failure to cooperate, withdrawal of application or other reason. In short, failure to cooperate has become the new intentionality – the new reason not to help people.
  2. How aware of this are other providers? Do support workers realise that if they give information to the council about their clients’ engagement, they might be unwittingly jeopardising their rights to homelessness assistance?
  3. Some councils are clearly taking failure to cooperate extremely seriously. One urban authority is requiring applicants to keep a ‘reasonable steps diary’ to account for all the time they spend house-hunting. The Code of Guidance encourages councils to put in place a wide range of interventions – but with this narrow focus on failure to cooperate, lots of reasonable steps might actually work against people’s best interests. The more comprehensive the Personal Housing Plan, the more hurdles there are to catch people out. There’s a tension here at the heart of the legislation and it needs to be addressed.
  4. Finally, there’s a valid question to be asked about councils’ interpretation of ‘engagement’. The statutory Code of Guidance is not very specific about this. Are councils taking into account what the stress of homelessness does to a person’s ability to be fully on the case? Have they had training in trauma-informed practice? How sustained does ‘failure to cooperate’ have to get before a person has their rights removed?

More research is needed to understand what’s going on. In the meantime, perhaps the next review of the Code of Guidance can provide some clarity, and remind councils that support, not investigations, is the best use of resources.

Why is rough sleeping on the rise in Wales?

The latest rough sleeper figures for Wales are a shocking confirmation of what many of us have suspected for some time now.

Anyone walking the streets of our cities and towns can’t fail to notice how many people are bedding down in the open air, even on the coldest nights of the year.

Everyone is talking about it. But until now we haven’t had any national data to tell us how steep the rise is.

The figures published by Welsh Government this week from their annual monitoring exercise suggest that rough sleeping has gone up 30 per cent in the space of a year, from 240 to 313.

It’s a much steeper increase than England’s, which at 16 per cent still made national news.

And it confirms what many service providers in Wales have been saying: the Wallich’s outreach teams have recorded consistent rises in the number of rough sleepers in all the areas they cover, apart from Bridgend, over the last three years.

We’re also seeing many more rough sleepers at Shelter Cymru – 568 in the last year, which is an alarming 63 per cent higher than the year before.

So what’s going on? Why is it that, despite the successes of our new homelessness legislation, and despite the Welsh Government’s long-term aim to end the need to sleep rough, more and more people are still experiencing street homelessness?

Our inability to tackle this problem partly stems from the inadequacy of our monitoring data. We simply don’t know enough about the extent and nature of rough sleeping to be able to fix it.

Officially, the stats from the Welsh Government’s monitoring exercise aren’t comparable from one year to the next due to differences in the way the figures are gathered.

For Government statistics, this simply isn’t good enough. What we really need is a year-round monitoring regime, supplemented with more in-depth work to learn from people sleeping rough about what they need.

We’ve made great progress in preventing homelessness in Wales over the last few years. But while our legal reforms have meant more people being successfully helped than ever before, people who are living on the streets are still falling through the net.

Our casework suggests that the causes are complex. Austerity and benefits cuts have certainly been contributing factors, along with a severe lack of affordable housing.

We have very little Housing First accommodation in Wales, which is often a better option for people with long-term mental health and substance misuse problems.

There are also issues with some of our emergency accommodation. Our clients often tell us they are too scared of conditions in there, and would rather sleep on the street. This might be one reason why the Welsh Government’s monitoring exercise found that 24 per cent of bed spaces were empty on the night of the count.

Sometimes rough sleepers aren’t even given the option of emergency accommodation. We regularly see clients who are sleeping rough and have been told by their council that they aren’t vulnerable enough to be classed as priority need – despite Welsh Government guidance saying that people sleeping rough ‘are likely to be vulnerable due to the health and social implications of their situation’.

Finally, there are not enough services out there that work flexibly and non-judgementally enough for people who are street homeless. We need more services that understand rough sleepers’ needs and can help them with employment and skills; money and benefits advice; and help to access and sustain tenancies.

Many of these factors are challenging to address, and some of them can’t be done by Wales alone. But we do have some things in our favour: good working relationships between agencies, a commitment to cooperation, and a good level of momentum from the recent successes of the homelessness legislation.

We don’t have big budgets for expensive research exercises, but we do have a shared will and determination to work together to end the need to sleep rough.

The scale of the challenge ahead of us is clear.