Bergamo Declaration

Implement innovative and effective approaches to fight homelessness in Europe.

Poverty has been increasing since the launch of the Europe 2020 agenda.  Indeed, since its adoption in 2010, 6 million more people are now living in poverty and social exclusion in the European Union (EU).  The EU has drifted away from the target it set itself in 2010 of lifting 20 million people out of poverty.

Rising poverty has also led to a dramatic rise in homelessness and the number of people threatened by eviction in the majority of EU Member States.

Homelessness is a pressing social challenge throughout the EU. It denies people access to fundamental rights and incurs significant societal costs. In the context of its commitment to fighting poverty and social exclusion, the EU plays an important role in supporting Member States to develop and maintain strategies to combat homelessness.

FEANTSA gathered around 450 practitioners and activists on homelessness at its 2014 Policy Conference ”Confronting homelessness in the EU“ held in Bergamo, Italy. Conference participants discussed a wide range of challenges in the fight against homelessness at European level and beyond, as well as the solutions to homelessness that exist, some of them new and innovative.

With a new European Commission and European Parliament, the European Union is at a turning point.  In her recent inaugural hearing, Commissioner-elect for Social Affairs, Employment and Inclusion, Marianne Thyssen said that homelessness was obviously a priority for her.  FEANTSA welcomes this recognition of the importance of homelessness.

FEANTSA therefore urges the EU and its Member States (MS) to implement innovative and more effective approaches in the fight against homelessness:

  1. The EU and MS should design integrated action plans on all policy levels to deal with the rise in homelessness and evictions.
  2. They should tackle the rising proportion of EU-migrants among people who are homeless. While maintaining the right to free movement of EU citizens, migration policy must be renewed to provide greater security for EU citizens who have migrated to other Members states.
  3. They should accept that poverty and homelessness are not lifestyle choices and that people should not be punished or criminalised for their destitution.
  4. There should be more support for homeless people and those threatened by eviction in housing policy – including using eviction prevention schemes and access to housing, for example through the proven programme ”Housing First“, as keys to reducing homelessness.
  5. The EU – through Eurostat – and MS should collect data on homelessness in order to inform effective homelessness strategies.
  6. The EU and MS should take account of the legal and rights-based dimension of homelessness.
  7. The EU and MS should make use of the Structural Funds in efforts to combat homelessness.

Bergamo, 24.10.2014


 

This publication is supported by the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity – PROGRESS (2007-2013). This programme is implemented by the European Commission. It was established to financially support the implementation of the objectives of the European Union in the employment, social affairs and equal opportunities area, and thereby contribute to the achievement of the Europe 2020 Strategy goals in these fields.

The seven-year Programme targets all stakeholders who can help shape the development of appropriate and effective employment and social legislation and policies, across the EU-27, EFTA-EEA and EU candidate and pre-candidate countries.

For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/progress.

The information contained in this publication does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of the European Commission.

FEANTSA works with the European Commission, the contracting authority for the four-year partnership agreement under which this publication has received funding.

Homelessness figures April – June 2014

Figures published today show that the number of homelessness acceptances and applications both dropped during the quarter April to June 2014. The number of households accepted as homeless has been dropping since last April, but this is the first quarter since 2011-12 that the number of applications has dropped as well.

Previously, we have been very concerned about this growing disparity between applications and acceptances, which to us suggested that local authorities might be taking a harder approach. It is too soon to say whether the decrease in applications is the start of a trend or just a one-off blip, but as our recent research with CAB shows, many families in Wales are still under considerable financial pressure and it is unlikely that this will change overnight.

Source: http://wales.gov.uk/statistics-and-research/homelessness/?lang=en

Minister congratulates advice services

An additional 9,000 people benefited from advice services last year thanks to Welsh Government grants, exceeding expectations by a third.

Last year Jeff Cuthbert, Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister, announced grants to a number of organisations to give free advice to an extra 6,723 people during 2013/14. However 8,942 people were eventually helped by the money.

Jeff Cuthbert said:

“I’m delighted that advice services were able to exceed their own expectations and use Welsh Government grants to see more people than expected.

“Free advice services are more important than ever given the current economic climate and the impact welfare changes are having on whole communities. Thousands of people rely on specialist, expert advice, but funding is being squeezed at the very time when more people are turning to them for help.

“We are committed to taking action to provide practical help to people living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty. The funding of advice services is a practical example of this.

“In the coming weeks I will be announcing further funding for advice services across Wales.”

Last year’s grants went to organisations providing free, independent information and advice on managing finances and dealing with discrimination.

Agencies who received grants were: Advice UK, Age Cymru Partnership, Citizens Advice Cymru, Law Centres Network, RNIB, Shelter Cymru, SNAP Cymru, Welsh Refugee Council, Race Equalities First and the Royal Association for Deaf People’s Deaf Law Centre.

Seventy per cent of people in Wales worry about rising living costs

Rising living costs are leaving thousands of Welsh families struggling to cope financially, with many cutting back on food and heating to try to make ends meet, according to new research published today.

The shocking figures, published by Citizens Advice Cymru and Shelter Cymru, were announced by Llanelli MP Nia Griffith at the National Eisteddfod in Carmarthenshire.

The research reveals that seventy per cent of Welsh adults are worried about the rise in the cost of living and more than half (59%) are struggling to keep up with bills and credit commitments.

The price of food, petrol and energy are particular concerns; nearly half of those questioned (48 per cent) said that they were consciously cutting back on their use of gas and electricity due to the current economic climate, 37 per cent are spending less on groceries and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) are reducing their car use.

Meanwhile more than half (55%) of those who pay rent or a mortgage struggle with their payments, with 18 per cent struggling constantly. This figure has risen over the last year – a similar survey in July 2013 showed that 12 per cent struggled constantly with paying their rent or mortgage.

Worryingly, thousands of households appear to have no financial safety net, with 25 per cent of those currently in employment saying that they would not be able to pay their rent or mortgage at all if they lost their job.

In last year’s survey, this figure was 17 per cent and the charities suggest that the increase could be a result of people no longer being able to put aside money for emergencies.

John Puzey, Director, Shelter Cymru, said:

“We are still clearly a very long way from an economic recovery in Wales. Not only are thousands of families struggling to cope financially, but our research shows that the number of people finding themselves in serious difficulties is increasing year on year.

“Cutting back on food and heating in order to meet the rent or mortgage can only ever be a short-term measure. A severe winter or an increase in interest rates could be all it takes for families to hit crisis point and potentially lose their home.

“Besides the devastating impact that this has on the health and well-being of individuals concerned, especially children, dealing with the outcomes of homelessness has significant financial impacts on local services, which themselves are experiencing severe funding cuts.”

Fran Targett, Director, Citizens Advice Cymru, said:

“Every day, our bureaux in Wales are seeing increasing numbers of people who are struggling to maintain a decent standard of living in the face of welfare changes and rising living costs.

“Many families are frequently having to go without basics, such as food, adequate heating and clothes in order to keep up with rent payments and meet essential households bills.”

Launching the report, Nia Griffith MP said:

“This report is absolutely horrifying, and it brings home the reality of just how close to the breadline thousands of people across Wales are. People are really struggling with the cost of living crisis, and are desperately trying to cut back on essentials like heating and eating.

“Citizens Advice and Shelter Cymru are on the frontline, and they see the fear and misery on people’s faces every day. I would like to thank them for producing this report which should act as a wake-up call: it is clear evidence that we need far-reaching changes to tackle this situation, such as a freeze on energy prices, a commitment to bring the minimum wage up to 60 per cent of average median earnings and sensible benefit reform that does not leave vulnerable people without the help they need.”

The charities say that the research highlights once again the vital role that independent advice services have in helping people to manage debt and housing problems, and the need for these free services to be safeguarded and promoted.

Fran Targett added:

“Citizens Advice and Shelter Cymru have demonstrated time and again the value of free independent advice, both in supporting people in difficulties and in reducing pressures on local services. This research shows that we have never been more needed.”

Notes
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1003 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23 – 26 July 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Welsh adults (aged 18+).
2013 study: Same methodology, 1,009 adults, conducted online between 16th – 18th July 2013.

Citizens Advice Cymru
Citizens Advice is the largest, integrated, third sector provider of advice in Wales, operating from over 240 community premises in Wales. With bureau services in every local authority area in the country, we help people to resolve their money, benefit, legal, employment and other problems.

Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.6 million problems from April 2012 to March 2013. For full 2012/2013 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends.

This year, the Citizens Advice service celebrates its 75th anniversary. We’ve planned a year of activity running from January to December 2014. Contact the press office to find out more.

Shelter Cymru
Shelter Cymru is Wales’s People and Homes charity. We have offices all over Wales and prevent people from losing their homes by offering free, confidential and independent advice.

Last year we helped nearly 15,000 people, preventing homelessness in 89 per cent of the cases where it was faced, while more than 140,000 people visited our website looking for help.

Homelessness figures June 2014

The most recent homelessness figures published by the Welsh Government show a continuation of the trend of increasing numbers of people applying for help coupled with a drop in those actually accepted as homeless.

Since 2010-11, the percentage of applicants accepted as homeless has been falling on an annual basis with less than a third of applicants accepted (32 per cent) during 2013-14. Meanwhile, applicants deemed to be eligible for help but not homeless rose from around 30 per cent of all applications to 43 per cent in 2013-14.

As we’ve noted previously, this is a worrying trend. We hope that some of the fall in homelessness acceptances is due to better prevention work on the part of local authorities, but realistically this cannot account for it all.

The alternative is that local authorities are responding to cuts in their funding by adopting a more hardline approach to homelessness applications. We have seen examples in our casework of people not being given the help that they are entitled to that strongly suggests this is the case.

This rationing of resources is understandable but it is clearly not a solution; rather it just defers the inevitable, forcing people to the point of absolute crisis before they can get help.

Stung by hidden letting fees?

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Since 1 November 2013, letting agents must provide information upfront on what fees they charge.

If you’ve been stung by hidden fees, tell us about it and we’ll pass it on to the Advertising Standards Authority to take action.

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Debt advice services

Did you know that Shelter Cymru provides free, specialist, independent, confidential debt advice across Wales?

We have face-to-face advisers in the Bridgend, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Gwynedd areas. Surgeries are offered at convenient locations on a drop-in and appointment basis. See our page on debt advice for more details.

Outside of these areas we can provide advice over the phone. Please call our specialist advisers on 0345 075 5005.

 

Our advisers can help with a wide range of debts, including:

  • mortgage arrears
  • rent arrears
  • council tax arrears
  • bailiff actions
  • utility bills arrears
  • county court judgments
  • credit card debts
  • loans
  • secured loans
  • hire purchase agreements
  • doorstep lending
  • catalogue
  • overdrafts.

This service is funded by the Money Advice Service.

New calls to tackle empty homes

Our director John Puzey is on Wales This Week on Monday talking about the need to do more to get empty homes back into use. We’ve done a lot of work over in recent years to get empty homes on to the political agenda so we’re really pleased to see that all parties now acknowledge how important a resource they could be in addressing housing need in Wales. You can read more about our position on empty homes here, including a quick and easy way to report empty properties in your area to you local council. Further details about the programme are available on ITV Wales’s site here.