14/07/2006

£50m to tackle homelessness and overcrowding

The government has today announced that it is to award £50 million to tackle the problem of homelessness and overcrowding in London.

The new funds will help vulnerable families living in the capital, alongside a public consultation, which was also announced today, on raising outdated statutory overcrowding standards which haven't changed for 70 years.

£30 million of investment will go towards helping councils provide settled homes for families currently living in temporary accommodation, and expanding similar schemes already operating in Newham and Ealing.

This innovative approach uses housing benefit to help purchase homes for families who would otherwise be in insecure and very expensive private sector accommodation, with no certainty about how long they could live there.

The remaining £20 million will be targeted at helping councils tackle overcrowding with schemes to carry out loft extensions or provide support for single people who want to move out of family homes.

The overcrowding standard hasn't changed since 1935. This means that the current national statutory overcrowding standards (the Room Standard and the Space Standard) are set out in Part X of the Housing Act 1985. Under the Housing Act a dwelling is overcrowded if either of the standards is contravened.

The Room Standard is breached if two people of opposite sexes who are not living together as husband and wife must sleep in the same room. Living rooms and kitchens as well as bedrooms can be treated as available sleeping accommodation. Children under 10 do not count.

The Space Standard specifies the number of people who may sleep in a dwelling according to the number of rooms and their floor area. Two calculations are required and the lower number applies. Babies under one year do not count, and children under 10 count as half.

Some local councils will not give overcrowded families priority for relocation until they breach statutory standards, and because of this, the Government is consulting on options for raising standards and building them into allocation policies.

Speaking at a Shelter conference this week, Housing Minister Yvette Cooper said:

"It is now 40 years since Cathy Come Home exposed all that was wrong with the welfare system. Since then, we have made great progress with higher standards of protection which would ensure her experiences would not be repeated today. But overcrowding standards were out of date even in Cathy's day. And they are truly shocking today. Demand for housing in London is high. The only answer in the long term to address overcrowding is to build more homes, including bigger family homes. But in the meantime we can do more for families who are in desperate housing need today."

Earlier this year, Ms Cooper announced that the proportion of new social housing of three or more bedrooms to be built in London will be increased from 27% to 34% over the next two years of the affordable housing programme.

The Minister also announced that 12 local authorities and one housing association have been selected as homelessness Regional Champions for 2006/07.

They will work with other local authorities to provide support and share good practice to prevent homelessness.

(EF/SP)

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