That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled An Act to amend the Housing Act 1988 to provide a legal definition of persons at risk of homelessness and to give the Minister for Housing and local authorities the power to provide such persons with supports to prevent them from becoming homeless.
As the House knows, the homeless crisis continues to deepen. The vast majority of individuals and families who are presenting to our local authorities are either losing their homes because of vacant possession, notices to quit, through repossession, or are living in unacceptable and heavily overcrowded properties, leading to stress and eventually to homelessness. In almost all these cases, it is known well before the family becomes homeless that they are at risk of homelessness, yet there is no systematic mechanism in place to try to prevent families from entering emergency accommodation or, worse, sleeping rough. What happens when these families present to local authorities? In many cases, unfortunately, they are turned away and told to come back when the notice to quit expires or when they have evidence that they can no longer live in overcrowded and unacceptable family accommodation. Some local authorities are, thankfully, giving families in these situations access to homeless housing assistance payment, HAP, two months or three months out from the notice to quit. They are then left to their own devices, often in very difficult circumstances, to find HAP accommodation, and without any other supports to deal with some of the issues that there may be in their lives.
This Bill does something very straightforward. It places an obligation on local authorities to do an assessment of these individuals or families at a minimum of 60 days before they become homeless and, on the basis of that assessment, put in place a plan and additional supports to prevent them from becoming homeless. This type of legislation was introduced last year and enacted in England and Wales at the start of this year. Homeless organisations say that it is a model to try to ensure consistency across our local authorities and a greater focus on prevention. When I raised the matter with the Minister recently, he gave the impression that this is happening across all local authorities. I genuinely wish it was but it is not. There is some good practice in some local authorities but it depends on the individual, on the day and on the circumstances affecting the family. We are saying that there should be a clear obligation. If a person walks into a local authority today with his or her partner and children and will be homeless in 60 days, the local authority should have to do an assessment, produce a plan and provide the wraparound supports, whether they are currently there or not, to ensure that before that 60 days transpires, those people do not go into emergency accommodation.
We still have the ludicrous situation of an ever-growing number of families who are in the rental accommodation scheme who have vacant possession or notices to quit. They still are not being told by the local authorities whether they can access HAP, homeless HAP or other options to increase their chances. I know this is not a straightforward issue. This is technical legislation and we can argue over its wording but I urge the Minister to look at the spirit and principle of it and see if he could work with it in the future to ensure every effort is made to prevent individuals and families such as these from becoming homeless.