Homeless Prevention Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

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.

I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Homeless Prevention Bill. I am sure all across this city and in towns across the State, there are many families who have received the news that they have dreaded, that their tenancy is being terminated, will not be renewed, and that they are being evicted. For many, with the rising costs of rents and the lack of accommodation, this means that they are at very serious risk of becoming homeless. The last thing any of us want to see is anybody becoming homeless. That is why we need to give more protection to tenants. In cases where a person has been given a notice to quit and is on the verge of homelessness, we would have supports in place to ensure that the local authority is obliged to work with them. It is ridiculous that we currently see families who present themselves as homeless being told to come back in a few weeks when they have no roof over their head, and then the local authority will deal with them. This is totally unacceptable. Not only that, but we also have a situation where young people leaving a detention facility or people leaving hospital after a long stay or suffering from mental illness may need particular supports in place before they leave their care settings. This Bill is about giving a legal definition of a person at risk of homelessness. It is about ensuring that there is a plan in place before a person becomes homeless. It also aims to give the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and local authorities the power to work with those at risk of homelessness before they are out on the street.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.