LEADING voices from the homeless and housing sectors have published a report calling for the Welsh Government to bring forward radical changes to the law to help end homelessness in Wales.

The panel’s work was informed by the views of more than 300 people with lived experience of homelessness, and wide engagement with professionals across the sector and beyond.

As part of the Welsh Government’s action plan to end homelessness, the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, called for an Expert Review Panel to be set up in March last year to consider how legislative change could help to end homelessness in Wales. The panel, which was convened by homeless charity Crisis, included professionals from the third sector, academia, housing associations and local authorities, and has been meeting for a year.

The report’s recommendations call for support for people facing homelessness to be more inclusive and trauma-informed, and for support to be provided much earlier so that homelessness can be better prevented. As part of this, the panel has recommended a role for wider public sector organisations in helping to identify those at risk of homelessness and liaising with housing services.

The report comes as the number of people seeking homeless support continues to rise – most recent statistics show that more than 12,500 people were supported by local authorities across Wales over the last year, a seven per cent increase on last year.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Chair of the Expert Review Panel and Director of I-SPHERE (Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research) at Heriot-Watt University said: “Through the establishment of this Expert Panel, the Welsh Government has demonstrated its clear commitment to delivering on its action plan to end homelessness. There are increasing numbers of people in Wales experiencing homelessness and the trauma that comes with it. If the Welsh Government chooses to move forward with the integrated package of recommendations in the report, the difference will be life-changing for many.

“We recognise that now is a challenging time in housing across Wales and that is why the panel report also considers enabling factors that would help create the environment needed for legislative change. I am pleased that despite the current difficulties we face, the Welsh Government has requested this report to seek a path to improved services and to prevent homelessness wherever possible. As pressure continues to build in the system, now is the time to take radical and bold action.”

Matt Downie, Crisis Chief Executive, tasked with convening the panel, said: “Everyone needs a safe place to call home and yet every day we see people who are facing impossible situations – sofa surfing, staying for months on end in places that were only ever meant to provide emergency shelter, and some who have been sleeping on the street. Bold action is needed to change this.

“It’s been a privilege to be asked by the Minister to co-ordinate the Expert Review Panel over the past year. We’re immensely proud of the recommendations in the report and believe they could pave the way for a fundamental shift in ways of working that would change many lives and help to end homelessness in Wales. Now it’s over to the Welsh Government to make these changes a reality. To do so would represent ground-breaking, historic and world-leading change.”

Julie James, said: “I welcome the considered and comprehensive report from the Expert Review Panel, which will provide the basis of our forthcoming White Paper on ending homelessness in Wales.

“I commend the panel for the collaborative, innovative and positive approach they have taken in making their recommendations and I look forward to continued partnership as we develop legislation that ensures homelessness in Wales is rare, brief and unrepeated.”

Katie Dalton, Director of Cymorth Cymru and panel member, added: “As part of our role on the Expert Review Panel, it has been a privilege to engage with over 300 people who have experienced or been at risk of homelessness, listening to their views on how the law needs to change. We are incredibly grateful for their time and expertise, and I am delighted that their views were taken so seriously by the panel and had such a significant impact on the report and recommendations.

“Experts by experience shared stories of trauma and frustration with the current system, but spoke with passion about their desire to influence and improve it for other people. They were clear that things need to change and we hope the Welsh Government adopts the recommendations in full.”

The panel report covers 171 recommendations spanning a range of issues. These include:

Calling for a stronger focus on preventing homelessness by:

  • Enabling people to access to homelessness support services when they are threatened with homelessness within six months as opposed to the current 56 days.
  • Introducing a new duty to offer support to help people retain accommodation.

Making homelessness support more inclusive, person-centred and trauma-informed by:

  • Calling for current laws which have been presenting barriers to people accessing support to be abolished or adapted. For example, abolishing current rules that limit the support given to single people.
  • Introducing new laws that enable systems to be more accessible as well as more sensitive and flexible around an individual’s circumstances. For example, by introducing greater flexibility when considering whether a person has a local connection to the area where they are seeking support.

Looking at wider collaborative working to end homelessness by:

  • Introducing new duties for public sector organisations and housing associations to help identify, act, refer and co-operate where a person is experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
  • Addressing current barriers in the system for groups that are at particular risk of homelessness.
  • Considering the role of social housing in allocating to homeless households who have a pressing need for housing, while acknowledging that there are also other groups in housing need.

* Read: Ending Homelessness in Wales: A legislative review here.

* Source: Crisis