Homelessness and rough sleeping: lessons to be learnt from lockdown?

Matilda Rubens, Consultant in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, property litigation team.
Matilda Rubens
4 min Read

What is The 'Everyone In' initiative?

The 'Everyone In' initiative was launched by the Government on 26 March 2020 with the aim of providing emergency accommodation to all who needed it and to ensure that no one was left without a roof over their head during the pandemic.

The Government said that those experiencing homelessness, particularly if sleeping on the street, were particularly vulnerable during the pandemic as they were three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition, including a respiratory condition, if they contracted Covid 19.

It also was not possible to self-isolate or follow sanitation guidance if a person was sleeping rough or living in shared homeless accommodation.

'Everyone In'

The Government therefore asked local authorities to “help make sure we get everyone in” including those who would not normally be entitled to assistance under the current homelessness legislation.

The task was an enormous challenge for local authorities who at short notice had to block book hotel rooms and secure other en suite accommodation (such as B&B, student residences and holiday rentals) and worked with other voluntary organisations to ensure that those accommodated had the food, medical care and support they needed during these very difficult times.

The scheme was hailed as a huge success by ministers, with the Government claiming that more than 37,000 individuals had been housed as part of the initiative. It was claimed that the efforts saved lives and created a foundation on which to end rough sleeping.

The homeless charity St Mungo’s helped more than 4,000 people through the scheme and operated 30 hotels in London and the South-East. The ONS reported an estimated decrease by 11.6% of homeless deaths in England and Wales compared to the year before.

Challenges to the scheme

However, despite these efforts and additional central government funding to assist local authorities, many rough sleepers were still turned away for homelessness support and emergency accommodation on the basis that they were not eligible for assistance due to their immigration status.

One case which challenged the policy involved a Mr Ncube, who in September 2020 approached Brighton and Hove Council for homelessness support. He had previously fled Zimbabwe to seek asylum in the UK but his homelessness claim has been refused (R (Ncube) v Brighton and Hove City Council [2021] EWCA 578 (Admin).

Mr Ncube suffered with poor mental health, diabetes and was visually impaired. He applied to the local authority as homeless but his application was refused on the basis his immigration status meant he was ineligible for assistance under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996, as he had no recourse to public funds.

This was not disputed but his solicitors argued the local authority should have considered powers outside the usual homelessness legislation to assist him and provide him with accommodation as he was vulnerable, destitute and homeless during the pandemic, and so accommodation should have been provided pursuant to the Everyone In scheme.

The local authority refused to provide accommodation and Mr Ncube’s solicitors issued judicial review proceedings, with the charity Shelter being granted permission to intervene as an interested party.

By the time of the hearing, the client had been provided with accommodation under different legislation by the Home Office. Although the High Court said the case was academic, they agreed that the conditions were met for hearing the case given the questions of law imposed and its importance for many rough sleepers.

The court subsequently ruled that, while the public health emergency persisted, local councils could lawfully provide accommodation to those sleeping rough who would otherwise be ineligible for support under the Housing Act 1996, due to their immigration status. Councils could use powers under S138 of the Local Government Act 1972 and Section 2B of the NHS Act 2006 to provide safe emergency accommodation as the current pandemic constituted an emergency and public health issue.

Implication of the case

The ruling was heralded a success by Shelter on the basis that it would have major implications for local authority homelessness services, to ensure that everyone was brought in during the pandemic whether or not they would normally be eligible for assistance under the Housing Act 1996 (as amended).

However, a further challenge to the scheme was then brought by a rough sleeper who was denied accommodation in April 2021 when he applied to the London Borough of Camden as homeless with no recourse to public funds. Camden argued that the Everyone In scheme had ended and so they did not have to provide accommodation to this applicant.

At the subsequent hearing of this judicial review challenge (R(ZLL) v SSHCLG [2022], EWCH 85 (Admin), the High Court ruled that the Everyone In scheme was a “call to action” and not a policy. The judgement said that it could not properly be described as prescriptive policy guidance but only as “an initiative” which the Secretary of State was not bound by.

Lessons to be learnt?

John Sparkes, CEO of Crisis, said: “Last year we saw brilliant but short-lived measures that dramatically reduced the numbers of people sleeping rough. But the commitments made at the start of the pandemic have fallen away and the progress is now in imminent danger of being lost.”

Shelter recently reported that fewer than one in four homeless people housed by the Government’s Everyone In scheme had moved into permanent accommodation and figures from the Greater London Authority (GLA) showed that, in fact, there was a 3% increase in the number of rough sleepers recorded in London during 2020/21 up from 2019/20.

There is no doubt that the scheme was a short term success delivered during very difficult times and it showed what could be achieved when local authorities worked collaboratively with the voluntary sector.

However, although the Government has since announced plans to tackle rough sleeping, with additional funding, it seems we will not be able to build on the success of the 'Everyone In' scheme unless there is a long term strategy implemented to support some of the most vulnerable in society.

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