3rd All-Party Parliamentary Group on Households in Temporary Accommodation.
Wednesday 18th January, 14.00-15.30, hybrid meeting
Room Q, Portcullis House
Joint Secretariats: Shared Health Foundation (SHF) and Justlife (JL)
Attendees in Person:
Sam Pratt (SHF), Dr Laura Neilson (SHF), Alex Procter (Justlife), Christa Maciver (Justlife), MP Rebecca Long-Bailey (Labour, Secretary), MP Bob Blackman (Conservative, Vice chair), MP Stephen Timms (Labour, Vice chair), MP Karen Buck (Labour, Vice chair), Baroness Natalie Bennett (Green party, Vice chair), MP Paula Barker (Labour, ), MP Felicity Buchan (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State DLUHC), Lorna Fraser (Head of Homelessness Strategy & Policy DLUHC), Professor Peter Fleming (NCMD), Sylvia Stoianova (NCMD), Vicky Sleap (NCMD), Nick Jeyarajah (Citizens UK), Michael Buchanan (BBC reporter)
Number of attendees online: 112
To a) launch and present the APPG’s report which magnifies the substandard conditions of TA based on the findings from the Call for Evidence survey (2022).
b) propose a 7-point policy plan, the first of which to bring TA under the scope of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill whereby, the conditions of TA can be scrutinised to decent standards.
c) create action plan for next APPG meeting.
14.00 Rebecca Long-Bailey (RLB) MP for Salford & Eccles acting as Chair for MP Siobhain McDonagh.
RLB Welcomed and introduced agenda for meeting:
- Quick introduction from co-secretariats
- Reflections from Minister of Housing & Homelessness Felicity Buchan
- Presentation from NCMD Prof Peter Fleming
- Clinical and social reflections from Dr Laura Neilson
- Policy requests and next steps from co-secretariats
- Q&A from in the room and online
14:05 Sam Pratt (SP) Welcomed and thanked everyone. Proceeded to highlight following points:
- Following first APPG meeting last year Call for Evidence survey was launched (April 2022). The aim for this was to collate evidence of state of TA across England from lived experiences.
- Evidence includes disrepair, accessibility issues, lack of support, poor maintenance, and safeguarding risks. The report is a collection of those findings.
- National Child Mortality data uncovered – 34 child death cases where homelessness and TA were a contributing factor.
- TA is under regulated and current consumer standards are not enforced.
- Our aim is to look at solutions and policy to improve lives of 90,000 plus households and 120,000 plus children living in TA
14.10 Felicity Buchan Thanked co-secretariats for report and proceeded to make the following reflections and objectives from Department of Levelling up Housing & Communities (DLUHC):
- We want to work to improve housing regardless of which tenure, private or social.
- We value your experience and are determined to work in corporation with your organisations and NCMD.
- We were shocked to hear about Awaab Ishak’s case. We are determined to address issues such a mould from across the board. We are on the right track but there is further to go.
- TA crosses both social and private rented sectors (PRS). With PRS we will bring forth the Renters Reform Bill, introducing a 12-point plan into legislation including a new single Ombudsman to give tenants further rights to hold landlords accountable. There is also the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, currently in its report stage of legislation at House of Lords. We’ll be thinking of ways to apply these consultations effectively.
- We need to ensure standards of TA are good, and that there are no more child deaths.
FB introduced Head of Homelessness Strategy & Policy Lorna Fraser. FB explained that Lorna will remain for the rest of the meeting on her behalf but cannot take Q&A
RLB -FB Inquired over update on TA amendment to be under Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, so standards can be improved.
FB Made following response:
- As TA covers both social and private rented sectors, we do not think it would be appropriate for regulation of TA to be included under the Regulator for Social Housing.
- Our aim is to be transparent – we do not think it will work as this will overburden the Regulator.
- We want to explore how regulation and Local Authority (LA) licensing best practice can be as good as it can be.
FB left meeting at 14:15
RLB introduced Professor Peter Fleming (PF), National Child Mortality Database (NCMD)
14:15 PF Thanked co-secretariats for the presentation and proceeded to explain the child mortality data in association with homelessness:
- The NCMD collate information from the statutory child death review process on all children in England who die before their 18th Birthday. All child deaths must be notified within 48 hours.
- 56 Child Death Overview Panels (CDOPs) review all deaths in children to ensure lessons are learned.
- NCMD look at all unexpected and unexplained deaths and analyse data to learn how and what led to a child’s death and how to prevent this from happening again.
- Infants under 1 year – there was a modifiable factor between unexplained deaths of infants and deprivation.
- 72% of unexplained deaths in infants from unsafe sleeping arrangements and 8% from a poor housing environment. Unsafe sleeping was main cause of child deaths associated with extreme poverty.
Mothers want to create a safe sleeping environment for the child but the lack of provision of cots and space for them forces the mother to co-sleep with their infant.
- 123 of the 212 child deaths reviewed in 2020/21 where main issue identified was housing – cases contained evidence linking to deprivation. This includes families being based in TA or being moved frequently to new accommodation, creating unsecure living environments for the child/children.
- Overcrowding was another theme identified and associated with deprivation and poor housing. Others included damp/mould and disrepair.
- 33 child death cases where homelessness was mentioned – most common themes of child deaths were from single mothers with babies who died prematurely, families with young children and young single people.
- Over a fifth of all child deaths might be avoided if children living in the most deprived areas had the same mortality risk as those living in the least deprived.
- Child deaths reported between 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2022 – 200 individual records of homelessness and TA present in child’s life at some stage.
- 34 cases of child deaths where TA and homelessness may have been a contributing factor.
- UK ranked 22 out of 23 in Western Europe for under 5 mortality rates.
- Housing can be linked as the biggest cause of death.
Actions for DLUHC & Local Authorities:
- Robust system in place for identifying families living in poor housing conditions and prioritising them within housing allocation schemes. We found that for example if a family has 3 children and one dies, they are automatically moved down priority list for housing.
- Housing officers and Local Authorities must carry out appropriate checks on housing to ensure it is suitable for children (infants) and carers to prevent risk of child death.
- Recognition that a cot during prioritisation for housing must be in place during allocation of families with infants under 2 to practice safe sleeping.
- Locally and nationally, we must take action to see what we can change and how we can stop this from occurring again.
RLB Thanked Professor Peter Fleming for his reflection and welcomed Dr Laura Neilson (LN) to the panel.
14:25 LN Introduced herself and her role as A&E doctor and within SHF, then proceeded to reflect on the clinical and social case studies of homelessness on the ground:
- Most common cases I see are mothers fleeing domestic violence.
- These mothers are often put into substandard TA and/or environments that are unsafe inducing further trauma.
- We often see these mothers moved multiple times and out of area, miles away from local hospitals or cities – difficult to keep track of and easy to lose contact with them.
- This makes them extremely vulnerable – with no eyes on them and no automatic system to inform services such as GPs, schools etc of the families’ situation and needs.
- Multiple moves and poor communication create an unstable living environment for children. Children experiencing this will find it difficult to remain in one school, and/or have good educational attainment. It can take a child 9 months to settle into a school. Children are also at risk of being expelled especially if schools are unaware of family’s situation.
- Our project Healthy Gems has massively helped many pregnant mothers and families experiencing homelessness and fleeing domestic violence. Support for women however, is very dire.
- These women are often placed in TA such as hotels that are not like holiday hotels. The rooms supplied by these hotels are small often providing only bunk beds, minimal to no basic provisions, and no room for cots.
- To deny a mother with an infant a cot is just awful. Landlords providing TAs are paid vast amounts of money and they can afford to provide the family with a cot.
- A cot is a life-saving equipment.
- We are far away from best practice, with 120,000 and more children currently living in TA and families (in some cases) given less than 24 hours notification of moving from TA to TA, the trauma will continue.
What we need:
- A cross communication between all relevant services such as housing, health, LA, etc.
- To understand the complexity of homelessness from trauma, domestic violence, and evictions.
I do not want children living in these conditions, I do not want this to keep happening in 10 years’ time as we the public put them further at risk. We can fix this; we can create a policy like NHS’ ‘never event’. Could we make it a ‘never event’ to have children placed in TA paid for by the public purse and there not be a cot?
RLB Thanked LN and introduced co-secretariats to disclose the 7-point policy plan.
14:35 Alex Procter & SP Announced copy of report available online via APPG website. Continued to disclose 7-point policy requests found in Chapter 5 of the Call for Evidence report:
1. Regulator for TA
We request for TA to be included under the scope of the Social Housing Regulation Bill. However, we are willing to explore other bills where regulation of TA can be strictly enforced. Wherever it lands, there must be nationally led standards in TA. We also want to consider how we can regulate TA under licenses that offer less security unlike other tenancies.
2. Basic facilities and adaptations in TA
Almost all evidence from the report showed poor maintenance such as stained beds, no hot water, broken light fixtures. We request that all TA to have the basic provisions, fixed and provided for the accommodation before households move in. Additionally, we want the provision of cots to be included in Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) legislation for all families with infants through the housing allocation scheme.
3. Support and Supervision for Housing Officers
A reproducible trauma-informed practice where supervision and support for housing officers who are regularly assisting households with trauma is given. There is an alarming rate of housing officers being overworked and under qualified to take on these caseloads.
4. Holistic support
When forced into homelessness and requesting help from LA, it is difficult to keep track of documents/paperwork needed, most especially if that person is experiencing trauma, eviction or placed out of area. This is why we are requesting wrap around support where advocacy for households can be provided and those struggling can be supported through every step of the homeless journey. Housing First and Healthy Gems are great examples of providing holistic support.
5. Notification system
We request a nationally led notification system linking housing, health, education, and other sectors to support families who have been placed in TA. This idea is based on ‘Operation Encompass’. It becomes a safeguarding issue when a child is placed into TA, and we must work to protect every child.
6. Transport access
We are aware that bus fare support is already provided for children living in TA however, the guidelines are complicated. Eligibility is based specifically on distance/miles from school and a child’s age. The system is also unclear, difficult to navigate and is limited to only school aged children. We are requesting the department for transport to provide clarity and support for all those experiencing living in TA. A TA bus pass can help children get their education, but it can also help adults access employment.
7. Mapping the Out Of Area (OOA) placement systems
One third of people are experiencing OOA causing disruption in their daily lives. We want the government to take a strategic approach to the growing trend of OOA placements to better enable Local Authorities to support those placed OOA. This includes improving communication between LAs and reducing the number of people placed OOA.
RLB Opened Q&A
Natalie Bennett (NB) Regulator for TA needs to be included under the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill (SHRB).
Bob Blackman I have discussed this with the Minister, and it is clear we need regulation in this sector. There was some confusion whether to add TA into the Supported Housing Regulatory (Oversight) Bill. I will investigate how we can include this into SHRB.
Stephen Timms There are already environmental officers and inspection officers in LAs. How are they not enforcing and inspecting the standards of TA?
SP The demand is so high and the capacity of housing officers in Local Authorities haven’t caught up due to lack of funding and resources. Salford has had a 238% increase on homeless household presentations pre/post covid.
Michael Buchanan Large office buildings are being converted into TA. To what extent are they regulated?
LN From what we see on the ground there isn’t any regulation.
NB These are usually industrial buildings far away from local networks. The environments are horrendous, and the rooms usually have only one small window and insufficient space.
Comments/Questions from Zoom chat
- In response to the Minister’s suggestion of local authorities regulating TA owned by private landlords. LAs can’t regulate TA as they’re the ones providing it – a local authority can’t take itself to court.
- It’s not simply providing a cot. It’s having the space to put it in the room where it’s not next to a radiator, under a window or next to a damp/mouldy wall.
- In London, more and more clients are bounced around hotels for months and months. And I’m sure it’s only a very small percentage who would get in touch with an organisation like mine for help.
- Too many TA providers treat it as nothing more than a business. The conditions are horrendous. There needs to be much more accountability.
- In terms of food, it’s such a basic need and isn’t addressed. Needs to be part of the support provided – or at the very least for families and individuals to have access to cooking facilities – proper cooking facilities not just a kettle and microwave!!
- And if they don’t then it should be flagged and dealt with – proportionate costs for TA providers based on what they are providing. If they don’t provide cooking facilities, they should cost less and the extra funds should go towards helping these people. E.g for core costs for many voluntary and third sector groups who are willing to help with food for people in TA – but many get their suggestions shut down or their emails left unanswered.
- People in TA can’t be expected to take the opportunity to better their lives when they are in survival mode thinking about how are they going to feed themselves and their family; how are their children going to learn well on a poor diet?
- We need more partnership working and creative thinking to help people in TA in the short term as well as the long term.
- I would like to ask that a notification system to NHS be included in the Strategy: we still have issues with LA’s (11 in Surrey) sharing information with, claiming GDPR, despite the fact that they know that out Inclusion Health Team know are.
- Is it normal for the council to tell families that properties that have not been inspected by themselves (the council) is fit for families to live in or is deemed suitable?
- There is some case law which touches on this but it relates to discharge of duty with PRS offer rather than TA – judgment was that the LA could not form a sufficient view “that the accommodation is not in a reasonable physical condition” without investigating “the condition of the property before any approval…” by either “inspecting property 2 themselves, or being supplied with a report about it from a reliable source.”
- It’s an uphill slog to challenge the suitability of TA but it can be done, especially if there is enough strong evidence. However, even once the LA has agreed not suitable, clients still find themselves waiting months and months for another offer.
- Interesting thing is that if a mother or parent did not ‘ safeguard ‘ their child they would get into trouble but here we are not safeguarding the children and families- but no one takes responsibility.
- How do you decide what’s suitable in the room in a hostel or B&B? There are people with autistic children that have no sense of danger that are being given bunk beds in their rooms, and when they ask for bunk beds to be removed, they are told that the council deems it to be suitable for them.
15:00 End of Q&A
RLB Our objectives for next APPG are:
- To map out next steps – we need to look at amendments to be made – Bob could feedback on which Bill TA will be included. We need to put some methods to keep discussion going.
- To invite Local Authorities to the discussion (in person) who can provide solutions to mitigate this.
RLB Thanked all for attending (online and in person) and the co-secretariats.
15:05 RLB ended the meeting.