New temporary rough sleeping legislation in Wales “a sticking plaster on a failing system”

21 Oct 2022

Analysis: Wales needs a more radical change to homelessness legislation to ensure everyone is a priority

The Wallich welcomes the temporary addition to the law, passed by the Senedd, last week to add people sleeping rough to the list of those in ‘priority need’.

However, whilst cautiously optimistic that this temporary amendment is a sign of further radical change to Welsh homelessness legislation in the near future, we fundamentally do not support a ‘priority system of deciding who is eligible or ineligible for support.

priority need

What’s changed?

Senedd Members unanimously agreed the Homelessness (Priority Need and Intentionality) (Wales) Regulations 2022, meaning that, from 24 October, a person who is street homeless, and a person with whom the person who is street homeless may reasonably be expected to reside, will be considered as having priority need for accommodation.

This new addition represents a legal validation and continuation of the approach adopted by Welsh Government, and carried out by local authorities and charity partners during the pandemic, to ensure people who are rough sleeping receive the support they were often excluded from prior to the pandemic.

The ‘no-one left out’ approach was initiated almost overnight and was an essential change to mitigate the public health emergency created by coronavirus.

Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change said in introducing the legislative change:

“Whilst the pandemic may have subsided for now, the need for support and housing for individuals who are experiencing homelessness definitely has not. Ahead of our planned wide-ranging reform of homelessness legislation, I’m hoping all Members will welcome and support this interim legislative amendment, and recognise it as an essential step in the eradication of homelessness in Wales.”

Prior to the pandemic, you were considered in ‘priority need’ if you were:

Sleeping rough, without falling into any of the additional categories above, was not considered to be a reason to be in priority need.

Why is the legislation important?

In 2018/19 nearly 1,700 households were determined to be homeless but not in priority need, and therefore owed no accommodation duty and no help other than general information and advice.

During the pandemic, the no-one left out policy meant that Wales effectively scrapped priority need tests in favour of a public health approach, that everyone experiencing or at risk of homelessness is deserving of support.

The Welsh Government and partners across the sector have expressed support for ending priority need in Wales in its entirety, but there have been differing opinions on how best to achieve this: whether to gradually add new categories until priority is effectively expanded to cover all homelessness presentations, or to follow a ‘big bang’ approach, doing away with the priority need test altogether.

Whilst we have sympathy with the incremental approach which has been chosen, on balance we feel that the ‘big bang’ approach would have been better, given that this is how services have been operating for the past two years.

It seems nonsensical to reintroduce priority need, with amendments, only to effectively scrap it again in the near future.

Julie James MS herself commented that the temporary legislative change is:

“A sticking plaster on a failing system.”

Unintended negative consequences

We are concerned that the reintroduction of priority need means those currently in temporary accommodation may be at risk of being asked to leave if they no longer meet the criteria for support.

We must not see individuals as effectively in competition with each other over who is considered ‘more deserving’ of assistance

We also remain concerned that services, under increasing pressure, may became overly prescriptive, for example demanding proof that an individual had slept rough for a specified number of nights in order to qualify for support.

We have noted cases of local services hoping to support only ‘verified rough sleepers’, which risks missing the wider point; many individuals may live street-based lifestyles despite having an offer of a place to sleep at night, but for a variety of reasons may not be willing to stay there.

Temporary accommodation can be chaotic environments which some clients may prefer to avoid.

We remain firm in our belief that anyone experiencing any form of homelessness deserves support and hope that wide ranging reform is on the horizon to make this a reality in Wales.

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