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Hannah Gousy @HannahGousy Policy and Public Affairs Manager

At what cost?

Our new research out today shows that tackling homelessness early could save the government between £3,000 and £18,000 for every person helped.

Homelessness is a devastating experience and the human cost is high. The average age of death for someone who is homeless is just 47. You are 13 times more likely to be a victim of crime. And you are nine times more likely to take your own life. But failing to prevent or resolve someone’s homelessness early also has huge financial costs for local and national government.

Drawing on large studies of homeless adults across Britain, the report uses various common scenarios to estimate costs to public services incurred as a result of being homeless for 12 months. In all scenarios, the longer someone is homeless, the greater the financial cost.

One of the scenarios explored was the case of a woman fleeing domestic violence.

-In the first scenario, her homelessness is prevented by the use of a sanctuary scheme. She is able to re-establish her life and retain most of her existing social support networks and to sustain her existing employment.

-In the second scenario, she is able to access a refuge service in another area. However, she is found not to be owed the main duty under the homelessness legislation. She is unable to keep her job. The refuge, under pressure to support other women in her situation, helps her secure shared private rented housing. However, she is located by her ex-partner and has to move back to her point of origin. There are further episodes of short-term homelessness, when she is forced to move, during which she stays in refuges. Moving around makes it difficult for her to remain registered with a GP, which means she becomes reliant on A&E as a source of medical care. She experiences deteriorations in her mental health, but is able to access NHS counselling services.

The research calculated that preventing her homelessness in the first scenario cost £1,554. By comparison, this cost rocketed to £4,668 when her homelessness was not properly resolved as described in scenario 2.

Our turned away research, published last  year, showed that too many single homeless people are being turned away from their council without the appropriate advice and support to prevent or resolve their homelessness. It’s these people who then go on to sleep rough and potentially develop more complex and entrenched needs. This research only further reinforces why it is so important that people receive the most appropriate support at the earliest point.

We know that many local authorities lack access to the stock needed to house people and face significant financial constraints. Too often this results in the gatekeeping of services and people being turned away to sleep rough. Crucially it is the weakness and lack of protection for single homeless people in the current homelessness legislation that allows this to happen. What this research shows, however is that ultimately this approach only pushes costs up.

The case has never been stronger, in this difficult financial climate, for local authorities to intervene early.  To help someone stay in their home when you have limited resources to house someone seems like a no brainer. As a minimum local authorities should ensure that they meet their current legal duty to provide people with meaningful advice and assistance.  Measures can be as simple as mediating with someone’s landlord or assisting with rent arrears. We hope that this evidence will be useful to local authorities who are planning to commission more preventative services.

Beyond this, national government should consider how the homelessness legislation should be amended. This would not only ensure that single homeless people are given the right support, but should place a much stronger duty on local authorities to prevent and resolve homelessness for everyone at the earliest possible point. You can read the full research here.