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Alex Kennedy @af_kennedy Campaigns Manager

Private members’ bill opportunities

In one of the more bizarre rituals of the mother of all parliaments, yesterday MPs gathered to watch as numbers were drawn from a goldfish bowl. For Crisis and others concerned about homelessness, the private members’ bill ballot is a crucial chance to change the laws that mean homeless people in England can get turned away by their council with little or no help if they are not considered a “priority”.

While the Government initiates most legislation that get passed, private member’s bills give backbench MPs the chance to propose new laws and get them debated.
But with lots of issues vying for a small number of MPs’ attention, why should homelessness be a priority?

Firstly, because we know there’s a serious problem. Crisis researchers who mystery shopped council homelessness services found that in most cases single homeless people were turned away with little or no help. Missing that chance to solve homelessness at an early stage can have devastating consequences for individuals and end up costing far more to fix.

More importantly, we also know what the solution is. An independent panel of experts, academics, lawyers and local councils brought together by Crisis has published recommendations setting out what they law should look like, including work by a leading barrister to draft the specific amendments needed.

These proposals are affordable. Leading academics commissioned by Crisis have estimated that such a law is likely to require an additional £43.9 million for preventing and tackling homelessness early but that this would be offset by a £46.8 million reduction in spending on people who are already homeless.

They also have a huge amount of support already. As well as having the support of homelessness charities, a change in the law would be welcomed by councils. In a survey, over half (56%) of English local authorities said they supported the introduction of prevention and relief duties and only 25% expressed concern. Crucially, there is support in Westminster too. As well as backing from opposition parties, the Government is already seriously considering changing the homelessness legislation. It means there’s a real chance that ministers could get behind a private member’s bill on this issue.

We need your help. Despite the compelling arguments in favour of improving the help that homeless people get, it’s far from a done deal.  Unless we can persuade one of the MPs selected in the ballot, another year could go by with homeless people getting turned away. We have set up an page where you can add your voice to the campaign, with the specific action you get asked to take depending on whether you have personal experience of homelessness or live in the constituency of a target MP.