The numbers of homeless households being placed in temporary accommodation are going through the roof across Greater Manchester. The word ‘temporary’ suggests short term, but The Meteor has spoken to temporary accommodation residents in Manchester that measure their stays in years, not months.
There is an increasing cost to this, not only to public finances, but also to people’s life chances severely inhibited by the transitory nature of this housing type which prevents them from planning for the future. The unhealthy conditions present in many of these accommodations are also detrimental to the most precious commodity of all, our health.
Manchester city council’s response to a Freedom of Information request, shows that the cost of providing TA and the amount of time residents are staying in it, is increasing dramatically. The average length of time a household spent in TA, provided by Manchester council, in 2016-17 was 358 days, by 2018-19 that had risen to 508 days, a 42% increase in duration of stay in just two years. Figures for the years following were also produced, but as many of the families were still living in TA, an average figure could not be provided.
The cost to public finances is also increasing rapidly, with the gross cost to Manchester council of providing TA, to those households they are statutorily obliged to do so, checking in at £11.475 million in 2016-17, by 2021 this cost had risen to £29.159 million, a 154% increase in just four years.
The rising costs of this inefficient way of housing people is widely acknowledged as a product of housing market and government policy failure. A failure that is detrimental to the lives of the increasing numbers of families and individuals across Manchester living in this insecure housing.
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“I’ve had no help from the council whatsoever, none”, *Brian replied when asked if he had received any help to secure a permanent roof over his head. Brian, 54, became homeless in October 2020. when we spoke to him in March 2022 he had been living in TA for 14 months, at four different addresses, with his current accommodation being a room in a shared house in Longsight. Long stays are commonplace there, Brian says “one lad has been there two years, one has been there three.”
Manchester council provided Brian with emergency temporary accommodation when he first approached them in 2020, after which he described “getting bounced from hotel to hotel” that were “little square box-room with a bed… shitholes” and unsuitable for his disabilities, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, angina and ischemic heart disease. His angina leaves him prone to collapse and he has had two heart attacks linked to his condition.
Brian’s previous TA residences had stairs he struggled with and his current one-bedroom accommodation, with a single plug socket that he has to daisy chain extension cables to operate his electrical goods, has leaks causing water damage with mould growing on the walls alongside the windows and the ceiling, which he believes is exacerbating his lung condition. While living in his current room he has developed a nasty cough leading to hospital visits to get his lungs X-rayed and checked by a consultant. Brian says “It was fucking damp, that’s what caused that cough.”
The total rent charged for this one room by the private company TA provider is £212 per week, which includes service charges for staff at the hostel and communal area costs. The majority is paid via Housing Benefit and Universal Credit, leaving Brian to pay £16 per week from his own money.
Originally from Liverpool, Brian has grown to love Manchester and wishes to carry on living here, but the stress of living in TA and searching for a secure home is grinding him down, he says:
“If they do offer me accommodation It might very well end up being out of Manchester…
“And to be honest with you, I’d consider taking it… if somebody phoned me up tomorrow and said that ‘we have an adapted flat here ready right now, do you want it and It’s in Oxford’. Do you know what my response would be? Give me an hour, let me pack my shit, and I’ll go right now. That’s how I’m feeling at the moment. I’d be leaving friends behind, but I’m at a point now where I don’t give a shit.”
Brian cannot be called a tenant because he has no tenancy agreement, instead like most TA residents, he has a licence agreement which states: “This licence provides you with temporary accommodation and is not intended to provide you with a permanent home. It does not create a tenancy or give any security of tenure.”
The licence section laying out how it can be terminated is worded in such a broad way, with statements beginning with “In our opinion…” relating to the housing provider, that pretty much any reason can be given to terminate the licence.
Insecure and unhealthy housing
The standards of housing in the private rented sector (PRS), which covers many TA providers, is worse than the standards found in homes for social rent. The annual 2021 English Housing Survey found that 21% of private rented homes failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard, compared to 13% of social rent homes.
The English Housing Survey also showed that poor conditions in the PRS, accompanied higher rents, with the average rent for social rent homes across the UK being £102 per week, nearly half the price of the UK average PRS rent of £198 per week.
A major survey by Shelter in 2021 revealed an estimated one in five renters, around 1.9 million households, in England believed their health was being harmed by poor housing, with mould, damp and cold (due to being unable to heat their homes) being the main contributory factors. The survey also showed that one in four renters said their housing situation left them feeling “stressed and anxious”, with struggles to pay the rent and repeated evictions raised as common stressors.
[Image: use the drawing of a girl sitting on a couch looking at her phone in media library September 2017]
The Meteor recently reported on the skyrocketing rates of TA recorded across Greater Manchester, over the last decade. That report revealed Manchester dominates the region for the amount of temporary accommodation provided, making up 65% of the total for all the ten boroughs in Greater Manchester in 2021. In March 2010 there were 273 households living in temporary accommodation in Manchester, a year later that figure had risen to 2,537, an 8.3 fold increase.
The latest figure for households in Manchester in TA is 2705, at the end of December 2021, a 7% increase in just eight months.
Meteor graphic first published here: To view the boroughs clustered at the bottom clearly, deselect “GM total” and “Manchester” in the legend by clicking on them. Figures presented for each year are a snapshot count of the households in temporary accommodation on the 31 March, apart from 2019 where the count is taken from 30 June. Source: DLUHC & MHCLG.
“It’s a catch-22 situation, me gaining employment and bettering myself renders me ‘intentionally homeless’ because I have to leave” or pay the £214 per week rent (which includes service charges paying for the staff at the hostel) said *John, 28, referring to his room in another privately run TA hostel in Manchester. John was receiving security industry training, with guaranteed job interviews, when we spoke to him in April.
But with many security jobs paying minimum wage (£9.50/hr), with a 40 hour week after deductions for tax and NI he would be taking home £312 per week. Paying the rent at his current accommodation would take 66% of his take home pay. The housing charity Shelter say that 35% of your take home pay is a reasonable rate to pay for rent, “Any more than this and it’s likely that you’ll have to cut back on something else or will have to borrow or will fall into arrears.”
Anyone who has searched for a rented property at the lower end of the market in Manchester will know it is not an easy or quick task to find something suitable, and companies offering employment generally want a yes or no answer right away.
John was born in Moss Side, at a time when gang and associated drug culture were prominent, and it was a culture he was heavily involved in during his teenage years. “I was born into quite a high criminal environment and family”, John said. “It warps your own sense of what’s right and wrong when you grow up. The violence I’ve seen, the violence I’ve implemented on other people, that’s put me in prison.”
After serving a long prison sentence, where he developed a drug addiction, upon release in 2021 he secured a seven week stay in a rehabilitation centre. He was successful in getting himself clean during that stay at rehab and since leaving there has housed himself via a mix of sofa surfing and using A Bed Every Night centres. He has been living in his TA hostel room, and sharing facilities with other residents, since February 2021.
With his new hard-won clean status John was concerned that living in an environment where drugs are used could undermine his progress. “They promise you the world down the phone, ‘yeah nobody’s an active user, everybody’s abstinent’ or this, that or the other”, John says was the message he received when he asked the managers of the hostel about drug use there.
Not long after he moved in Jason reports being in a shared communal room where “there was eight of us, and around there was heroin, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines, floating around between the other residents.” The licence agreement Jason signed repeatedly warns against the selling and use of drugs, with the threat of being removed from the hostel invoked, if a resident is caught doing so. Jason believes that the staff know about drug use in the hostel, “but it’s brushed under the carpet.”
Although only living there for a short time himself, Jason when we spoke to him in April reported feeling dejected that the impression he got of the “shining light of turning his life around” that was on offer with this supported TA place, had not materialised. “There’s lads that have lived there for six months, some a year. The longest serving resident had been here since summer 2020.”
Temporary accommodation rising across England
Drug use is more common amongst disadvantaged communities, such as ex-prisoners and the homeless. But as problematic drug use rises, treatments for those who develop problems is falling. Dame Carol Black’s Review of Drugs in 2020 noted the higher use of drugs in disadvantaged communities and the curtailing of drug rehabilitation treatments due to austerity driven local government funding cuts, with some local authorities having reduced treatment expenditure by up to 40%. In 2020 there were 4,561 drug related deaths in England and Wales, the highest since records began in 1993.
It is not just in Greater Manchester that TA is increasing, it is rising across the whole of England. At the end of September 2021 there were 96,060 households in TA, with a total of 121,680 dependent children amongst them. This was a 1.5% increase in the number of households on the year before and part of a long-term increasing trend across England since 2011.
“The hostel was completely infested with bedbugs, but my room was a decent size. Several people died in the hostel whilst I lived there” was *Eric’s, response when asked what the conditions were like in a hostel he had lived in for over two years.
Eric ended up in the unsupported temporary accommodation (UTA) hostel, housing 15 people, after a relative he was living with died. After being given notice from the landlord that the hostel was closing, he was briefly moved into a hotel before Manchester council offered him a TA flat in a large council run block. He has been there for the past year, living with and taking care of his father who has bad leg sores that make it difficult for him to use stairs. Eric says the conditions in his current residence are not good, mainly due to the behaviour of other residents, “There is a lot of theft and bullying, credit cards are often stolen,” and he also mentions there are issues around other residents taking drugs.
The weekly rent for his flat is £165 per week (with £25 of that being a service charge). Eric has a support worker, but he says these meetings have not been happening, and he thinks opportunities to discuss other move on opportunities are being missed.
Since living there he got to know other residents and has learned some have been there for over three years, and fears this may happen to him and his father. Like many of us he has dreams of moving somewhere nice, with his ideal home being at the seaside.
Eric received support from the charity Justlife when he lived in the UTA hostel. Justlife provide support to homeless people living in TA and have a focus on providing help to residents of unsupported temporary accommodation. The people living in UTA may have applied to the council to be considered homeless, but because their claim has not been accepted by the council they have no statutory obligation to find TA for them, or provide help in securing permanent accommodation. Manchester council does provide help and advice to those who are found not to be statutorily homeless, but that help is discretionary and combined with limited resources, many people fall through the cracks in the system.
People living in UTA are often not recorded in the official TA figures, yet they still live with insecurity of tenure and poor housing conditions in B&Bs, short stay Houses of Multiple Occupation, private hostels, or guest houses. Properties similar to those resided in by people accepted as homeless, and living in TA that is included in the national statistics. Justlife estimated that another 8% (171) could be added onto the official TA population in Manchester, of 2,116 households in Q2 of 2019, if households in UTA were also included.
What’s the alternative to temporary accommodation?
Local authorities across England spent £1.4 billion on TA in 2020/21. Shelter calculated that was an increase in 18% in the last year, a 157% increase in the last ten years, and that the cost of TA was increasing at a greater rate than the number of households living in it.
A report by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Centre for Homelessness, calculated that if councils across England were able to use social housing rather than private housing for TA, they could save £572 million a year. Broken down per household, each family moved from private rented TA into social rented accommodation saves about £7,760 per year of public money.
The Meteor has previously reported on the large decline in social housing across Greater Manchester, with the ongoing Right to Buy policy and lack of new build social housing exacerbating the problem. The Local Government Association has called for “a new generation of 100,000 high quality social homes per year” and stated:
“We desperately need to be able to build more social housing to reduce the number of families being placed in temporary accommodation and bed and breakfasts.”
“Temporary accommodation is effectively becoming the new social housing with some families having to watch their children grow up in it, with no idea when they might be able to access a stable and suitable home.”
Some green shoots are appearing in Manchester. In Collyhurst Village, part of the Victoria North development, 100 social rent homes are being built. Manchester council last year also announced plans to build its first council homes since the 1980’s, with 56 “accessible rent” (equivalent to social rent) properties, planned for the two sites in the This City development in Ancoats and Beswick.
There are doubts the tenancies on these new build “council houses”, built by a private company owned by the council, will be as secure as traditional social housing tenancies, and with the housing waiting list for Manchester standing at 12,993 households in 2021, more central government funding and support for social housing is needed for these initiatives to make a real difference.
There will always be a need for some form of temporary accommodation to house individuals and families faced with the emergency of homelessness, but the inefficient market driven housing system we find ourselves in where increasing numbers of individuals and families are forced to endure this often unhealthy, and insecure housing for years is clearly untenable.
*All temporary accommodation residents names have been changed in this article to provide anonymity.
Alex King carried out additional research for this article.
To find out more about Justlife’s work supporting homeless people – click here.
Manchester city council’s advice page for those facing homelessness – click here.
For information on the Greater Manchester’s Mayor’s Charity for tackling homelessness – click here.
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Featured image: Homelessness, health and housing report.