Number of homeless in need of support eight times higher than initially estimated

Independent parliamentary body for government spending finds that officials greatly underestimated the number of rough sleepers in England in need of support during the pandemic.

The number of rough sleepers identified as in need of emergency support during the pandemic was at least eight times higher than official estimates, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

The ‘Everyone In’ scheme was launched in March 2020 to help find emergency accommodation for those at risk of being left on the street was based on an initial survey that found 4,266 rough sleepers, the new report revealed.

However, auditors found that from March to November 2020 the scheme was eventually utilised by 33,139 people.

The scheme saw the UK Government issue strict guidance that required local authorities to provide emergency accommodation to those at risk of rough sleeping, including utilising hotels and other accommodation services that were otherwise closed to the public.

The NAO report found that the scheme had been successful in helping to prevent deaths within the rough sleeping population and had helped over 23,000 people to move into private or settled accommodation.

Homelessness campaigners call for the scheme to be urgently restarted to provide safe shelter for rough sleepers over the course of the latest lockdown announced at the start of January.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, called on the government to “act decisively” to help rough sleepers as with “rates of infection at record highs and freezing weather, no one should be facing the streets right now.”

Campaigners have warned that the tumbling temperature levels expected across the UK in the coming weeks represent a significant danger to rough sleepers alongside the dangers presented by rising Covid-19 infection rates.

There are also warnings from renters’ groups that Monday’s expiration of the ban on evictions meant that more people are now at risk of rough sleeping than during the first lockdown in March.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the public accounts committee, welcomed the success of the Everyone In scheme but warned that lessons must be learned from the underestimation of those who needed support and that the new rise in infections could push more people into homeless at the worst possible time.

“MHCLG, local authorities and the voluntary sector all rose to the challenge. Their staff went the extra mile and may have saved hundreds of lives. And two thirds of people supported by Everyone in have since moved into long-term accommodation.”

“However, MHCLG can’t rest on its laurels and it was caught off guard by just how many people needed help. Now rough sleeping is on the rise again, and the pandemic is far from over,” she said.

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