The government’s top adviser on homelessness has stepped down, provoking concerns of a “strategy vacuum” as thousands of tenants across the country face possible eviction due to rent arrears accrued during the COVID-19 crisis.
Widely seen as an unexpected move, Dame Louise Casey told housing and campaign groups earlier this week that she had made the decision to step back from her role as it seemed like the “right moment”.
Casey’s role as the government’s top adviser on homelessness involved leading a specialist taskforce set up in May to prevent a return to widespread rough sleeping – after thousands of people were taken off streets at the height of the pandemic in March and April.
After being awarded a crossbench peerage in July, she said she now wanted to make her “contribution to public service” from the House of Lords, according to a note circulated among senior figures in the housing sector.
“This seemed like the right moment to step back, especially as the country looks to gear up to the ‘new normal’,” she wrote.
Commenting on the announcement, Jon Sparkes, chief executive of charity Crisis, said: “We urge ministers not to leave a leadership vacuum.
“With the economic impact of the pandemic pushing more people into homelessness, we must redouble our efforts, otherwise we risk rates of rough sleeping rising with all the human misery this entails.”
Charities and campaigners have warned that lifting the ban could lead to hundreds of thousands of people made homeless.
Crisis said it was surprised by the announcement, adding that it was now unclear who would lead the government’s strategy to meet its target of ending rough sleeping by 2024.
“This is a deep concern,” said Matt Downie, policy director at Crisis.
“What we need now is coordinated action across government with the leadership and assertiveness of someone like Louise Casey.”
Figures from the homelessness charity Streetlink this week showed alerts by members of the public regarding rough sleepers increased by 36% year on year between April and June 2020 to 16,976.
Notifications were also higher than the previous quarter.
Read more on the homelessness crisis in the UK:
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Dame Louise Casey
In February, Casey was appointed to review the government’s rough sleeping strategy, with her role quickly evolving into crisis management.
Casey has been credited with helping arrange thousands of hotel and temporary accommodation spaces for rough sleepers, and for securing an additional £105m for more permanent accommodation.
The government says nearly 15,000 people were helped under the government’s Everyone In initiative.
Casey previously advised the Blair government on homelessness, and in her latest role reported to Boris Johnson and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.
“I would like to thank Dame Louise for her contribution at such a challenging time, which has led to so many rough sleepers being helped off the streets and kept safe from coronavirus,” said Jenrick.
“Her work leading the rough sleeping taskforce will ensure as many people as possible who have been brought in do not return to sleeping rough.
“Our plans for longer-term accommodation – 3,300 homes this year alone – and tailored support, backed by half a billion pounds of funding this year and next, will help us to meet our commitment to end rough sleeping once and for all.”
Section 21 threat
Official homelessness statistics published earlier in the week revealed nearly 5,000 tenants in England were threatened with section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions between January and the end of March this year – representing a 25% increase on the previous three-month period.
Campaigners warned that many of these tenants, who were able to stay in their home throughout the pandemic after the government issued a temporary eviction ban on 18 March, will face having to leave their home when the ban ends on Sunday (23 August).
Section 21 enables private landlords to repossess their properties without having to establish fault on the part of the tenant, in some cases enabling them to re-let the property at a higher rent.
In 2019, the government promised to scrap the legislation, which has been widely criticised for giving too much power to landlords.
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