Social and Legal Causes of Homelessness, by GMLC Volunteer Heba Khalid

Heba Khalid is a student about to commence her second year of college. She studies history, English literature and politics, with the hopes of pursuing law later in university. She is a dedicated member of GMLC’s Campaign Volunteer Team and this article is her own.

With thanks to GMLC volunteer Ben Chamberlain for additional research.


Homelessness in the UK has become a big cause for concern in recent years. In this article we explore the scale of the issue on a local and national level, by analysing the facts and ‘hidden’ figures. We have considered the few solutions that the government and the council have offered, most notably those of the recently elected Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. Legal safeguards from homelessness do exist but often fall short, and gaps in the law can leave many in vulnerable positions. This is felt particularly harshly by migrants. Whilst assessing the causes of homelessness, it is important to recognize that the lack of support for legal aid and supportive charities has only worsened the issue. Therefore, we consider what can be done to help rectify the problem, in terms of legal aid and building support for charities, both of which are crucial in helping the vulnerable gain access to justice.


The scale of homelessness in Manchester

The Manchester Evening News reported the scale of the problem, revealing Manchester as the North West’s top ‘homelessness hotspot’ with over 3,000 people sleeping rough on its streets[1]. More figures released in January by The Guardian revealed that homelessness in Manchester had risen by 41% over the previous year[2]. Figures from November 2016 found that 189 people were sleeping rough in Greater Manchester, up from 134 at the same point in 2015[3]. Several charities dedicated to fighting homelessness, such as Crisis, highlight that an overwhelming 62% of the homeless are ‘hidden’ and either are not entitled to help with housing, or don’t approach any organisation for help. Many choose to stay in hostels or ‘concealed’ housing, such as the floors or sofas of willing friends and family[4].


The homeless community in Manchester has criticized the government and the council for their lack of support at times, but Andy Burnham, newly elected Mayor of Manchester, showed promise with his campaign. He proposed donating 15% of his salary in order to help solve the homelessness crisis in Manchester and support several charities and legal centres dedicated to the cause[5].


Causes of homelessness

But what is to blame for the rise in homelessness, particularly in urban cities such as Manchester? The most obvious issue is the rising cost of houses and lack of job opportunities which leave people with no accommodation and little money. According to the 2017 Crisis Report, homelessness is also impacted by personal issues such as domestic violence, sudden illness, accumulated debt or drug addiction, a shortfall of newly built accommodation and austerity-driven welfare reforms[6]. All these issues typically leave people vulnerable, and the lack of support for charities and legal services offers little guidance for the people who need it most.


Legal barriers for migrants

Jenny Osborne, Manchester’s strategic lead for adult public health, was interviewed by The Guardian in March 2016 and suggested that EU migrants with no access to public funds such as housing assistance, tax credits and welfare benefits largely contributed to the rising numbers of homelessness[7]. The government’s changes to welfare benefits in 2014 made it much more difficult for migrants to secure accommodation, as the new guidelines limit the benefits that European Nationals can claim. Housing benefit, for example, cannot be claimed unless at least one member of the household is working. Even then it must be proven that their employment meets a number of tests, otherwise they cannot seek the financial support they may need to cover their rent[8]. The charity Crisis fears that these new measures may push even more vulnerable people onto the streets. If a migrant were in the unfortunate circumstance of losing their job, their housing benefit would cease and their eligibility to jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) would only extend to 6 months before being terminated. The UK’s departure from the European Union also leaves much uncertainty regarding the jobs and lives of European Nationals in the UK. Theresa May has indicated that she plans to act upon the Tory pledge of cutting benefits for migrants, particularly tax credits[9]. Furthermore, a critical report from Amnesty International revealed that general grants to legal aid have dropped by 46% in 2016, and that this disproportionately impacts migrants and vulnerable groups. Shockingly, Amnesty International’s report also revealed that some teenagers are at risk of having to represent themselves in immigration cases where they may face deportation or eviction[10].


Nonetheless, the Home Office is obliged to secure accommodation for a destitute asylum-seeker under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 Section 4, 95[11] and 98[12], but asylum-seekers are left without legal redress if their support applications are refused or ignored. Insufficient regulation concerning asylum support assessment means that refused asylum-seekers are unable to ask the Home Office or local authorities for evidence attached to their assessment. Nor do they have legal rights to appeal to a refusal.


Legal safeguards

Some argue that the Human Rights Act Article 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) have already provided a bottom line to ensure everyone an accommodation – but, unfortunately, it isn’t that easy.


Tenants have limited protection when their houses become unsafe, and this can lead to homelessness in extreme cases. Though the Landlord and Tennant Act 1985 Section 11 imposes maintenance obligations upon social housing landlords, it enables residents to take legal action only when the building is in disrepair. The gap in the law prevents residents from taking any pre-emptive action[13]. Therefore, residents do not have legal entitlements to require housing authorities to prevent deterioration of housing quality and safety in advance, or to maintain its security in the long run. This legal lacuna only provides a course of action for residents reporting disrepair, but does little to protect residents who fear future damage. These issues have been brought to the public attention as the Grenfell survivors face homelessness following the destruction of the tower block.


Lawsuits are also becoming more and more expensive. The Guardian reported in 2016 that civil courts fees had risen by approximately 620%[14]. Law firms are also unlikely to offer a ‘no win no fee’ promise to complicated cases, therefore an individual hiring a private solicitor to bring a claim could be forced to pay in the thousands (up to £10,000), unsettled debts from a court process often leaves claimants struggling to make ends meet, or, worse case scenario, in poverty. The complicated process of making a claim, and the possibility of debts, often discourages people from seeking justice in the first place.


Hope for the future?

GMLC at 159 Princess Road


One recent development to prevent homelessness is the Homelessness Reduction Act enacted in 2017. The Act introduces universal homelessness prevention duty, relief duty, advisory services, personalised housing plan, referral duty and codes of practice to local authorities[15]. Hopefully, it will take a significant step to reduce homelessness.


Charities and Law Centres alike suggest that early intervention and better policy from the government can help to prevent homelessness. Crisis is calling for the government to fund ‘Help to Rent’ schemes[16], essentially encouraging landlords and tenants to help create homes for prison leavers, migrants, ex-servicemen and anyone struggling to find permanent accommodation. This scheme aims to make PRS (private renting sector) a successful housing option by specifically supporting those moving away from homelessness, Social lettings agencies also support the scheme, Crisis offers advice on how to join or contribute to this scheme on their website.


We do not think homelessness legislation itself will be enough to reduce of homelessness, however. Access to justice is as important as the former, if not more important. Legal aid cuts prohibit access to justice. Amnesty International has commented that the cuts have created a two-tier Justice System, denying the poorest of people their often much needed access to justice, and ‘advice deserts’ where the option of free legal advice is sadly disappearing. People are prone to homelessness if they can’t afford a lawyer to represent them when their landlord is illegally evicting them – the number of people turning to Citizens Advice for help with illegal evictions in privately rented homes has risen by almost half since 2016. But, Citizen’s Advice has amassed much support with its ‘Settled and safe’ campaign, calling for a database of bad landlords to be available to tenants, so that they can avoid illegal eviction.


We urge the public to support legal services including local law centres, Citizens’ Advice and NGOs. Donations, volunteers and campaigners are vital. Your support will re-open a closed law centre. Your support will help a homeless person be legally represented. Your support will enhance access to justice in our society.


[1] Beth Abbit, “The true scale of Greater Manchester’s homelessness crisis revealed”, accessed on 12th July 2017

[2] Helen Pidd, “’It’s not a lifestyle choice’: homelessness on the streets of Manchester” at, accessed on 10th July 2017

[3] Jennifer Willians, “The number of people sleeping rough in Greater Manchester has risen dramatically”, , accessed on 31st August 2017

[4] Suzanne Fitzpartick, Hal Pawson, Glen Bramley, Steve Wilcox and Beth Watts, “Homelessness Monitor: England 2017” at, accessed on 11th July 2017

[5] Frances Perraudin , “Andy Burnham launches plan to drive down homelessness in Manchester” at, accessed on 9th May 2017.

[6] Suzanne Fitzpartick, Hal Pawson, Glen Bramley, Steve Wilcox and Beth Watts, “Homelessness Monitor: England 2017” at, accessed on 11th July 2017

[7] Helen Pidd, “’It’s not a lifestyle choice’: homelessness on the streets of Manchester” at, accessed on 10th July 2017

[8] Patrick Wintour, “Government announces limits on EU migrants’ benefits access”,, accessed on 21st August 2017.

[9] Sam Coates, “PM to revive Tory pledge on cutting benefits for migrants”, accessed on 21st August 2017.

[10] Amnesty International, “UNITED KINGDOM: CUTS THAT HURT: THE IMPACT OF LEGAL AID CUTS IN ENGLAND ON ACCESS TO JUSTICE ”, accessed on 21st August 2017.



[13] Catherine Baski, “Legal Lacuna Prevented Grenfell Tower Residents Taking Action” at, accessed on 13th July 2017

[14] Ned Beadle, “Staggering price of civil court fees comes with a human cost”,, accessed on 27th August 2017.

[15] The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 at, accessed on 12th July 2017.