William Eichler 23 December 2019

Welfare reform drives ‘sofa surfing’, council chiefs warn

Local authority leaders have called on the Government to adapt welfare reforms as research finds changes to the benefits system have been a driver of ‘sofa surfing’.

The homelessness charity has published research on what they characterise as the ‘most common form of homelessness’ yet also the ‘least visible and understood’.

Based on interviews with 114 people with current or recent experience of sofa surfing across 12 locations, the study found that in the preceding year six out of 10 respondents had moved up to four times. Two-fifths had done so more than five times.

Episodes of sofa surfing can last a few days, according to Crisis, but for one in four of those who took part in the interviews it meant being stuck for between three and six months.

The causes and drivers of sofa surfing mirror those of homelessness in general with over half (54%/61) of those in the study stating that issues related to housing affordability were a factor in starting to sofa surf.

Welfare reform was also a driver with over a third (38%/26) citing the gap between Local Housing Allowance rates and Housing Benefits and rents as leading them to sofa surf.

Responding to the report, Cllr David Renard, Local Government Association housing spokesman said: ‘Behind every instance of homelessness, including those who are forced to “sofa surf”, lies an individual tragedy and councils want to work with the new Government to prevent this from happening in the first place and support those affected.

‘Councils are doing all they can to tackle homelessness but the new Government can help to address this by adapting welfare reforms to protect families at risk of becoming homeless, by restoring Local Housing Allowance rates to cover at least the lowest third of market rents when the current freeze ends in 2020.

‘Councils want to work with the new Government to see councils get the further powers and funding they need to build desperately needed affordable new homes. This should include urgent reform to the Right to Buy scheme, to enable councils to keep all sales receipts and set discounts locally.’

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