Abolish ‘priority need’ to tackle rough sleeping in Wales

25 April 2018

Image of homeless man sleeping on a bench

A leading expert in homelessness says a more proactive approach is required by authorities to support those sleeping rough on the street.

The research of Dr Peter Mackie, from the School of Geography and Planning, has led to important changes in homelessness legislation in Wales (2014-2015). But the Welsh Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee heard that Dr Mackie does not think the legislation has gone far enough to help the most vulnerable in society.

In light of evidence presented by experts, including Dr Mackie, the Committee is recommending that the Welsh Government should abolish the concept of ‘priority need’ for housing if it wants to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in Wales.

Assembly Members heard that although many rough sleepers should be considered vulnerable, for example due to poor physical or mental health, or substance misuse issues, the current priority need criteria means they are still left on the street.

Dr Mackie, who was strongly in favour of abolishing ‘priority need’, believed that ‘a key deficiency’ of the 2014 Act was that it only requires local authorities to help those who actively seek assistance.

In the report, which gives a total of 29 recommendations to the Welsh Government, Dr Mackie said: “Many rough sleepers and people at risk of rough sleeping will not seek out services. Local authorities need to proactively identify and assist people at risk of rough sleeping and those who are already rough sleeping.”

He added: “[The 2014 Act has] had a very positive impact on prevention and alleviation with the broader homeless population... But, actually, with rough-sleepers, arguably the most vulnerable group of homeless people, it’s not been overly effective.”

Figures show that there were at least 345 people sleeping rough across Wales in the two weeks from 16 – 29 October 2017, showing a steady rise in numbers, although the precise scale of the increase is not known.

The Committee is calling on the government to abolish priority need, which will give all homeless households, including rough sleepers, the right to housing. Until it is abolished, the Committee has recommended that rough sleepers are automatically assessed as being in priority need.