Vulnerable people are unable to access social housing, potentially trapping them “in a cycle of homelessness”, due to a change in the law
Under the Localism Act 2011 councils were granted greater powers to restrict access to social housing.
Since then 700,000 households have vanished from waiting lists across the UK.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) said: “Social housing is a priority for us.”
Until the act became law in 2012, councils were required to consider all housing applications, with minimal powers to remove households from the list.
Now a local connection – often more than five years in a borough – is required by 35% of councils to access the social housing register.
Housing charity Crisis says the act is responsible for one in five homeless people being unable to move out of emergency housing such as hostels and B&Bs.
Chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “Restricted eligibility for social housing is trapping more and more people in a cycle of homelessness that they have no route out of.
“We are calling on the government to end these blanket bans that block people in need from registering for social housing.”
According to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, households in poverty often fail to build a local connection because they are unable to remain in one area long enough.
It found that poorer households are more likely to repeatedly move, either through eviction or in order to avoid rising rents.
Additionally, more than half of all councils now restrict access to social housing to those with a history of rent arrears.
Rents in social housing are kept below market rate by law and set aside for those who are most in need, and let on long-term tenancies.
There are around four million social housing properties in England and each council sets its own allocation scheme based on national guidance.
The act does not apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where housing is devolved to national governments.
Since 2010, the number of homes built for social rent has fallen from 39,600 to 5,300 across England.
Michael Jones, research associate at Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, said: “The Localism Act exacerbated things that were already there.
“It comes down to supply of accommodation.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, added: “Councils simply don’t have enough social homes for every family that needs one.
“As a result, some are trimming their housing waiting lists by clever use of the criteria rather than by building homes.”
A HCLG spokesperson said the government has planned “for a new generation of council and housing association homes through a further £2bn funding boost bringing investment in affordable housing to over £9bn”.
“We have committed to a wide-ranging, top to bottom review of the issues around social housing.”