Homelessness Reduction Act: The Benefits of Mediation

Scott McIver Articles

As I’m sure you will have noticed, Britain is currently in the grips of “The Beast from the East” – the recent polar storm that has been hitting our shores this week. Whilst the majority of us are concerned about panic-buying vegetables and whether our household heating will hold out, the extreme weather conditions have also brought other important issues to mind. I am, of course, talking about homelessness on the streets of Britain.

While homelessness is a perennial issue, we can become more aware of it in extreme weather conditions. Homeless people are left even more vulnerable in the freezing cold, often with no support structure in place to help them combat it. Not to mention the ongoing struggle to find their next hot meal or a place to sleep.

On top of that, the number of homeless people is increasing. The annual Homeless Monitor from Crisis has shown that the number of officially homeless people increased 32% to 271,000 between 2009-20161. And, sadly, it is continuing to rise. It is something that certainly needs to be tackled.

On 3rd April, we will see a new legislation come into place in the UK – the Homelessness Reduction Act. We do of course already have legislation in place to protect homeless people, but this one promises to be more hands-on and much more concrete.

To comply with the new legislation, local councils and the government will have a legally-binding duty to provide a wider range of services and protocols, including information and advice.

So how does mediation tie into all of this?

Well, one of the many ways councils are looking to tackle the problem is through mediation: essentially trying to head off situations where homelessness results from family breakdowns and other conflict, especially for young people.

And this is a significant issue. Official statistics suggest that 57% of homelessness cases in young people are as a result of someone being forced to leave their home by a family member or co-tenant2. This could be because of lifestyle choices, substance misuse, mental health issues, or something as simple as a breakdown in the relationship between two tenants or family members. In addition, conflict within a tenant-landlord relationship could lead directly to someone ending up on the streets.

Mediation is one way to resolve this conflict prior to the person having to leave their home with nowhere to go. The benefits of mediation in this particular setting include:

  •  RE-OPENING COMMUNICATION – both parties get to hear one another’s side of the story: learning how their own behaviours have affected the other.
  • EXPLAINING MOTIVATIONS – both people can explore why they act, behave, or say what they do, thereby building empathy and mutual understanding
  • SAYING THE THINGS THAT MIGHT OTHERWISE GO UNSAID – difficult things can be vented and properly heard without fear of judgement or reprisal.
  • FINDING AN ALTERNATIVE RESOLUTION – mediation helps everyone to move away from the idea of a winner and loser, and instead reach a ‘third way’: a resolution that is only reached through the sort of dialogue that mediation can bring about.

For some time now, charities, homelessness organisations and local authorities have seen ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) as a tool to be used in the fight against homelessness, so much so that our CEO (Dr. Mike Talbot) wrote an article on this exact topic last year.

With the advent of the Homelessness Reduction Bill, however, more and more agencies are taking the time and using their stretched resources to train selected staff in mediation skills. With a rapid response time and a highly effective model for resolving conflict, homelessness can he headed off or, at the very least, a young person can find a way to stay in their home until a suitable alternative can be arranged.

With the Bill just around the corner, we have developed a fully-tailored version of our two-day mediation skills course, specifically addressing how to resolve conflict within families and shared properties, and geared towards the issue of preventing homelessness.

With our special Mediation Skills course, you can improve your understanding of mediation, learn how to apply the skills in this important area, and get a practical insight into setting up and running facilitated mediation meetings.

1 Councils warn housing shortfall and benefit cuts fuelling rising homelessness” Crisis, 2017
2 Statistics & Useful info” Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution, 2017