An address is no longer just a location - it's now a de facto means of identification. This means that if a person becomes homeless they are immediately cut off from the basic services they need to recover. Benefits, a bank account, employment, a driving license - all are taken away at the point they are needed most. Those who might have otherwise got back on their feet with a little early support are instead left to become entrenched in the situation and, ultimately, develop more complex and care-intensive needs over time.
ProxyAddress provides stable addresses throughout this period of instability. It uses existing records of empty properties to create a 'proxy' address - one which can be used to access services and provide identification regardless of location. You can read the full explanation here or see below for a brief summary.
The ProxyAddress project was made possible with the support of:
Since 2010, the number of people sleeping rough has risen by 169% while the life expectancy of someone doing so has dropped to just 47. That's over 30 years lower than the UK average and 3 years lower than Sierra Leone's.
In the same period, the use of temporary accommodation has soared. There are now 79,880 households, including 123,230 children, living under constant risk of being moved on.
And there are those whose numbers can't be counted: the 'hidden homeless'. These are people who move from sofa to sofa, floor to floor, in order to get off the street.
The leading cause of homelessness is the end of a tenancy. And while thousands find themselves without a place to live, there are over 500,000 empty homes in the UK. 200,000 of these have been empty for more than six months; 11,000 have been empty for more than ten years.
With government-built social housing down by 90% since 2010 there are few options for those who find themselves unable to secure housing. Increasingly, the most vulnerable find themselves forced into moving from place to place and disconnected from the support they need.
In 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force, requiring local authorities to actively take steps to prevent households at risk of homelessness tipping into crisis.
However, since 2010 local authority funds have reduced by around 40% with further cuts continuing until 2020. Councils are now being asked to do more with less. This requires new, efficient, and innovative approaches to tackling a worsening problem.
The reason people need support the most is the reason they can access it least.
Whenever you move residence, countless organisations and contacts need to be informed. Each of these need to update their records. The process is time consuming and unreliable.
For those forced with homelessness, the situation is much more severe. Typically starting with the end of a stable tenancy, this is followed by a period of frequent moving: short term sofa surfing, temporary accommodation, or no accommodation at all.
Constant changes of address - or the loss of one altogether - means that records are difficult to manage. Ties break down and access to the core services needed to get out of homelessness are lost.
Those who miss benefits appointment letters are often sanctioned: cut off from all benefits for anywhere between 1 month and 3 years. Without the stable address required to get ID, open a bank account, or apply for a job, what should be a time to focus on recovery becomes a cliff face where stability is harder to achieve than ever.
Faced with an impossible mountain to climb and cut off from the support required to try, individuals become entrenched in homelessness. Isolation leads to the introduction, or worsening, of mental health and substance abuse issues.
What started off as a period of instability becomes a deep-rooted, complex issue requiring significant time and money to tackle. Wouldn't it be better to have a proactive rather than reactive approach and help those faced with homelessness to avoid these conditions before they arise?
Section 85 of the Local Government Act 2003 allows the use of information gathered as part of the Council Tax billing process to identify empty properties within an authority’s area. Though they might lie empty, these properties do not need to remain unused.
Addresses are not private property. Street names and numbers are created and controlled by councils, while postcodes are assigned by the Royal Mail. They do not belong to landowners, nor are they private information to be hidden; in fact, by law street numbers and names must be visible from the road. An address is the most public information in our towns and cities today.
ProxyAddress works with councils to harness this existing information and put it to use for those most in need.
Starting with properties that have been vacant longest, addresses are paired with individuals threatened with homelessness. Though the properties remain unoccupied, their addresses unlock a wealth of support services for those without a property of their own.
Once assigned, the ProxyAddress stands in as a stable address, regardless of how often a user moves or where they need to stay.
ProxyAddress makes life less complicated when people are at their most vulnerable. By retaining access to support services, benefits, identification, libraries and internet access, job applications, and financial history, the threat of homelessness need not mean the beginning of a downward spiral.
No longer do people have to find themselves cut off from the support they need because of the very reason they need it.