PR Agency: In-house
Campaign: Removal of homelessness legislation from 1996 Housing Bill
Timescale: September 1995 - April 1996
Cost: pounds 20,000
The Government’s ‘Our Future Homes’ housing Bill currently going through
Parliament, aims to curb the right of homeless families to auto-matic
permanent housing from local authorities.
The Government argues that putting homeless families into the private
rented sector, will free up more council houses for other groups on
local authority waiting lists.
In response, housing charities including Shelter say that the
legislation will force the most vulnerable into insecure and possibly
low quality housing, and the real reason non- urgent categories spend so
long on housing waiting lists is the lack of affordable housing for
rent. Housing experts say 100,000 affordable houses for rent need to be
built every year, but in reality only 30,000 are being built.
Firstly to organise a mass rally of Parliament, with over a thousand
people demonstrating their objection to the homelessness legislation
contained in the ‘Our Future Homes Bill’. Also constituency MPs were to
be made aware of how high a priority housing issues took on their
Ultimately Shelter wants the homelessness legislation to be dropped
Shelter’s campaigns department mobilised a national army of novice
lobbyists, by plugging into networks of sympathetic groups such as the
Women’s Institute. The charity used a direct mail database and employed
a telemarketing agency to rally support. People who signed up to the
lobby were matched with their MPs via the postcode and lobby packs were
mailed a month before the event with details of how to contact MPs,
possible questions to ask at face-to-face meetings and how to follow up
Shelter’s organisation went beyond the lobbying pack to the day of the
rally itself on 24 October 1995. Over 1,000 people attended a rally at
Westminster Central Hall addressed by Shelter’s director Chris Holmes
and the Archbishop of Wales, before being moved in groups with military
precision to meet their MPs at Parliament.
The rally gained extensive print and broadcast coverage, including a
picture story in the Independent. Regional coverage was particularly
good, probably because as Shelter’s press officer Katy Snape points out:
‘homelessness is an issue that really translates to the local level.
People can see how it affects their community.’ The charity’s long-
standing reputation for skilful parliamentary affairs secured good
specialist political coverage by BBC Westminster and Channel 4’s House
Two amendments to the Bill at committee stage have gained homeless
families two years of local authority responsibility rather than one,
and have defined the categories of the homeless which councils have a
legal duty to help.
The Bill will go to the vote on 29 April with much of the homeless
legislation still in place, so Shelter did not entirely meet its
campaign aims. However the campaign did ignite Shelter’s support base
and enhance the charity’s reputation in the serious media as the experts
on housing issues. They are seen as being considerably more in touch
than the government.
As the Bill was a Green Paper in 1994, Shelter had to overcome the
problem of keeping up momentum in a long-term campaign. It did this by
offering ordinary supporters the experience of hands on Westminster
lobbying. As well as offering supporters the chance to air their views
on homelessness in the corridors of power, Shelter’s well designed
lobbying pack was a blueprint on how to effectively lobby on any issue,
national or local.