Two in five employers unaware hiring homeless people is legal

Campaigners say survey shows there is still a high level of stigma around employing some of the most disadvantaged in society

Two in five businesses are unaware it’s legal to hire someone who is homeless, a survey has found.

The YouGov poll of UK employers and employees, commissioned by Business in the Community (BITC), found 40 per cent of employers did not know it was legal to hire someone who was homeless, while nearly one in five (17 per cent) were concerned hiring someone who was homeless would have a negative impact on other employees.

BITC said this showed there were still high levels of stigma towards employing or working with people who are homeless, and that despite the UK’s record employment rates, “people furthest from secure employment are still being left behind”.

The survey polled 622 senior decision-makers and 1,061 employees.

Nicola Inge, employment campaign director at BITC, called on employers to do more to open up opportunities to those, like homeless people, who have traditionally been excluded from employment. “We have seen firsthand how good-quality work can transform the lives of people who have faced challenging life experiences,” she said.

Inge added employers needed to create inclusive cultures to support those with different backgrounds. “It doesn’t stop at simply giving people a job,” she said. "Prejudice and stigma in all its forms must be tackled by employers, and measures put in place to ensure that, once people are in work, they have access to the support they need without being singled out.”

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said it was concerning how many employers didn’t realise there was nothing illegal about hiring a homeless person. Not only did it reflect “stigma in society” against disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, employers could also be missing out on valuable skills, she said.

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“In this tight labour market, many employers could be missing out on all sorts of valuable skills by overlooking potential talent pools based on misunderstanding or prejudice,” Suff said.

Businesses also needed to be aware of in-work poverty, said Suff, warning some of employers’ existing staff could be at risk of homelessness. “The line between people being able to afford rent or a mortgage or not can be a very fine one.”

Earlier this year, the government announced a £3m funding package to help homeless people into work. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said this scheme would involve Jobcentre staff joining outreach teams to go out on to the streets to help rough sleepers access benefits, open bank accounts and get into work.

The DWP said the funding, which will be delivered in 2020-21, will also allow Jobcentre employees to spend more time collaborating with charities and other organisations that work with homeless people, with some of the money going towards existing projects with homelessness charities.