Shoring Up SWEP: A Radical Approach to Ending Rough Sleeping


Hands over homeless family

The recent cold snap led to many councils in the UK initiating their Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). This is a series of measures designed to provide shelter for all rough sleepers during severe weather. Let’s take a look at the protocol and assess its effectiveness.

Defining Severe Weather

SWEP was originally intended to provide shelter for rough sleepers during times when the weather forecast predicted that the temperature would drop below zero and stay there for three or more consecutive nights. This has since expanded to include other forms of severe weather deliberately left ill-defined, but assumed to include: heatwaves, strong winds, prolonged snowdrifts and so forth.

Who Qualifies?

One of the best things about SWEP provision is that it does not discriminate in the way other provisions do. If you are sleeping on the streets - you qualify for shelter. No matter if you have been banned in the past or don’t fall under a particular council’s remit or don’t qualify for housing benefit.

Statutory Provisions

There is no legal footing for SWEP. So councils that fail to implement it cannot be prosecuted. The protocol is considered a humanitarian obligation.

Access to Funding

Councils can access a share of the £10 million Cold Weather Fund and an additional £2 million to be distributed to Community and Faith groups specifically to help rough sleepers off the streets during the winter. Emergency accommodation is typically prepared and staffed by volunteers.

Covid Safe Accommodation

Many of the dormitory style night shelters that used to operate in emergencies fail to meet the requirements that were introduced to reduce the spread of Covid 19.

Improving SWEP

Let’s start by saying that SWEP as it exists undeniably saves lives. But let’s treat it as a starting point and think about how it could be improved.

1. Involvement of homeless people

Let’s ask the people who have received these services what they need and offer them the chance to be involved in setting up the minimum standard of living every individual deserves. If money were available, there could be paid positions for the preparation of shelters and subsequent cleaning and laundry.

2. Implement a statutory footing for SWEP

Make the initiation of Severe Weather Emergency Protocol a legal as well as a moral duty. Set minimum standards for accommodation. Define the weather conditions during which it should be implemented. And prosecute councils who fail to protect the most vulnerable people in their communities.

3. Proper funding

Sorry £12 million is a drop in the ocean. The incredible people who give up their time to set up and run shelters to save lives should be paid. The shelters themselves should be upgraded to make sure they are Covid safe. And this will cost money. But this money is an investment in a community, in a society.

4. Expand the programme

With proper funding and some imagination, the SWEP programmes could be expanded to work during all weather conditions. The fact that the protocol exists shows that we are not starting from scratch with providing housing for homeless people. Let’s have nobody sleeping on the streets whatever the weather.

What are your experiences of SWEP. Have you received emergency shelter during extreme weather? Have you volunteered at a night shelter? If you would like to share your story, get in touch. Contact Kanndoo on 01603 971590 or email