Cabinet Portfolio: Housing
Strategic Directorate: Adult Care, Housing and Public Health
Consideration was given to a report which was submitted by the Strategic Director of Adult Care, Housing and Public Health for pre-decision scrutiny ahead of determination by the Cabinet at its meeting on 15 April 2019 in respect of the proposed Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Prevention Strategy for the period from 2019 to 2022. It was reported that the strategy had been developed in consultation with stakeholders, residents and other council departments and would set the key strategic priorities for the authority in over the three year period to 2022.
It was noted there were six aims in the Homelessness Prevention and Rough Sleeper Strategy 2019-22:
· To support people with complex needs
· To prevent homelessness and offer rapid housing solutions to get people in urgent need rehoused quicker
· To increase support for young people to prevent homelessness
· To end rough sleeping and begging
· To improve access to tenancy support, employment and health support services
· To ensure there is sufficient decent emergency accommodation
Referring to an article in The Guardian published on 10 April 2019, Members sought assurances that the Council could afford meet its statutory responsibilities under homelessness legislation, particularly in the context of the authority’s own financial position. In response, officers confirmed that the costs for implementing the new legislation were significant for all local authorities and they had recognised the need to increase resources into the service. Three additional staff had been appointed in the Homelessness team and additional temporary emergency accommodation had been identified too. The costs associated with this were significant, but it was affordable at present despite spending more than previously.
Members were quick to commend officers from the Housing Service and the Cabinet Member for Housing on a robust plan and reiterated that homelessness prevention required good, affordable housing. The Board enquired whether officers had considered using office spaces or empty retail spaces for housing. In response, it was explained that consideration was being given a Property Guardian Scheme, where a building would be taken over and people would live in it which would remove the need to spend more on security and reduce the likelihood of vandalism.
Reference was made to the gap in provision for homeless persons with dogs and also provision for armed forces veterans. In response, it was acknowledged that there had been a gap in provision for homeless persons with dogs, but work had been undertaken to identify suitable accommodation which could be cleaned and hold more durable furniture. With regard to provision for armed forces provision, it was explained that Housing Allocation Policy gave the highest priority to such persons, but it was acknowledged that awareness of this provision was limited and needed to be better communicated.
Clarification was sought as to whether an evaluation had taken place in respect of the pilot in letting homeless persons sleep at Rotherham Fire Station. In response, it was confirmed that the pilot had worked very well and officers had been pleased at how well it had gone. Processes and protocols were now being drafted to ensure that it would work effectively in future, but overall the pilot had been very positive.
In response to a question in respect of the policy on the non-payment of rent, it was confirmed that the Housing Allocations Policy prevented an individual from being eligible for the housing register for a period of five years following eviction from a council property. In a follow up question, Members queried whether anyone had been made homeless as a result of eviction by the Council. In response, it was explained that the Financial Inclusion Team help people with debt management and signpost to other advisory services. Whilst there had been evictions, this was very much the last resort and individuals were given every opportunity to address their debt prior to eviction proceedings. Where an eviction occurred, the Homelessness Team would then work with individuals to address their situation.
Reference was made to the impact of Universal Credit and Members sought to understand how individuals could get into rent arrears if there was a requirement for payment by direct debit. Clarification was also sought in respect of the approach to dealing with homelessness during periods of extremely cold weather. In response, officers confirmed that the majority of rough sleepers were in accommodation during the recent cold spell of weather. With regard to the query on rent arrears, officers explained that the approach of the authority was to assist in developing sustainable tenancies and resources had increased for housing income collection, with half of that team working on financial inclusion and assisting tenants with managing their finances. In this area, performance was more better than in previous years and every effort was being made to reduce the turnover of tenancies. Direct debits were helping to mitigate the arrears that tenants were facing and discussions also took place with tenants to established card payment systems to manage their finances better.
1. That the Cabinet be advised that the recommendations be supported.
2. That further reports on outcomes against the strategy be submitted to the Improving Places Select Commission.