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Agenda item

Homelessness/Homelessness Reduction Act 2017

(i)       Report of the Corporate Director of Regeneration and Local Services.

(ii)      Presentation by the Housing Manager, Regeneration and Local           Services.

Minutes:

The Chairman introduced the Housing Manager, Housing Solutions, Marie Smith who was in attendance to give an update on Homelessness and Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (for copy see file of minutes).

 

The Housing Manager explained that in terms of Housing Solutions headline statistics there had been approximately 11,000 client contact, an increase of 11% in 2017/18 and that referrals came via partners, direct contact to Housing Advice Line and other teams.  Members were referred to graphs setting out the headline statistics, including presentations, homelessness applications and duty owed.  Councillors also noted total contacts in terms of advice, prevention or homelessness, with a split by gender.  The Housing Manager referred to a graph setting out all presentations, 3,824, for the period April-September 2018 with: 1,853 advice/intervention; six duty accepted; nine no duty; 1,475 prevention cases; and 481 relief cases.

 

The Committee noted that in terms of Quarter One and Quarter Two 2018/19 there had been 427 cases prevented, with 120 cases relieved.  Councillors noted the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 was introduced on 1 April 2018 and extended clients’ entitlement to help and placed a renewed focus on the prevention of homelessness.  It was explained that reporting and recording mechanisms had been changed in order to align with the new duties: to prevent homelessness and to relieve homelessness.

 

The Housing Manager reminded the Committee of the requirement of the Homelessness Act 2002 and emphasised that Durham had always had a strong focus on homelessness and its prevention.  Members noted the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 required Local Authorities to review current and future levels of homelessness and the activities in place to assist people.  It was added that the strategy to address homelessness now was part of the overall Housing Strategy.  The Housing Manager noted that looking at County Durham, from the data it was identified that people sought housing advice mainly due to financial difficulty and that the main reason for homelessness was cited as loss of private rented accommodation.  Councillors noted that the main client group requiring advice was single people, representing 60% of the total.

 

Members noted the aims of the Homelessness Strategy were to: prevent homelessness through early intervention; increase access to and the supply of accommodation for those homeless or threatened with homelessness; and provide a range of support services to reduce the risk of households becoming homeless.

 

The Housing Manager noted that in relation to rough sleepers, there had been two bids for government funding, with one bid being unsuccessful and the second bid yet to be determined.  It was added there was also a regional fund, with a bid to be submitted in respect of this shortly.  Members were reminded of the work of the Bishop of Durham in helping to highlight the issue and the Outreach Worker based in Durham City who had worked with 60 people with a round 30 of those being housed.  Members noted the strategic and operational working groups looking at the issue.

 

The Chairman thanked the Housing Manager and asked Members of the Committee for their comments and questions.

 

Councillor P Howell noted the main reason for homelessness being loss of private rented accommodation and asked was it a lack of provision or rather an attempt to “flip” a tenancy in order to achieve greater rent.  He added he did not think this was the issue in our region, given that rent levels were down.  The Housing Manager noted that this was an issue being looked at as part of the review and she would report back to Committee accordingly.  Councillor P Howell noted that this fed into the discussions in terms of the next item on Selective Licensing.

 

Mrs R Morris noted the links to strategy and prevention, and added that there seemed to be a pattern, often those at risk had a lack of qualifications.  She noted that through training it may be possible to “future-proof” and help those individuals to be less vulnerable.  The Housing Manager noted that communication was a key element and that Welfare Reform Officers now looked at housing, employment and training, amongst other issues, and referrals to employment programmes could be made.  It was added that those returning to the service would be noted, there would be six month review and case studies to ensure the work was effective long term and not just a “sticking plaster”.  She added as regards a pilot scheme helping to support those people with drug and alcohol issues in order to help sustain their tenancies.  Mrs R Morris noted cases where JobCentre Plus (JCP) had stated individuals must engage with training or job offers and added that there needed to be consistency.  The Housing Manager noted that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) was a partner and would fed into the six week consultation regarding the strategy.

The Chairman noted previous work of the Committee with involvement from JCP and noted this may be an area to look at in the future. 

The Housing Manager noted that in the work with the DWP, there was a DWP Manager on the Homeless Group.  The Chairman noted the work of Changing Lives initiatives, the Housing Manager noted that now accommodate was not the only issue, but also to look to help in terms of employment and/or training.

 

Councillor J Maitland asked if loss of tenancies could be attributed to issues such as Universal Credit (UC).  The Housing Manager noted not so far, however, there was ongoing work in terms of the impact of UC, and that in addition the council had done a lot of preparation in terms of the roll out of UC.  She added that while this had helped, further workshops with landlord for example would be beneficial.

 

Councillor D Hall asked if it could be possible to look to combat the shortage in terms of appropriate housing types through Section 106 Legal Agreements with developers or any other viable means.  The Housing Manager noted a shortage of one bed properties and noted that there was ongoing conversations in respect of options such as conversions of properties and shared tenancies.  She referred to pilot schemes by the County Durham Housing Group (CDHG).  Councillor D Hall asked if there was any information as regards provision by area.  The Housing Manager noted she would speak to colleagues in spatial planning as regards this but noted she was not aware of any major trends and that this was an element being looked at as part of the County Durham Plan (CDP).

 

Councillor J Atkinson asked if there had been any work with banks regarding access to affordable lending as debt was an issue for many people at risk of becoming homeless.  It was noted there were financial inclusion schemes, and people were encouraged to work with Credit Unions and to seek support from our local Citizens’ Advice Bureau.  She commented that there had not been direct work with banks.

 

Councillor A Patterson asked as regards pressures on the service in relation to the new duties, noting around 4,500 for all of 2017/18 and with around 3,800 for the first six months following the new requirements.  The Housing Manager noted that the previous three years figures for comparison were all “pre-new duty” and that from 1 April 2018 the Council had greater duties in this regard including in how those interacted with were recorded, even just for advice only.  Councillor A Patterson asked for further information as regards what the level of recording and how many people we were helping.  The Housing Manager noted that an example would be a contact via the Housing Action Line, the details then passing to a Duty Officer, looking to develop a personalised housing plan and then looking to whether the Council could assist or if the individual could be directed in order that they could help themselves.  Councillor A Patterson asked as regards the impact those new duties had on the service.  The Housing Manager reminded Members that when the service had been restructured, an additional three frontline staff had been put in place, and while caseloads had increased, there had been a lot of preparatory work undertaken and the figures appear to be “settling down”.  The Strategic Manager for Housing, Lynn Hall added that the administration burden had increased, and that through networks such as the Local Government Association and from discussions with colleagues from other Local Authorities this increased had been noted.  She added that the impact was noted and was being fed back to Government.

 

 

 

Councillor D Hall asked if there had been any pressures in terms of homelessness presentation in Durham by individuals that originated from elsewhere in the country.  The Housing Solutions Manager noted this was not an area that had been looked at, however, she would note the issue and would look for any information relating to this.

The Principal Overview and Scrutiny Officer, Stephen Gwillym reminded Members of the upcoming workshop session for Overview and Scrutiny Members in relation to the County Durham Plan and Housing Strategy on 4 February 2019.  The Housing Manager noted a “drop-in” session at the end of February to be held in the Durham Room at County Hall, with information and the date to be circulated to Members.

 

Councillor R Crute reminded Members of the opportunity to look at issues at the 4 February workshop session and to make links to other plans, strategies and issues such as: skills, the industrial strategy; and shared prosperity fund.

 

Resolved:       

 

(i)              That the Economy and Enterprise Overview and Scrutiny Committee note the report and presentation.

(ii)             That the Economy and Enterprise Overview and Scrutiny Committee, as part of the refresh of the work programme for 2019/20, received a further progress report.

 

Supporting documents:

 

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