Measures to prevent and address homelessness

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					                           CABINET – 29TH APRIL 2004

                        Report of the Head of Housing Services


ITEM 11          MEASURES TO PREVENT AND ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS


Purpose of the Report

To propose measures to prevent and address homelessness in Charnwood.

Recommendation(s)

1.     That the progression of a range of prevention and intervention actions to reduce
       homelessness and for those to be incorporated into the existing homelessness
       strategy be supported and that up to £20,000 of the B&B budget be utilised to
       support these initiatives.

2.     That independent external consultants be engaged to assess the merits of the two
       options outlined and produce a report, the conclusions of which are to be included
       in a further report to Cabinet in June 2004.

Reason(s)

1.     To aim to prevent and reduce homelessness in Charnwood and sustain the good
       work achieved in meeting the Government’s target for the use of B&B for
       homeless families.

2.     To provide further information enabling the Cabinet to make a decision on long-
       term solutions to providing temporary accommodation for the homeless.

Policy Context

Meeting the Council’s priority of “ensuring decent standards of housing and security in
all kinds of housing”.

Background

In March 2002 the Government announced a commitment, which subsequently became
statutory, that:

“By March 2004 local authorities will ensure that no homeless family with children has
to live in a B&B hotel except in an emergency and this should not be for any more than
six weeks”.
At the time of the announcement there were across the country some 6,700 families in
B&B with 11,000 children and numbers had been increasing steadily since 1996. The
costs and disruption of using B&B in health, social and education terms are self-evident
and the Government decided it was time to act.

It should be noted that the commitment does not apply at this stage to the use of B&B for
single people or childless couples, but there are hints that such a commitment will be
introduced in the future.

Charnwood had been using B&B since the early 1980’s when the combined effects of
increasing numbers of homeless applicants in the wake of the Homeless Persons’ Act
1977 and sales of family homes under the Right to Buy began to affect the Council’s
ability to meet all its statutory obligations without using some form of temporary or
emergency accommodation. As well as using B&B the Council has its own purpose-built
temporary accommodation at Lingdale House, Shelthorpe, built in the early 1990’s, and
also uses Womens’ Aid Refuges in Loughborough, Leicester, Nottingham and even
further afield, depending on the client’s needs and the availability of appropriate
accommodation at the time of need.

At the end of June 2003 Charnwood had 26 families with children, or pregnant women, in
B&B and 20 of these had been in B&B for more than six weeks. By the end of
September 2003 the figure had reduced to 20 families in B&B of which 16 had been there
more than six weeks. By mid-autumn 2003 the ODPM were becoming concerned that
Charnwood still had amongst the highest levels of B&B use in the region when cities
such as Leicester and even most London Boroughs had stopped using B&B for families.
By the end of December 2003 the figures had continued to reduce to 16 families in B&B
with 8 resident longer than six weeks.

Charnwood had fully achieved the target of having no families with children in B&B by
31 March 2004, the national target date set by the Government, and the challenge now is
for Charnwood to maintain this position and continue to fully meet its statutory
obligations.

Prevention, Intervention, Spend to Save and Other Measures

The Homelessness Directorate of the ODPM recently published and sent to all housing
authorities a Good Practice Handbook for reducing the use of B&B and tackling
homelessness. The need for prevention and early intervention in homelessness situations
is repeatedly emphasised and many examples are quoted of projects around the country,
which may initially cost money but in the long-term save not only money and trauma for
the clients concerned but also money for the authority.

The need for prevention is well understood in Charnwood, as witnessed by the successful
bid for ODPM Homelessness Fund, which resulted in the largest allocation last year for,
over £100,000, of any authority in the East Midlands and allowed the Council to fund
four different projects all aimed at prevention. The authority also receives by far the
largest allocation of Supporting People funding within the county for the range of officer-
initiated tenancy sustainment schemes established last year with the main aim of
preventing unnecessary repeat homelessness.

Despite the authority’s forward thinking in establishing the schemes referred to above
there is still much work, which could be done, some of which would have initial cost
implications and some of which can be achieved simply by adjustments to working
practices and a change of culture.

One area, which is perhaps not given sufficient emphasis, is homelessness from the
private rented sector and also homelessness due to default on mortgage repayments. It is
suggested that a role could be created with the specific remit of intervening at the first
indications of risk to a private tenancy or mortgage holder. The intention would be to
quickly establish the reasons for the problems and work if possible to address the
underlying problems, which may not at first be obvious. This could involve debt advice
work, close liaison with Housing Benefit to fast-track payments and use discretionary HB
in some cases, direct working with landlords and mortgagees and operating a traditional
Tenancy Relations Officer function to ensure that both tenants and landlords are aware of
and abide by their respective legal rights and obligations and to intervene quickly if there
is any suggestion of harassment.

The success of this type of role would also depend on the continuing close working
relationship with Housing Benefit and also on the availability of a readily accessible fund
of money, a homelessness prevention fund, which could be used for one-off payments in
appropriate situations in respect of rent or mortgage arrears to delay or prevent eviction.

Other points for consideration in dealing with the wider problems of homelessness are
more of an internal re-organisation of working practice nature but include:

   1   A return to the situation where all potentially homeless applicants are visited
       quickly at home for full investigation rather than relying on office interviews and
       desk-top enquiries. This used to happen in Charnwood but has slipped in recent
       years mainly due to the resource issue of increasing numbers of homeless cases.
       Home visits can often identify other issues and can help to avoid needless work in
       some cases by distinguishing between homelessness and housing need.

   2 The need to ensure that the Council gains maximum benefit from its nomination
     arrangements with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), particularly for homeless
     applicants. The recent appointment of new staff will allow for the establishment
     of a new relationship with RSLs on both the development and management side,
     which will also include discussions about the possible role of RSLs in purchasing
     homes where applicants are in mortgage difficulties and allowing former
     mortgagors to stay on as tenants.

   3 Charnwood was the first authority in the county to introduce an assisted transfer
     scheme whereby tenants, who are under-occupying large family houses, are
       offered a financial assistance package if they are willing to consider transferring
       to smaller accommodation, thereby releasing much-needed homes for families.
       At present the maximum payment under the scheme is £2,000. The scheme is due
       for a further review, coupled with a wider publicity campaign to explain the Land
       Holding Scheme.

   4 As a local authority Charnwood lets properties unfurnished. There may be
     exceptional occasions when it would be appropriate to have a readily accessible
     store of second-hand furniture for use by homeless applicants, mainly young
     singles. At present there is no specific budget to provide such a facility and a
     small investment in this area could help in preventing repeat homelessness.

Cabinet needs to be aware that, based on the last 12 months’ figures and trends, the
proposals outlined below should enable the Council to meet the temporary housing needs
of homeless families and most single applicants with a priority need and avoid using
B&B for families, in accordance with the statutory requirement, but levels of
homelessness and the availability of suitable move-on accommodation cannot be
accurately forecast over the next five years.

The use of difficult-to-let and other Council dwellings as temporary accommodation

For the last few months the Council has been using difficult-to-let flats, mainly one-
bedroom flats currently designated for the elderly, as temporary accommodation for
people who are homeless. This obviously provides rental income from properties, which
would otherwise be void pending longer-term decisions about change of use and has been
the largest contributing factor for the Council to avoid recent placements in B&B and to
meet the Government’s deadline already referred to. It has also increased rental income
and relets turnaround to improve performance on Performance Indicators 66a and 68. As
at 5 April 2004 a total of 21 such properties were being used in this way, and although
this is a useful resource the current supply of properties is almost exhausted until the
move-on situation improves.

Extension of this recent and successful initiative by using a specifically identified and
additional block of 10 or 12 flats including the use of Lingdale House for temporary
accommodation for homeless families in priority need would provide for the needs of 44
homeless families.

Additionally blocks of flats at Offranville Close, Thurmaston have 13 bedsits and 3 flats
vacant. These vacancies with a small number of additional bedsits and flats at the same
location together with new temporary and move on units due to come into management
by an RSL Partner soon, are expected to be sufficient to meet the Borough Council’s
statutory obligation towards young single homeless temporary accommodation needs.

Total number of units for use as temporary occupation by priority homeless would be
approximately 60 to 65, mainly difficult to let units.
The East Midlands Hotel, Loughborough
At its meeting on 27 November 2003 Cabinet agreed in principle that the Head of
Housing should be authorised to negotiate with the owner of the East Midlands Hotel in
Loughborough, Charnwood Shelter Project and FCH Housing Association to operate and
manage hostel accommodation as a main source of temporary accommodation to be used
by the Borough Council to meet its statutory obligations to the homeless without
resorting to B&B for families from April 2004 onwards.

The East Midlands Hotel is a 52-room establishment regularly used by Charnwood for
B&B since the 1980’s and currently leased to Westminster City Council on a 5-year lease
expiring in August 2004. By early 2000 it became apparent that Westminster’s need for
the hotel had diminished greatly and they were happy to sub-let rooms to Charnwood and
others, mainly other London authorities, at cost. The Hotel has been Charnwood’s main
source of B&B for several years.

The proposal recommended for consideration by Cabinet in November has now been
modified to take account of the client groups likely to be placed there based on statistical
evidence of homeless presentations over the last 12 months, including non-priority single
homeless, for whom the Council has no statutory responsibility for placing in temporary
accommodation, and likely trends of homelessness in the foreseeable future.

Further detail of this proposal at this stage would constitute exempt information as it
would relate to the potential terms of such an agreement. In view of the recommendation
that consultants be engaged to assess the merits of the two options outlined above, further
information on this proposal has not been incorporated in this report at this stage.

Summary

The measures and options relating to this topic are wide-ranging and some, if adopted
fully, would involve the authority in additional General Fund spending. An assessment
of the options and the risks associated with them, to be completed by June 2004, is
therefore recommended as the next step, together with the availability of funding from
the existing B&B budget to be used to progress measures to reduce homelessness, as
indicated in this report.


Scrutiny Committee:           Housing

Key Decision:                 No

Background Papers:            “Reducing B&B use and tackling homelessness – What’s
                              working: A Good Practice Handbook” ODPM August 2003

Officer to Contact:           Richard Graves
                              Tel. 01509-634668
                              Richard.graves@charnwoodbc.gov.uk

				
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