Report detailing local homelessness information, and the SKDC view of the Lincolnshire Homelessness Strategy Review
Members considered the report of the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning on a review of the Lincolnshire Homelessness Strategy and the Impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017).
It had been two years since the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) came into force in England, on 3 April 2018. There were three main changes, which were:
· The definition of homelessness had changed from being threatened with homelessness within 28 days to 56 days
· The introduction of prevention and relief ‘duties’ rather than ‘powers’
· New ‘duty to refer’, which required certain statutory agencies to refer homeless and potentially homeless people to housing authorities (this was introduced in October 2018)
The Local Government Information Unit (LGUI) report ‘The Homelessness Reduction Act: is it making a difference?”, was published on 7 May 2020. It incorporated findings from two reports: “A Foot in the Door” by Crisis and “Caught in the Act” by Shelter. The main findings were:
· People were more likely to receive personal assistance from local authorities, especially single adults
· Councils helped about two in five households to resolve their homelessness problem
· Just one in five households assisted through the prevention duty end up staying in their existing home
· ‘Digital gatekeeping’ and other barriers existed at some local authorities
· Personalised plans were too general and not always followed up by councils
· The duty to refer was having limited success but did not include enough public bodies
The report stated how the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) showed figures relating to the national homelessness picture, including the causes of homelessness. Members were also provided with the SKDC comparison.
It was important to look at how implementation of the Act could be improved, both Shelter and Crisis were adamant that the solution to homelessness did not lie in better legislation. Councils had made better use of their discretionary housing payments, to help those with rent problems or negotiate with landlords on the tenant’s behalf. Many customers wanted to be seen by a housing officer in person, rather than via the telephone or online.
The introduction of a statutory code of practice which provided a clear and enforceable set of standards for local authorities would hopefully improve standards nationwide. Better partnership working, which included the duty to refer across other bodies and increasing awareness of their obligations under the Act would also contribute to reducing homelessness.
In 2017 the MHCLG provided councils in England with £73,000,000 in funding over three years, as part of ‘New Burdens’ funding. It was felt that this was not sufficient by many local authorities. South Kesteven District Council had received £27,536 in New Burdens Funding.
South Kesteven was part of a countywide Lincolnshire Homelessness Strategy (2017 – 2021) and the report highlighted several achievements made as a part of the Strategy. In addition to this South Kesteven was also part of the Lincolnshire Rough Sleeping Strategy (2019 – 2021), a countywide action plan was to be drawn up to tackle the challenges identified by the Strategy.
The MHCLG had advertised an opportunity to bid for a Rough Sleeper Initiative. South Kesteven had submitted a bid, as the District had experienced a significantly increased number of rough sleepers. This increase was also apparent in neighbouring Districts and the bid was submitted in partnership with; North Kesteven DC, South Holland DC and West Lindsey DC. An award of £595,523 was received. The funds were to be used to establish several new posts across the authorities and other funding pots to help with the Rent Guarantee Scheme, Enhanced Bond Payments, Emergency Access Accommodation and Funding for Rough Sleeper Support.
Members were concerned about the considerable increase in the numbers of homeless people across the District. The Senior Housing and Policy Strategy Officer explained to members that there was now better recording and with the increase in figures for the definition of homeless, this was then reflected in much higher figures.
It was queried whether empty private rented households were utilised to help ensure there was sufficient accommodation. Members were advised that there was no longer dedicated support for that area, so officers were unsure of its current status. Council owned housing stock had been better utilised for temporary accommodation.
Some members were concerned that the figures were not reflective of the current number of rough sleepers for each town and they feared that it was much higher. Officers explained that the figures were gathered at a single point in time. Some rough sleepers did so intermittently and may have been off the streets that night. If a rough sleeper was identified they should be reported, the outreach team would try to contact them within 72 hours. Unfortunately, the team were not always able to make contact immediately as often the rough sleeper may have moved on, but the team would keep trying until they were able to do so.
Members asked if unused office buildings had been considered to create more accommodation. A property had been purchased with the potential to convert it into 1-bedroom flats, to be used as temporary accommodation.
There were concerns that some rough sleepers perhaps may not wish to be assisted by the Council, members asked officers if that was an issue within South Kesteven. The “Everyone In” campaign as part of the Covid-19 Government measures had seen only 1 long standing rough sleeper refusing assistance.
It was noted by members that other neighbouring authorities had specific officers whose remit was dedicated to helping rough sleepers, there was concern as to why South Kesteven did not have that resource. South Kesteven did have a rough sleeping outreach team, the current contract was held by P3 charity. The funding received was part of the successful MHCLG Rough Sleeping Initiative Year 3 funding, awarded to South Kesteven and neighbouring authorities, it would be used to recruit new officers to cover that remit and the prevention of homelessness.