To receive an update on the current position of the Housing Options team from Housing Options Manager, Ms. Suzannah Hellicar.
Ms. Suzannah Hellicar, Housing Options Manager, was welcomed to the meeting. Members had received Report No. EHH 1603 ‘Housing Options Update 2015/16’ which provided an update on the work and the performance of the Housing Options Team for the period of April – December 2015 and focused on the challenges faced by the team as a result of the economic climate, there had been specific concern around rough sleepers, complex clients and advice and prevention work.
It was noted that the team comprised of 8.5 officers:
· Housing Options Manager
· Senior Housing Officer
· x5 Permanent Housing Officer & x1 Temporary Housing Officer
· 0.5 Housing Alllocation Officer
The Panel was then reminded of the purpose of the Housing Options Team: ‘to help people to solve their housing problem and to provide a suitable home to those in housing need’. The aim of the team was to prevent homelessness by working with customers to keep them in their existing homes. When this had not been possible, the team was able to explore a number of options:
· Renting privately
· Temporary accommodation
· Shared ownership schemes
· Social rented housing
It was heard that many residents had continued to seek advice in person as 2,338 different households had visited the reception desk to contact the team this year, in comparison to 2,437 last year.
Some challenges faced by the team had been thought to continue over the following years. These had included a limited supply of suitable accommodation for permanent housing, including those who require adapted properties, the complexity of vulnerable individuals’ needs and those individuals that had fallen between services and cuts to Hampshire County Council’s Supporting People budgets and the rationalisation of services. It was also noted that there had been an increase in the number of rough sleepers, particularly in Aldershot Town Centre.
The reduction in suitable accommodation had resulted in housing officers spending more time carrying out robust assessments and finding private rented accommodation. This meant that there had been less time spent on preventing homelessness in the area and households had spent longer in temporary accommodation or had become homeless.
Members noted that cuts to local services, including Hampshire County Council’s Supporting People budgets, had left some vulnerable individuals without support. Those that had complex needs, such as, addictions, poor social skills or an offending history had been more difficult to find suitable accommodation, resulting in some being placed in unsuitable accommodation, which had often led to tenancies failing. The Panel was informed that the team had spent a lot of time supporting vulnerable people with complex needs. However, this had been challenging as the team had not always had the right resources to meet those needs.
At a previous Panel meeting, Members had been updated on the homelessness in Aldershot Town Centre’s High Street car park. Members heard that, in conjunction with the Council’s Legal Team, the Community Safety Team and The Police, a proactive and legal centred approach had been taken to stop the anti-social behaviour associated with rough sleeping. For example, not drinking, not urinating in public, not entering certain areas of Aldershot and causing trouble. It was noted that other authorities, such as Surrey Heath and Basingstoke, had seen a significant increase in the number of rough sleepers.
A multi-agency pop up ‘hub’ had taken place last August in the Princes Hall, Aldershot, to address rough sleeping issues. It was noted that the purpose of this project had been to bring agencies together and look at different approaches used to deal with people for whom traditional models of service delivery had not worked. The ‘hub’ was supported by twelve services and delivered front facing services to the street homeless people from one location. The Panel heard that 24 rough sleepers / sofa surfers had accessed the ‘hub’ and eight had been accommodated as a result of the ‘hub’ in bed and breakfast accommodation (B&B). Members heard that of the eight placements, all but two had been lost.
While the ‘hub’ had been successful, it was noted that it had not resolved street homelessness in the Borough. The Panel was informed that there had been between twelve and fifteen entrenched rough sleepers and it had been difficult to resolve the needs of that client group. It was thought that a multi-agency approach would be needed to succeed.
The Panel noted that the number of people in the housing allocation pool had been consistent with the previous year and heard that the highest demand had been for one-bedroom accommodation.
Ms. Hellicar informed the Panel that the Housing Options Team had worked in partnership with local agencies and other advice givers, e.g. the Citizens Advice Bureau, to prevent people from losing their homes. This had been done by providing comprehensive advice and financial / debt assistance and by working closely with people to ensure that they had understood their obligations and the consequences of their actions to avoid losing their accommodation. It was noted that the main reasons for seeking advice and assistance had remained similar to previous years, e.g. eviction by family and friends and unsuitable properties due to medical circumstances.
Members noted that the number of rent bonds were likely to reduce by 20/30 due to the difficulty of securing private sector accommodation and the length of time spent in temporary accommodation increasing. Also, the Panel heard that the number of homelessness applications had increased and it had been likely that the next year would exceed the previous year by approximately 40 applications.
The Panel were advised that the Housing Options Team had worked hard to keep households out of B&Bs and the time spent in this temporary accommodation had reduced from five weeks to 3 1/2 weeks. It was heard that Clayton Court had helped reduce figures as it offered 45 units at no cost to the Council. It was noted that work was being carried out with Hyde Housing Association with the aim of beginning to use eight empty flats as temporary accommodation.
It was concluded that while the Team had faced a number of challenges, it had continued to meet statutory obligations to homeless people through partnership working and the exploration of new and innovative ways to support customers.
The Panel NOTED the update.