To consider the report of the Homelessness Task and Finish Working Group.
Members are asked to note that Richard Crompton, the Service Lead Housing Needs and Homelessness will be in attendance to answer any specific questions.
Councillor M. Mitchell, as Chair of the Group, presented the report of the Homelessness Task and Finish Working Group, the Group having been established following a request to the Scrutiny Programme Board by Councillor Barbara Denning regarding the impact of any increase in homelessness in Exeter as a result of benefit cuts and increases in the cost of living. At the same time, the City Council was consulting on its Homelessness Strategy. As well as a call via the Council website for the public to submit their views, opinions and experiences of homelessness in Exeter, two sessions had been held with witnesses working in this field.
Seven formal meetings had been held between June and December and Councillors Rees and Sutton had visited and talked to users of the St. Petrock’s services. The Chair of the Group recorded the Group’s gratitude to those members of the public who had responded and the following organisations who had contributed as witnesses:-
· Devon County Council;
· Exeter City Council Housing Needs;
· Exeter Wellbeing;
· Julian House; and
· St. Petrock’s.
Responding to a Member, he stated that the sessions had been predicated on each body responding to Members’ queries on their previously submitted statements rather than being required to present to the Group. Whilst the bodies had not been asked to comment on the scrutiny process itself, they had been given the opportunity to review the Group’s report and their observations had subsequently been taken on board.
The Task and Finish Group Chair advised that the recommendations divided into two categories:-
· Those that relate to other local and national bodies and to Central Government; and
· Those within the control of Exeter City Council.
The Service Lead Housing Needs and Homelessness reported that the consultation exercise had enabled partners to share their views with Members in a structured manner and this had been particularly beneficial with many of them to be included in the more formalised partnership approach being recommended as part of the Homelessness Strategy within the report to Executive on 7 February 2023. Whilst the recommendations presented did not conflict with, and could be accommodated within the Strategy, because of resource constraints the Strategy was unlikely to pick up all individual suggestions. However, it was anticipated that many could be progressed within the Strategy Action Plan. The Committee Chair echoed this caveat and urged Members to follow the debate on the Executive report.
Another Member also commented on the budgetary restraints on the Council and remarked that progress on the first section of recommendations was not within the Council’s gift. All wished to see an end to homelessness and the ongoing positive relationship with partners was vital in bringing forward initiatives.
In respect of recommendation 12, a Member referred to forthcoming Devon Partnership Trust cuts in its Mental Health Services, a revised geographical coverage to now include Plymouth, Torbay and Teignbridge. Whilst mental health services were the County Council responsibility, the work of the City Council’s Homeless Advisory Team encompassed support for those with complex needs including mental health issues and was aligned with the work of the Mental Health Alliance.
In respect of recommendation 16, a Member referred to the prohibitive cost of bringing forward any proposals that might arise from any review of the 24/7 provision of public toilets. It was noted that the recommendation sought more to consider the around the clock availability of toilets for homeless people and not a wider assessment of public toilets in the city. Members noted that the desire for more comprehensive facilities could be picked up with partners as part of the Strategy Action Plan.
Members noted a rewording of recommendation 13 to read homelessness in the first line in place of homeless.
The following Task and Finish Working Group recommendations were moved and seconded for adoption by Council, voted upon and carried unanimously:-
(1) To seek via the City’s two MP’s and the Local Government Association a fundamental review and overhaul of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) Scheme with consideration to be given to the Allowance reflecting Exeter’s circumstances as an urban area in its own right and not averaged with neighbouring authorities in the assessment of the allowance (as evidenced by Shelter and CAB in session 1 and St Petrock’s in Session 2);
(2) To lobby Central Government to increase the ability for local authorities to build social housing (as evidenced by Shelter in session 1 and Julian House and St. Petrock’s in session 2 and to undertake a review of Right To Buy (RTB)
(3) To lobby Central Government for the funding of local authorities and agencies to be for a minimum of three years for projects relating to housing provision, as opposed to short term support (as evidenced by Shelter in session 1 and Julian House and St. Petrock’s in session 2);
(4) To lobby Central Government to support changes to the planning system to control/limit short term lets and holiday homes (as evidenced by Shelter and CAB in session 1);
(5) To lobby Central Government to support the abolition of Section 21 evictions (as evidenced by Shelter in session 1) ;
(6) To lobby Central Government to support the reform of the Business Tax and Council Tax regimes for an equitable contribution in respect of all properties (as evidenced by Shelter and CAB in session 1);
(7) To seek a Government review of the current operation of the deposit system for private rented properties for mediation to get an agreement to last no longer than 28 days after which the full deposit is returned. This will assist the tenant to obtain a further deposit for an alternative property. (as evidenced by Shelter and CAB in session 1).
(8) To seek the support of the Crown and Magistrate Courts for the use of Plain English regarding paperwork relating to court proceedings (as evidenced by CAB in session 1)
(9) To align with the County Council webpages to ensure linkage on information and advice that helps people to find early help and prevent people from becoming at risk of homelessness wherever possible (as evidenced by Devon County Council in session 1);
(10) To work with Devon County Council’s Children’s Services, to ensure the Homelessness Prevention Worker function is able to help young people earlier and prevent them becoming at risk of homelessness wherever possible including young people leaving care and making better use of existing tools like Positive Pathways to improve supporting young people earlier on (as evidenced by Devon County Council Session 1);
(11) To seek increased/joint service contributions from Devon County Council in co-production areas of work e.g. substance misuse services, social care, young persons including care-leavers etc.; and
(12) To seek increased capacity around mental health services including support for the newly formed Mental Health Alliance and building on existing City Council officer support in this area (as evidenced by Shelter and CAB in session 1).
Exeter City Council responsibilities:
(13) To undertake a city wide response to homelessness, through a more formalised partnership approach building on the city’s social capital and developing flourishing communities - this could be via the proposed Homelessness Housing Forum (HFF) comprised of local accommodation and support providers to see the system as a whole and address blocks and barriers. The HHF will build on learning from the Exeter Homelessness Partnership Alliance as well as from national examples of good practice e.g. Homeless Link. This will build on the existing co-production mechanisms and with the ultimate aim of offering accommodation on first presentation. The involvement of the business/private sector will also be sought (as evidenced by CAB in session 1 and Co-Lab in session 2);
(14) To maximise renewal of the City Council contract(s) with providers with Member involvement to add greater focus on key areas and targets, including analysis of the evidence base (as evidenced by Shelter in session 1);
(15) To seek the involvement of a third party organisation in statutory homelessness mediation cases (as evidenced by Shelter in session 1);
(16) To welcome and support the In Exeter commitment to the provision of drinking fountains in the city centre and seek the review of the 24/7 provision of public toilets in the city (as evidenced by Co-Lab in session 2);
(17) To welcome and support One Exeter’s review of the use of Plain English for Council tax and other written communications and support face to face communications rather than by telephone (as evidenced by CAB in session 1 and St. Petrock’s in session 2);
(18) To seek City Council commitment to a continuation of funding for the leasing and purchasing options programme for the supported and temporary accommodation programme (as evidenced by St. Petrock’s in session 2);
(19) To seek City Council commitment to the expansion of the Housing First model particularly through local registered social landlords; and
(20) the Chair of the Task and Finish Working Group to liaise with the Executive Portfolio Holder in order to provide feedback to the Customer Focus Scrutiny Committee within six months regarding the above proposals.