Report of the Director City Devlopment
The Service Lead, Housing Needs and Homelessness presented the report providing an update on the recommendations of the Homelessness Task and Finish Working Group. The update covered the key Issues in the last six months and progress under the new Homelessness Strategy which included actions to progress the recommendations of the Working Group which had met in the Autumn of 2022 with a number of key stakeholders and statutory providers. Members were also advised that key data reporting demand, outcomes and trends would be circulated via the new Housing Needs quarterly newsletter and that further reports would be submitted on progress with the actions within the Strategy. He emphasised that it was not simply a City Council policy document, but a strategy to be owned by the whole of Exeter.
He enlarged on progress made on the action points 1 to 19 below.
Action points 1 to 8 involved lobbying of Government and external bodies, in particular seeking an overhaul of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) Scheme to more accurately reflect Exeter’s circumstances in order to help individuals afford new homes or sustain tenancies. He advised that this was one of the areas to be raised for consideration by the Devon Housing Commission chaired by Lord Best and that the City Council would be submitting evidence to the Commission. Other areas being examined by the Commission included second home ownership and house building. A key ask was for central funding to extend beyond a one to three year support period to provide for long term planning and commitment.
Action points 9 to 12 involved system changes through working with local statutory partners and stakeholders to maximise current resources and identify new resources and strengthen partnership working.
Action points 13 to 19 related to the City Council’s own processes including developing a more formalised partnership with statutory bodies and local accommodation and support providers through the Homelessness Housing Forum. Prioritising budgets to maximise capacity was also important and the Council had committed capital match funding through the Local Authority Housing Fund
to purchase housing for those households who had come to the UK from Ukraine and Afghanistan through the Ukraine Family Scheme, the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and the Afghan Resettlement Scheme. Exeter was the only area where no one had become homeless after leaving Afghanistan Bridging hotels. A further initiative was the recent leasing of 16 units to provide additional temporary accommodation housing.
Responding to a Member who raised issues around Children’s services highlighting a case where a young person felt safer sleeping in a tent rather than facing anti-social behaviour/drug taking etc. in shared accommodation, the Service Lead, Housing Needs and Homelessness referred to the Council and partners targeting funds for new supported housing units for homeless young persons including care leavers. Gap analyses had been co-designed with partners and completed for both Rough Sleeping needs and high needs Young Persons services. It was a key partnership milestone in preparation for a November bid for capital and revenue to the Supported Housing Accommodation Programme (SHAP).
In response to a Member asking what is needed to end rough sleeping, the Service Lead, Housing Needs and Homelessness estimated that there was a requirement for 100 supported units which was costly to implement. The provision of safe, welcoming accommodation was vital to assist the street attached to progress into recovery and would also help address issues around sofa surfing, county lines and sexual exploitation. However, the 100 units would not necessarily be sufficient added capacity to address future flow onto the street from loss of supported accommodation and from institutional settings.
The Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention referenced the importance of statutory partners and others working collaboratively across Devon and that it was not solely a District Council responsibility. Increasing the capacity and funding around mental health services, substance misuse, care of younger persons and care-leavers was crucial with, for example, 151 care leavers currently across the County.
The Chair invited Councillor M. Mitchell, the Chair of the Task and Finish Working Group, to address the Committee. Councillor Mitchell thanked the Service Lead, Housing Needs and Homelessness for the report and Councillor Denning who had first submitted the request for a review of regarding the impact of any increase in homelessness in Exeter as a result of benefit cuts and increases in the cost of living. He re-iterated the need to seek a review of the Local Housing Allowance which impacted on the homeless, those in rented accommodation as well as the employed. He stated that the average rent for a two bed property outside London was £1,278. Exeter was not below this average but was below the Local Housing Allowance rate.
Councillor Denning, the Portfolio Holder for Council Housing Development and Support Services, also thanked the Service Lead, Housing Needs and Homelessness for the report, stating that she worked closely with the Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention on this area. She particularly praised the work in rehousing refugees which had received much praise through social media.
Responding to a Member’s query, the Service Lead, Housing Needs and Homelessness confirmed that homelessness and street attached was not necessarily linked to anti-social behaviour. He advised that the City Council and the Police were drafting an action plan to challenge and unpick social connections to the street and which could also reduce enforcement solutions which ultimately fall short when reaching the Crown Prosecution Service. A report would be submitted to the Community Safety Partnership. He also referred to ethnographical studies undertaken with those who had experienced rough sleeping to help provide a better understanding of the problem.
Other initiatives included the availability of basic hygiene (showers and toilet facilities) which partners are still investigating and the identification of alterative venues such as drinking-permitted space in the city.
A Member moved that the Council seek to lobby the Government to provide additional funding to ensure the provision of 100 units of supported accommodation for ending rough sleeping including for young people and to change the Local Housing Allowance.
The motion was moved, seconded and carried unanimously.
RECOMMENDED that Council:-
(1) be requested to agree to lobbying the City’s MP’s and prospective MP’s, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Local Government Association to:-
· secure sufficient funding to provide for 100 units of supported accommodation for rough sleepers and young people; and
· change the Local Housing Allowance by restoring the link to the lower quartile of the rental market; and
(2) note the progress on the following 19 action points which were divided into those relating to Government/external bodies and those more within the Council’s sphere of influence. Progress was reported in italics:-
(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
The fundamental affordability issue resulting from the gap between market rents and LHA rates has been a repeated theme arising the Afghan bridging hotel resettlement programme work. Housing authorities up and down the country have repeatedly raised LHA as the key barrier to affordability and homelessness reduction with key ministers and in the presence of lead Home Office and DLUHC personnel. ECC council officers have lent support to this message to Government during webinars and seminars. The response has been that the Government is listening.
It was hoped that the high profile of the Afghan programme amidst the wider refugee resettlement challenges could be the vehicle that finally levers an uplift in LHA rates. However whilst this has not yet materialised the local action to propose a review of the Broad Market Rental Are via local MP offices is outstanding and will now be followed up by officers.
(2) To lobby Central Government to increase the ability for local authorities to build social housing
Specific lobbying action has not yet been initiated due to other priorities. Elements of specific activity relating to this agenda remain in play through Planning and the HRA development programme. It is proposed that the Council feeds this and other nationally / regionally relevant lobbying actions via its engagement with the Devon Housing Commission.
(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
(4) To lobby Central Government to support changes to the planning system to control/limit short term lets and holiday homes
(5) To lobby Central Government to support the abolition of Section 21 evictions
(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
(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.
For actions 3 to 7 it is proposed that the Council also feeds these through the Devon Housing Commission.
(8) To seek the support of the Crown and Magistrate Courts for the use of Plain English regarding paperwork relating to court proceedings
Not yet actioned.
(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
Focus on this action has to date been joint working with DCC Children’s Services and Corporate Parenting directorate to finalise the working protocols between County and District / City housing authorities in homelessness 16-17 year olds and Care Leavers aged 18-25. The Care Leaver protocol has been approved by the leading District officers (including Legal teams) as at w/b 11.09.23. This is a key milestone in establishing an improved robust joint prevention approach across both authority tiers. Alignment of communication and marketing of the protocol alongside key information to young persons and representing agencies has been agreed by all partners. The expectation is that revised information will go live by the end of the calendar year.
Alignment of wider homelessness advice and help information including website content and format is outstanding and to be agreed once the local homelessness funding position is finalised post-December.
(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)
This action is part of the overall work with Corporate Parenting and to be developed within the new best practice Champion model due for Cabinet sign off this September. It is proposed that County and Districts will review the homelessness prevention resources under the “Care For Me” subgroup in order to focus on current delivery and gaps in accommodation and support services. The HPW function is to be reviewed alongside the current capacity for personal assistant casework with key focus on improving tenancy rescue. The Council is assessing options to work with County on the Supported Housing Accommodation Programme which will include an assessment of potential use of local County land / buildings for new housing for care leavers. Additional funding for support and earlier intervention work is to be deployed to care leavers through the “Staying Close” fund.
The above work is being progressed under the joint countywide approach to the Corporate Parenting duty which is currently a central priority on the monthly Team Devon CEX agenda.
(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.
Action relating to young persons and care leavers is reported as above. In relation to the needs of the wider cohort, having played a key role in the submission of data and impact information to the recent homelessness funding consultation, the Council is engaged with County in the co-design of a position statement on homelessness. This work is scheduled to produce an integrated view of homelessness need including multi-disciplinary funding models and proposals by the end of November.
Outside of this the Council has been working with local substance misuse and social care partners to develop new capacity for support to adults and young persons with complex and multiple need. This is being co-ordinated under the local joint working with Public Health drug and alcohol funding to grow additional capacity within services aligned to the model of trauma-informed relational practice as delivered by the (award winning) ECC-led Navigator service.
(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
Work to develop more capacity and improved delivery / outcomes for homeless people in Exeter is being led by Colab with support from the Council. One recent focus has been the recruitment of the mental health navigator and re-establishing the model of pathway interface with the statutory mental health service. Further work is required in this area to drive up capacity beyond what is currently a very limited resource in relation to need and demand.
The Council continues to fund via RSI grant monies the psychological wellbeing support service Real Life Psychology which supports clients and staff with key coping skills and reflective practice.
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.
A number of work development areas have been in progress over the last 6 months:
· The renewal of a revised Exeter Homelessness Forum, building on the work of the 3-year funded Exeter Homelessness Partnership. The key focus to date has been co-ordinated response to the DCC homelessness funding consultation but other priority work is to revise the alternative giving scheme, raise resource for basic need / survival facilities (toilets, shelter, drinking water etc.) and develop wider service co-production with lived experience including education, training and employment pathways
· Meetings with key civic partners to develop the action plan around relieving street-attached need including city centre ASB. This is a multi-agency partnership including the Council, police, civic partners such as Education, Commerce and businesses.
· The Council has continued to lead the Ending Rough Sleeping forum with homelessness and housing partners including some wider stakeholders. Part of the agenda is the development of wider engagement of partners such as Public Health with a view to build strategic consensus toward a wider Homelessness Reduction board
The governance model proposed in the new Homelessness strategy has not yet been established due to other pressing priorities and is now set to be road-tested over the next 6 months by diverging the above key stakeholder meetings to pilot one strategic homelessness forum for Exeter.
(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
Contract renewals are in progression with temporary accommodation providers as a key priority given the pressure of statutory accommodation demand and the current squeeze on funding for housing-related support. The Council is prioritising the more risk-tolerant higher performing providers whilst assessing ongoing improvement agendas with other services alongside alternative service models (including in-house provision).
Contracts with young person’s services for Homeless Prevention Workers were renewed in February but are now subject to the overall review with Corporate Parenting before any extension or procurement decisions will be taken for April 2024 onwards.
The Council has recently undertaken a contract review and negotiated a funding extension with MOJ/Probation services for its prison resettlement service.
The Council and Citizens Advice Exeter have continued with review meetings (CAE with new CEO from April) focusing on current trends and practice issues with a view to prioritise work streams in time for contract renewal in 2024. Demand on services sub-contracted to CAE and Homemaker SW remain high especially in areas such as household affordability, income maximisation, and arrears and debt management. Next steps will include further relationship building (referrals and communications) with the Council’s housing advice services and strengthening of prevention-focused activity.
(15) To seek the involvement of a third party organisation in statutory homelessness mediation cases
The Council has maintained contact with the Shelter (Plymouth) lead officer. Reviews and appeals of homelessness decisions have remained stable in number. The majority are appeals against social housing banding decisions and predominantly appear to be reflective of personal frustration (lack of housing availability and waiting lists) as opposed to incorrect decisions by the Council. The Council has recently proposed a policy amendment regarding appeals whereby (subject to Devon Home Choice approval) those that are not supported by additional supporting evidence or a change in circumstances following the initial decision may be rejected.
The Council plans to invite a third party advocacy service to monitor these cases as a first check and balance into this area of work. This is also for the purpose of trialling a new partner relationship wherein a mediation option may be developed for challenging prevention cases.
(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
This action has not yet been progressed. It is likely to be on the priority agenda for the Exeter Homelessness Forum as per point 13.
(17) To welcome and support One Exeter’s review of the use of Plain English for Council tax and other written communications rather than by telephone
This action has not yet been progressed to completion. An option to add a summary statement to the letters atop the necessary policy and legal-led statutory language to be taken to Council Tax lead officer.
(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
To date the development of leasehold options to relieve pressure on temporary accommodation has not required additional budget from the Council general fund. Since February eight properties (7 new builds and 1 private market) have been purchased and added to the Council’s HRA stock under the Local Authority Housing Fund (LAHF) programme. An additional 5 properties are currently under offer / conveyance under LAHF round 2. These properties alongside 3 new PSL properties have been instrumental in ensuring no families were without a housing offer or made homeless as a result of the closing of the bridging hotels in Exmouth and Exeter in August.
In the last few weeks three new properties (16 units) have been leased by the Council for additional temporary accommodation housing. The transfer of some households into these properties will temporarily reduce the cost to the Council of use of hotel and B&B accommodation. This is key to the Housing Needs savings plan under the mid-term financial plan. However a combination of continuing pressures on statutory homelessness demand plus the limited existing capacity in housing-related support have not yet resulted in equivalent lasting reductions in hotel and B&B use. The Council is planning to combat this through increasing the number of leased units plus bidding into the SHAP fund respectively.
(19) To seek City Council commitment to the expansion of the Housing First model particularly through local registered social landlords
As a first step the Council has led by example and committed to resource five existing 1-bed flats as additional Housing First (HF) tenancies to the existing 15 within Council HRA stock. Whilst one local housing association has also provided 7 units of accommodation under the HF model the scheme will be taken to wider partners as part of the leading Homelessness Reduction Board operational action plan.