Chapter 1: Purpose, Aim and Background
The purpose of this strategy is to set out what we mean by vulnerable, highlight how we identify those that are vulnerable and what we do to support these residents.
For the purpose of this strategy resident means a council tenant or a retirement living leaseholder.
For the purposes of this Strategy “vulnerable” is defined as:
“A tenant or retirement living leaseholder (excluding Wealden Independent Living Scheme tenants) who is aged eighteen years of age or over, and who is or may be by reason of physical or mental health, addiction, financial and/or digital, isolation or circumstances unable to take care of themselves or unable to protect themselves against harm or exploitation or is at risk of losing their tenancy.”
The above definition sets out that our residents maybe be vulnerable due to five reasons:
- Physical Health
- Mental Health
- Addiction – drug and alcohol abuse or gambling
- Financial and/or digital
- Circumstances – is wide ranging and can include being vulnerable due to anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse or being a care leaver.
The Strategy is for both tenants (Council and A2 Dominion) and Wealden’s retirement living leaseholders.
The ultimate aim of this strategy is to ensure residents are supported to sustain their tenancy.
As of November 2022, we currently own and manage 3011 homes across 35 of the 42 parishes within Wealden, with just under two thirds concentrated in the main towns of Hailsham, Crowborough, Heathfield, Polegate and Uckfield. The remainder of the stock is in the small hamlets and villages in rural locations. Of these 3011 homes, 23 are used for temporary accommodation for homeless households, 467 are retirement living units and the remaining 2521 are general needs properties.
13 properties from within our stock are let to Southdown Housing Association for vulnerable tenants; these are referred to as WILS tenancies (Wealden Independent Living Scheme). There are also 76 retirement living leaseholders. In addition, the service manages 27 properties on behalf of A2 Dominion across two sites.
Our Lettings (turnover of stock)
Our turnover of stock is largely affected by the number of new homes being built. In recent years we average around 250 lettings per annum. In 2021/22 there were 296 lettings and 24 mutual exchanges. Of these lettings 131 were existing tenants moving to alternative accommodation and 164 to new tenants. Around a fifth of moves each year involve retirement living, with under a tenth of moves being to temporary accommodation.
We currently have 73 Retirement Living Leasehold properties and issue around 4 new retirement living leases per annum which become available as and when the existing leaseholders move on.
Chapter 2: Identifying Vulnerable Residents
Not everyone with a vulnerability will have a support need. However, it is essential that those that do are identified as soon as practical to ensure that they receive the support and services necessary to maintain their tenancy.
The housing service manages in-house the housing register for all households that require social housing whether that be council housing or Private Registered Provider/Housing Association homes.
All housing applicants including those for retirement living leasehold are assessed at the point of applying for housing to see whether they have any support needs. Any that have high support needs will be considered for schemes such as WILS (see page 8) or supported accommodation or specialist service options e.g., YMCA youth hostel or extra care. Some housing applicants may also already have support in place either at the time of applying for housing or once they have applied. Where a need is identified the Housing Options team will make referrals for support to services such as Brighton Housing Trust.
When a new tenant is nominated for a vacant council property detail will be passed from the housing allocations team to the housing officer so that they are aware of any support needs or vulnerabilities of the customer. The sign-up process and 6 week visit for all new tenants is another opportunity to identify any support needs including any assistance required to help them sustain their tenancy.
When anyone moves into retirement living the Retirement Living Court Manager will produce a wellbeing assessment as a matter of course with them and this will be reviewed regularly (see page 6). This identifies any support needs and how these will be meet.
For most customers their support needs will be low-level and short-term and as such they will be referred for support to Brighton Housing Trust.
All leaseholders like housing applicants for rented accommodation have to complete an application form and this can identify any support needs.
Once a vacancy for leaseholder occurs any prospective purchasers would be interviewed. This also provides an opportunity to identify any support needs.
All leaseholders moving into retirement living will have a wellbeing assessment produced for them by the Retirement Living Court Manager as detailed on page 6).
General Needs tenants
There are often many opportunities to identify tenants who might have support needs that develop after they move into their council accommodation. It is essential that we continue to maximise these opportunities in order to ensure tenants are able to sustain their tenancy. These include:
- Tenancy Audit visits/ Property condition checks and other visits by the Housing Officer including for reports or antisocial behaviour or breach of tenancy conditions
- Visit by contractors to carry out repairs or other works including improvement works
- Visit by other housing staff such as estate wardens or surveyors or someone else from property services
- Contact by third party e.g., concerns raised by neighbours/friends/relatives or other service provider including voluntary and statutory bodies this can include reporting antisocial behaviour or tenancy breaches
- Referrals from other council services who have reason to believe a tenant is in need of additional support e.g., benefit service
Retirement living tenants and leaseholders
All retirement living leaseholders and tenants will have wellbeing assessments developed with them at sign-up and reviewed on an annual basis or before then if a need arises. They are not care plans but set out practical information such as next of kin, GP details, how many calls the tenant/leaseholder would like per week from the court manager and the networking activities that the tenant/leaseholder would like to be involved with. In delivering the wellbeing assessment the Retirement Living Court Manager may make referrals to other providers.
The Retirement Living Court Managers make daily morning calls to all residents to check that they are ok. Some opt out of daily calls as part of their wellbeing assessment, in which case they will receive as a minimum a weekly call. The manager will also identify any additional needs (physical and mental health) and act accordingly. They also support residents to access to social activities.
The manager is on site regularly and this provides an ideal opportunity to identify any additional needs that a tenant or leaseholder might have. Due to the fact that there are communal facilities and a shared main entrance this provides an opportunity for other residents to identify and report any concerns to their court manager about another resident.
All retirement living properties have a fixed lifeline service and where needed tenants are issued with pendants with a speech module so that they can contact the lifeline service 24 hours a day in the event of an emergency such as a fall.
The court manager will liaise with GP’s, Adult Social Care and other services as appropriate. This ensures their residents receive the support that they need to sustain their tenancy.
Temporary Accommodation tenants
Those placed in temporary accommodation may have already been referred for support to Brighton Housing Trust (see page 10) by their Housing Options Officer. There is also a Temporary Accommodation Co-ordinator employed by the council who maintains contact with those in temporary accommodation. The Officer may help apply for benefits to help ensure these tenants do not get into rent arrears and will make appropriate referrals. The Officer manages the small blocks of temporary accommodation that the council owns and remains the main point of contact for those tenants.
As well as ensuring that they maintain their tenancy/lease, it means that we can:
- Take account of known vulnerability factors in the provision of services and in decisions around tenancy management and enforcement.
- Assist vulnerable residents in accessing additional services that they may need.
- Record any known representatives who act as a ‘delegated authority’ or with power of attorney to act on the resident’s behalf.
- Consider any additional needs due to the vulnerability and make appropriate referrals to statutory agencies and other external partner support agencies.
- Make safeguarding referrals whenever needed.
- Ensure we utilise the role of our Tenancy Sustainment Officer to help those most in need.
There are many opportunities for the Council, its contractors and others to identify where a tenant or leaseholder is vulnerable and in need of extra support. We utilise all opportunities available to us. This is essential as not all tenants or retirement living leaseholders will be vulnerable at the time of moving in since vulnerabilities can arise at any time, some may be short lived and others lifelong.
It is essential that those needing extra support are identified as soon as possible. This will limit the impact both to the individual and on the council.
Chapter 3: Supporting Vulnerable Residents
The support needs of our residents vary considerably. Many will have a combination of support needs as opposed to one isolated issue. The way in which residents can be supported varies but this section outlines some of the ways we can help. Support may come in the form of a referral or signposting to another agency or assistance from staff within the housing service. Tenancy sustainment is the key priority for us as a housing provider.
The services available locally change regularly and so an East Sussex online directory has been developed. It details all the services available by type and the contact details for them and how referrals can be made. This is used by staff to ensure residents are able to access appropriate support.
Within our stock there are 13 Wealden Independent Living Scheme (WILS) tenancies. WILS aims to provide a supported housing service for vulnerable people including those with mental health problems and/or learning difficulties to assist them to maintain a self-contained tenancy within the community. Southdown Housing Association is commissioned to operate and manage the service on behalf of the council and Social Services ‘Supported Accommodation Team’. This ongoing long-term arrangement involves the council leasing accommodation to Southdown Housing Association who in turn offers a tenancy to a housing applicant who has support needs. Southdown provide intensive support for up to two years, ensuring that at the end of this time the tenant is capable of sustaining a tenancy unsupported. The accommodation is dispersed across Wealden and is generally in the form of self-contained single person flats. Southdown undertakes full housing management responsibilities on behalf of the tenant. The scheme is very successful and very few tenancies fail due to the intensive support provided by Southdown. Once people are able to live without support the tenancy will be put into their name.
We also have 8 units of accommodation for rough sleepers (4 are owned by the Housing Revenue Account and 4 the General Fund). These are known as Housing First units and come with specialist support including access to a range of other services delivered through a multi-agency approach to help the former rough sleeper. This support is currently provided by Southdown Housing Association.
Although not owned by the council but by Housing Associations we have access to some specialist accommodation within the district. East Sussex County Council deal with for referrals to extra care to the 2 schemes in Wealden for older people in need of care and support. They also deal with referrals to accommodation for those with learning disabilities which also comes with onsite support, with 2 schemes in Wealden as well as some dispersed accommodation. We can refer our tenants/retirement living leaseholders to ESCC if they need this specialist accommodation and the support that comes with it.
Additionally, a housing association own a refuge in the district which can be accessed via Refuge for victims of domestic abuse who cannot stay in their current home. Via Refuge we can also access refugees located in neighbouring authorities.
Housing Advice – If it is appropriate a resident might also be given housing advice to consider the best housing solution for them if their needs have changed since they moved into their current home.
Aids and adaptations – The Council continues to provide funding to help people live independently within their current home. The Council is able to carry out minor adaptations in conjunction with the tenant such as grab rails, lever taps and major adaptations that are practicable and reasonable based upon the referral of an Occupational Therapist through the Disabled Facilities Grant process.
Local Charitable services – Local voluntary services exist to support people with disabilities and their carers these include Care for the Carers, Possibility People, East Sussex Association of Blind and Partially Sighted People and East Sussex Association for the Deaf.
If an officer believes that a resident has a mental illness, they will be referred by their Housing Officer/Retirement Living Court Manager/Tenancy Sustainment Officer to the Adult Community Mental Health Team for assessment and support. If appropriate they might also be given the details of local charities and support services.
If a resident is identified by an officer as having drug and/or alcohol problems their Housing Officer/Retirement Living Court Manager/Tenancy Sustainment Officer referrals will be made to East Sussex Alcohol Service or East Sussex Drug & Alcohol Recovery Service (STAR). They may also be given the details of the local charities that exist.
If a gambling addiction is identified their Housing Officer/Retirement Living Court Manager/Tenancy Sustainment Officer will provide details of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, which is an NHS commissioned service to deliver care and support to gamblers with complex problems.
Financial and/or Digital
The council have a Cost of Living Strategy which should be read in conjunction with this strategy.
When a resident is experiencing financial issues they might be sign-posted/referred to one of the following:
Tenancy Support Officer – Within the Income Team, who will work with tenants/retirement living leaseholders to help them apply for benefits and Discretionary Housing Payments. If their needs are greater than this referral will be made to Wealden Citizens Advice for money and/or debt advice.
Wealden Citizens Advice – we have a close working relationship and a corporate service level agreement with Wealden Citizens Advice. They will work with residents to help them with budgeting including reducing outgoings, dealing with priority and non-priority debt, repayments rescheduling, getting debts written off and much more.
East Sussex Credit Union (ESCU) – ESCU offer basic bank accounts and jam jar accounts to help with budgeting to residents and where a tenant is unable to afford the cost of setting up this account the Council will cover the costs. They can also offer affordable loans and savings.
Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme – DESSS is continually changing but for some customers can assist with basic needs such food and utility costs.
Brighton Housing Trust – The Service provides a flexible, personalised short-term housing-related floating support across East Sussex for vulnerable people, aged 16+, who require support to live independently.
When a resident is experiencing digital exclusion i.e., they cannot access services because they are not online, we will sign-post them to courses to help improve digital skills run through the Street Learning project or to “IT for You” sessions run in the local libraries. In addition, if they do not have the equipment to get online, we will advise them of organisations/charities who can provide low-cost equipment. We also can provide a tablet loan scheme for those who wish to get involved through our tenant involvement options.
Where a resident is experiencing isolation their Housing Officer/Retirement Living Court Manager/Tenancy Sustainment Officer will work with them to identify why they are isolated. Are they lonely for instance, isolated due to the location in which they live or is it because they don’t know what services are available locally? They will be sign-posted to services depending upon their specific needs for example they could be given details of a local charity called SCDA who run a befriending service.
This is not an exhaustive list but includes;
Antisocial behaviour (ASB) including hate crime – an individual or household might be vulnerable due to ASB/hate crime against them. The Housing Service has an ASB policy and procedure which outlines how we will support these households. A risk assessment is carried out by the Housing Officer as necessary to highlight those that might need extra support and someone scoring high on the assessment would be referred immediately to the police. For lower level ASB referrals might be made to other services such as the mediation service.
Domestic Abuse – If a resident has suffered domestic abuse the options will be discussed with them and could include a number of the following: sanctuary measures to their existing property to make it secure to remain there, a move to a refuge whilst alternative accommodation is secure, housing advice, and referral to the police and/or East Sussex Domestic Abuse Service. This East Sussex service – Community Independent Domestic Violence Advisors Service (IDVAs) provides practical and emotional support to women and men living with domestic abuse and violence as well as information, advocacy and practical help.
Exploitation – Where a resident is a potential victim of cuckooing/modern slavery or some other form of exploitation experiencing isolation their Housing Officer/Retirement Living Court Manager/Tenancy Sustainment Officer will raise any concerns that they have with the police. They will work with the police to try and identify the perpetrator and ensure support is received by the victim.
Loss of employment Including due to ill health – Where a resident losses employment due to ill health, they will be referred for benefits advice to Wealden Citizens Advice to ensure that they receive all the financial support to which they are entitled. The Income team will also be made aware so that they can support with any repayment plan if the resident has any rent arrears. Signposting to local charities will also be done.
Moving from supported accommodation or leaving care –In most cases those moving into a council property from supported accommodation including leaving care will receive help to settle into their new homes either from their existing provider or Brighton Housing Trust (which would have been put in place at housing application stage). Their Housing Officer/Retirement Living Court Manager will work with this support service provider to ensure appropriate transition.
Rough Sleepers – If rough sleepers have been placed in Housing First accommodation their Housing Officer will work with Southdown Housing who provide the tenant with an intensive support service to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to tenancy management. For rough sleepers with lower-level support needs they will be housed in general needs or retirement living accommodation following a stay in emergency/temporary accommodation. Support would have been put in place when they first made contact with the council or another service. This is usually provided by Southdown Housing, but this may be transferred to Brighton Housing Trust if their needs are low enough. Their Housing Officer/Retirement Living Court Manager will work with this support service to ensure that the tenancy is sustained.
Significant past trauma – A tenant or retirement living leaseholder may be vulnerable because they have experienced childhood trauma/poor parenting/had safeguarding needs as a child/ been a young carer/witnessed domestic abuse and as a result do not have the right skills to manage their lives independently. Our experience is that this is usually something which has a more significant effect on our younger tenants and these cases are complex with the tenant experiencing other vulnerabilities. Therefore, once identified they will be referred to our Tenancy Sustainment Officer. The officer who will work closely with them and other statutory and voluntary services to address each individual issue that they have and to empower the person to develop the necessary skills to sustain their tenancy and manage their live.
It is essential that those with support needs are identified on our housing management system so that Officers who are in contact with the resident is aware of their specific needs and can ensure that any services/contact with them is tailored to take into account these needs.
In addition, we have a separate IT solution for our Retirement Living accommodation which records details of wellbeing assessments and these are used to ensure the specific needs of those in retirement living are meet.
The range of factors which can lead to vulnerability are diverse and residents might have a number of factors which make them vulnerable and in need of extra support from us as their housing provider and/or other support services, either statutory or voluntary. However, people’s needs change and as such officers need to be provided with appropriate ongoing training to help them identify and support vulnerable residents.
Since our last strategy because of the complexity and number of issues some of our tenants experience we have employed a Tenancy Sustainment Officer to work with these residents to ensure that they are support and are able to sustain their tenancy.
Chapter 4: Meeting our Objectives
Our aim is to ensure that our residents are able sustain their tenancy/lease. National research has shown the benefits of early intervention which are wide and include financial benefits and social benefits. Through identifying and ensuring vulnerable residents are supported appropriately we can ensure tenancies/leases are sustained and well managed. This not only improves the health and wellbeing of our residents but also leads to cost savings for the housing service in terms of dealing with tenancy enforcement and rents arrears.
It is essential that as a service we are proactive in identifying vulnerable residents at the earliest opportunity to minimise the risk to the service (both financial and staff safety), other residents and the “vulnerable” person themselves.
In delivering this strategy we will ensure that:
- Housing staff and contractors use every opportunity to identify vulnerable residents.
- Vulnerable residents are sign-posted/referred to appropriate support services.
- That most vulnerable tenants are supported by our Tenancy Sustainment Officer.
- Housing staff have the necessary knowledge, training and skills for their role, including ongoing/refresher training.
Housing Options Officers, Retirement Living Court Managers and Housing Officers are primarily responsible for identifying vulnerable households and referring them to appropriate support. However, after moving into a council property any visiting council officer or housing services contractor should flag-up to the Housing Officer anyone that they believe is vulnerable so that the Housing Officer can visit and make any necessary referrals/signposting. All contractors are trained in safeguarding and are DBS checked. Any issues identified by them come via their Contract Manager to Housing Property Services Manager, Senior Administration Officer (Property Services) or Voids Officer.
We will meet this objective through:
- Using standardised forms at sign-up and the 6-week visit
- Using standardised tenancy audit forms
- Completing risk assessments for all cases of antisocial behaviour
- Utilising wellbeing assessments in retirement living accommodation
- Ensuring housing officers and retirement living court managers have access to standardised referral forms
- Ensuring the recording of vulnerability is standardised and recorded on our Housing Management system and regularly monitored and updated
- As part of the sign-up carrying out a pre-tenancy assessment
- Working closely with contractors who are visiting our tenants’ homes
We will meet this objective through:
- Use of a county wide service directory
- Sharing of information on services for example through team meetings
- Providing online training to housing applicants to help them manage and sustain their future tenancy
- Continuing to fund aids and adaptations for council tenants’
- Funding a Housing Solutions Worker to ensure residents have assistance/support to access appropriate long term housing solutions
- Ensuring adapted properties are re-let to people needing adaptions
- Attending and being active partners in local partnership meetings such as Joint Action Group and Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference
- Reviewing our Anti-Social Behaviour policy and procedure on a regular basis
- Providing funding to Wealden Citizens Advice to ensure that they are able to deliver debt and welfare advice including benefit maximisation to residents
- Continuing to run a Sanctuary scheme to provide safety measures for those experiencing domestic violence
- Working with East Sussex County Council to ensure we continue to have a refuge in the district
- Funding the £10 set up cost of basic accounts through the East Sussex Credit Union (ESCU) for residents unable to fund this themselves
- Working with ESCU to promote their services i.e., affordable savings accounts, loans and basic accounts
- Encouraging vulnerable tenants living in general needs accommodation to use the council’s telecare provider for alarm and other services as well as other assistive technologies
- Supporting and promoting money management, wellbeing and IT course offered by partners including those run via Street Learning
We will meet this objective through:
- Prompt referral to the Tenancy Sustainment Officer via an internal referral and screening process
- Ensuring tenants are involved in their support planning/wellbeing assessments to address any arears of concern
- Working collaboratively with other Wealden departments to identify the most vulnerable tenants such as the benefits and enforcement teams
- Ensuring that the Tenancy Sustainment Officer has up to date and relevant Safeguarding knowledge and training
- Working in close partnership with key agencies such as CAB, Adult Social Care, Children’s Services and Mental Health services
- Ensuring tenants are provided with an opportunity to provide feedback on the support they have received to further shape the delivery of the service
We will meet this objective through:
- Ensuring all housing officers and other front-line staff have generic training on identifying vulnerability
- Ensuring all housing staff complete training on identifying vulnerable adults and children – safeguarding training
- Ensuring all frontline housing staff undertake trauma informed practice training
- Ensuring all housing staff receive training on equality and diversity
- All housing staff to undertake compulsory online training for all staff including the new neurodiversity training
- Ensure all housing staff attend regular refresher training
- Providing other appropriate and timely training for housing staff e.g., on new legislation
- Providing funding and support for staff to undertake professional qualifications and memberships