The Council is required by the Homelessness Act 2002 to produce and monitor a Homelessness Strategy.
It is widely acknowledged that rough sleeping and homelessness does not simply mean the absence of a home, it also carries a number of other problems associated directly or indirectly with it. Mental and physical health problems, substance misuse/addiction, unemployment, child poverty, offending, chaotic lifestyles and anti-social behaviour are often issues associated with a person sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness. These additional problems may lead to a cycle of rough sleeping or homelessness. The rural nature of the District and high house prices means households are also affected by affordability issues which impacts on levels of rough sleeping and homelessness and our ability to prevent and relieve homelessness in Wealden.
Resolving homelessness is not only about providing suitable accommodation. Partnership working is essential to address the households’ many needs and ensure they can sustain their tenancy.
The factors expected to have the greatest impact on homelessness services in Wealden over the life of the Strategy are welfare reform, supply of affordable accommodation and the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
Purpose of the Strategy
The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy has been developed from the findings contained in the Review of Homelessness.
The Strategies priorities are to:
- Prevent homelessness in the district and meet our obligations under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
- Secure accommodation for homeless households
- Provide support for homeless households
- Tackle rough sleeping in the district
This Strategy sets out how the Council will meet its priorities having regard to current legislation and available funding.
Housing and Planning Act 2016
Key changes that could impact on homelessness in Wealden, primarily by reducing the supply of social housing are:
- Right- to-Buy for Housing Association tenants
- Changes to succession rights
Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
This Act will have the most significant impact on service delivery. The key points are:
- An extension of the period during which an authority should treat someone as threatened with homelessness from 28 to 56 days
- A new duty to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants threatened with homelessness, regardless of priority need or local connection.
- A new duty to assess what led to each applicant’s homelessness and set out a personalised action plan to resolve this. This plan should set out actions for the customer and council to take, in order to prevent or relieve homelessness.
- A new duty on public services to notify a local authority if they believe someone to be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
- If homeless households refuse to engage, their support will be limited, showing that it has to be a two-way process of engagement.
- Young people leaving care will have a local connection to the authority where they were looked after and who therefore owes them leaving care duties.
The Council’s Corporate Plan 2019-23 sets out the Council’s priorities which are:
To continue to work with our partners to support:
- Engaged, resilient, active communities
- Access to suitable housing, local jobs, services, facilities, leisure and recreational opportunities.
- Sustainable economic growth
- Sound business management
The Housing Strategy sets out how we will meet the Corporate Plan objectives. We will do this by:
- Increasing housing supply.
- Improving housing quality.
- Providing housing advice and support for individuals and communities.
The Homelessness Strategy complements the Housing Strategy by directly contributing to all its objectives. Strategic Background
The Homelessness Review conducted in 2016/17 developed the groundwork for the Strategy by:
- Exploring factors that impact on homelessness
- Examining homelessness in the district and work to prevent homelessness
- Mapping the availability of accommodation and gaps in provision
- Mapping the support for homeless households and identifying gaps in provision
- Setting out the partnerships in place to tackle homelessness and identifying if further work is needed
Key Findings of the Review:
- Around half of all households accepted as homeless have dependent children or are expecting a baby.
- Lone parents and single people make up the majority of homeless applications
- Priority need by virtue of having dependent children is the main reason for priority need
- Physical disabilities and mental health issues are the main reasons for priority need as a result of vulnerability
- The majority of homeless applicants are aged under 60, with most being aged 25-44
- The majority of accepted homeless households in Wealden identify themselves as White British
Reasons for homelessness:
The main reasons for homelessness over the past 6 years are loss of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (a type of private rented tenancy at 30%), followed by parental eviction (19%), non-violent relationship breakdown (12%), other loss of rented or tied accommodation (11.4%) and violent relationship breakdown (9%).
We continue to be very successful in preventing homelessness, with 4,777 households assisted in the past 6 years. With more households being assisted to stay in their current accommodation (4,409) than needing to find alternative accommodation (368).
Rough sleeping is a form of homelessness and occurs when people are living on the streets. Rough sleeping in Wealden has remained very low with just 3 rough sleepers in the district at any one point in time, with the last official count being in November 2018. However, due to the rural nature of the district rough sleeping can remain undetected and we are usually alerted by members of the public contacting the Council or Streetlink.
Bed and Breakfast is the most common form of temporary accommodation for households presenting as homeless, followed by self-contained temporary accommodation within the Council’s own housing stock.
The homelessness review highlighted that there are a range of generic support services available to those that are or who are facing homelessness across the district provided by a range of different agencies. However, there is a lack of specialist services for those with specific needs for example rough sleeping support in rural areas.
Factors affecting homelessness:
Welfare Reform – particularly the benefit cap, frozen benefit and local housing allowance (LHA) rates, the cost of living and the availability of credit continues to affect households’ finances and their ability to access housing.
Wealden’s increasing population due to more people migrating into Wealden than out and people living longer puts an additional demand on the housing resources. Increasing demand for private rented housing and the shortage of this type of accommodation has driven up the cost of renting privately. The main reasons that people are unable to meet their own housing needs in Wealden are:
- Affordability – the gap between income and housing cost continues to grow.
- Availability – privately rented accommodation represents only 11% of the total stock and social housing only 8.5% despite an ambitious new build programme. Only 7.6% of homes are one-bed properties across all tenures, although over 50% of the housing register requiring this size of home.
- Accessibility – many households struggle to access private rented accommodation due to the requirements of landlords of lettings agents for example due to the lack of a guarantor or the “stigma of being on benefits” or lack of money for agent’s fees.
As part of the review we consulted with customers, stakeholders and letting agents to help us understand the needs of homeless households (see Chapter 11 of the Homelessness Review).
- Enhance our housing advice and prevention services, particularly for single people and families with complex needs.
- Increase numbers of households assisted to access private rented accommodation
- Tackling the wider causes of homelessness
- Develop and enhance partnerships on a local and County basis, to support and deliver prevention and support activities
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 Act strengthened statutory duties to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants, including those who do not have priority need or may be considered intentionally homelessness. Under the Act, all households must have an assessment of their situation, support needs and housing requirements. A personalised housing plan (PHP) is agreed and steps for the Council and the applicant to take to prevent or relieve their homelessness. Applicants are supported to carry out the actions within their plan, which is monitored and regularly reviewed.
What are we doing to prevent homelessness?
Enhance our housing advice and prevention services – working in partnership with neighbouring councils to develop services to meet our new duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. Develop and enhance existing partnerships to ensure advice services are aware of the new duties and how we can work together. Recruit additional staff to help deal with the extra work created by the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
Increase numbers of households assisted to access private rented accommodation – through the Letsure Co-ordinator, improve relationships with private landlords and access to accommodation. Explore feasibility of a social lettings agency. In addition, we offer:
- Letsure – a deposit guarantee or a loan to help with the up-front costs of securing a private tenancy.
- Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme (DESSS) – for non-priority or intentionally homeless households to receive Letsure assistance.
Tackling the wider causes of homelessness by:
- Training and Skills – free training on a range of topics via Street Learning, developing free online training for housing applicants and providing outreach services with ”People Matter” (a local charity).
- Financial Inclusion – work with East Sussex Credit Union on access to basic accounts, savings and loans and weekly outreach service at the council offices. Work with Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) to provide debt, money and budgeting advice. Signposting to the CAB fuel poverty worker and the Council’s Energy Efficiency Officer, sign-posting to services such as Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP), Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme (DESSS), food banks and Furniture Now, in addition to supporting customer to get online in partnership with a number of providers.
- Universal Credit/Benefit Support – ensuring support and information is available including where to go for help to: get online, complete the online application, access use of a computer etc.
- Employment – Utilising outreach services such as People Matter to help people access advice and support. Promote the course available in Street Learning to help develop employment skills including digital skills. Working county-wide to improve access to employment support for homeless household.
- Tenancy Skills – introducing online tenancy training to provide housing applicants with advice on how to manage a tenancy and working with Private Registered Providers to ensure tenancy sustainment.
Effective partnership working to deliver advice services – Delivering the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 – develop and enhance existing partnerships to ensure advice services are aware of the new duties and how we can work together.
Housing Options work closely with a number of other Council departments, including Housing Benefits, Housing Management and Income teams, Private Housing, Housing Solutions, Retirement Living, Planning Enforcement, Housing Development and partners such as neighbouring Districts and Boroughs, Adult Social Care and Children’s Services. These links can be developed and enhanced further.
Other partnerships include:
- Housing support – Home Works and STEPS providing practical support to those in housing difficulties
- Legal advice – Brighton Housing Trust (Eastbourne) legal representation information and guidance
- Benefits Advice – the Council’s Benefit Service, Wealden Citizens Advice and Sussex Community Development Association
- Employment Advice – JobCentre Plus, Sussex Community Development Association and People Matter; Employment Co-Ordinators for those placed in temporary accommodation
- Debt Advice – provided by Citizens Advice throughout Wealden
- Training – free course provided through Street Learning
- Review access to, use of, and cost of temporary accommodation and explore alternatives
- Deliver more emergency accommodation within Wealden
- Develop a Temporary Accommodation Policy
- Increase the supply of new affordable homes
- Make best use of existing social stock
- Provide assistance with accessing privately rented accommodation
- Reviewing access to social housing
- Explore other housing options, including those for people with complex support needs
It is essential that sufficient accommodation is available for people who are, or who may become homeless.
There is a lack of specialist supported housing in the district however, since the last strategy we have worked with existing providers to secure more emergency accommodation within the District, and are working to deliver a Housing First model for former rough sleepers with complex needs, following an award of Next Steps grant.
What are we doing to secure accommodation for homeless households?
Meeting the housing needs of households in need of alternative accommodation is challenging in Wealden given the shortage of available, accessible and affordable accommodation. It is essential that we explore all options to assist these households. Ways in which we do that are:
Review access to, use of and cost of temporary accommodation and explore alternatives – through commissioning York University to research the use and costs of emergency/temporary accommodation across the County and recommend options for more cost effective and suitable accommodation options. Additionally, we seek to ensure that best use is made of the temporary accommodation that we have access to.
Develop a Temporary Accommodation Policy – Although the Council aims to work with households to prevent homelessness in some instances this will not be possible and as a result some households will require temporary accommodation (see Appendix 1).
The Council will wherever reasonable and practicable try to secure suitable temporary accommodation within the district to allow a household to maintain their existing networks, such as employment, schooling, medical care and family and social support. However, due to the limited supply of temporary accommodation in the district this will not always be possible. It may therefore be necessary to use Bed and Breakfast accommodation located within and outside of Wealden, both self-contained and shared (bed and breakfast).
The policy covers both interim placements made under Section 188 Housing Act 1996, while homelessness enquires are undertaken, and longer-term temporary accommodation placements for households accepted as homeless under Section 193 of the Housing Act 1996. See Appendix 1 – Temporary Accommodation Policy
Increasing the supply of affordable homes – through buying back ex-council properties purchased though the Right to Buy as well as other market properties. Building new council and Housing Association homes, including specialist accommodation, promoting schemes set up to assist first time buyers get onto the property ladder. Work to bring empty homes back into use and setting up Sussex Weald Homes Ltd, a company wholly owned by the Council to develop and provide new homes. The new Local Plan will include policies on tenure mix, unit sizes, provision of affordable homes, and specialist accommodation, such as gypsies and traveller pitches.
Making best use of existing social stock – using Flexible Fixed Term Tenancies, providing a Tenant Incentive Scheme to encourage under-occupiers to downsize, carrying out tenancy audit visits, employing a Housing Solutions worker in partnership with ESCC as well as Occupational Therapist and assistant and providing Right-to-Move to support social tenants who need to move to take up employment.
Provide assistance with accessing privately rented accommodation – The Council run a Letsure scheme to help eligible households access private rented accommodation by providing deposits and rent in advance. This is used in addition to money from ESCC under the Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme. We also employ a Tenancy Sustainment Officer to work with private landlords.
Reviewing access to social housing
- The housing allocations policy has been being reviewed during 2020 to ensure that it provides support for those that need it most and who are unable to secure alternative suitable accommodation. Once revised it will be kept under review to ensure it is meeting the needs of residents.
- As part of the Housing Allocation Policy review we will also be reviewing our annual lettings plans.
- Local lettings plan are developed as needed.
- The existing ICT system has been upgraded and we are continuing to develop this to provide a system which will reduce the amount of administrative resources needed to register new applications and allocate available homes.
- Develop a model for Housing First in Wealden which includes secure accommodation and appropriate support tailored to the client’s needs, including rough sleepers.
- Work with ESCC to look at homelessness and support across East Sussex with a view to providing clusters of supported accommodation for vulnerable/homeless people including specialist accommodation.
- Explore housing options for single people under 35.
- Investigate whether further emergency or temporary accommodation is need in the district once the impact of Covid 19 settle down.
- Develop and enhance partnerships on a local and County basis, to support and deliver prevention and support activities
- Ensure households are accessing appropriate support to sustain their tenancy and manage their lives
- Ensure support services are meeting the needs of customers, are cost effective and compliment other services
It is essential that we secure support for people who are, or may become homeless or who have been housed to prevent homelessness recurring.
The 2017 Act introduced duties for housing authorities to assess the support needs of all applicants who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, and agree a personalised housing plan which should include reasonable steps required to prevent homelessness and identify support needs. The 2017 Act also created a new duty on certain public authorities to refer users of their services who are threatened with homelessness to a housing authority, which enables earlier identification of people at risk of becoming homeless through their interactions with other services.
What are we doing to ensure support services are provided?
The Housing Options team will identify any support needs of households approaching for assistance, and make referrals as necessary.
Develop and enhance partnerships – for example, with other local authorities and ESCC in delivering services and support; with neighbouring authorities, health and social care to deliver specific projects such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Syrian Resettlement Programme.
Ensure households are accessing appropriate support to prevent homelessness and sustain their tenancy and manage their lives – we assess all households’ support needs (and make referrals to Homeworks and STEPS as appropriate, see specific services below for rough sleepers) and we receive regular training to ensure knowledge is up-to-date.
Ensure support services are meeting the needs of customers, are cost effective and compliment other services – support providers across the county work closely together to ensure services complement each other and are not duplicated. Supporting People funds a number of housing support services across the county and regularly review of the cost of services to ensure they were cost effective. We are in the process of mapping support provision to homeless households to identify any gaps in the services then look to see how we can work in partnership to plug those gaps.
- Recruit dedicated rough sleeper officer/s
- Identify rough sleepers
- Provide accommodation for rough sleepers
- Provide assistance to enable rough sleepers to access accommodation
- Ensure support services are available for rough sleepers, including support to sustain their tenancy
What are we doing to meet these targets?
Recruit dedicated rough sleeper officer/s – through homelessness grant, recruit specialist officer/s to work in Wealden with rough sleepers.
Identify rough sleepers – East Sussex have been successful in bidding for Rough Sleeping grants which enable us to identify and provide Outreach services
Provide Accommodation for Rough Sleepers – The Council has recently been awarded Next Steps capital grant which will enable the purchase and conversion of four, one bedroom units for rough sleepers with high support needs, with Housing First support. Support will be provided through the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First.
Provide assistance to enable rough sleepers to access accommodation – East Sussex Rough Sleeping Initiative and Rapid Rehousing Pathway project funded by MHCLG in 2019 to 2021 provides support to rough sleepers to access appropriate support and identify appropriate accommodation.
Ensure support services are available for rough sleepers, including support to sustain their tenancy – Both the Rapid Housing Pathway and Rough Sleeping Initiative projects are funded to provide a dedicated worker who will ensure this support and tailor it to meet individual’s needs. Support will include support to sustain their tenancy and support to access other services for example health services, training, etc.
We will utilise opportunities to bid for extra fund and explore options to continue to provide these services on a local and county-wide basis when the existing funding expires in 2021.
The Homelessness Strategy, the priorities and target actions will be delivered and monitored through the department’s Service Plan and detailed actions delivered through the Housing Options and Strategy Team Plan. Both documents are monitored closely by Housing Management Team to ensure delivery and are refreshed and updated annually which ensures actions are timely and relevant. Performance is reported housing applicants and tenants through our regular newsletters; partners through the East Sussex Housing Officers Group and to Councillors through quarterly performance reports.