The Council is required by the Homelessness Act 2002 to produce and monitor a Homelessness Strategy.
The legal definition of homelessness is: a household who has no home in the UK or anywhere else in the world available and reasonable to occupy.
Rough sleepers are defined for the purposes of rough sleeping counts and estimates as:
- people sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments)
- people in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or ‘bashes’).
Our Strategy outlines the framework to inform the District Council’s approach to preventing homelessness, in all its forms, and to address the causes of homelessness. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are far reaching with financial hardship experienced by many, compounded by the emergent cost of living crisis. This strategy sets out the Council’s approach to continuing effective service delivery to meet the needs of those at risk of homelessness within the district and has been developed from the findings contained in the Review for Homelessness.
The Strategy’s key priorities are to:
- Improve access to early housing advice and homelessness prevention services;
- Take action to prevent and end rough sleeping in Wealden;
- Take action to establish greater local collaboration between services and partners.
This Strategy sets out how the Council will meet its priorities having regard to current legislation and available funding.
In 2018 the Government:
- Published the Rough Sleeping Strategy which sets out the government’s vision for halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027. With a detailed action plan setting out how this will be delivered.
- Created a new Rough Sleeping Team made up of rough sleeping and homelessness experts, drawn from, and funded by government departments and agencies with specialist knowledge across a wide range of areas from housing, mental health to addiction.
- Set aside additional funding, including for local authorities via successful bids to purchase or build new homes for rough sleepers.
In March 2020 as a result of the Covid pandemic the Government asked local authorities in England to bring “everyone in”, including those who would not normally be entitled to assistance under homelessness legislation. As a result, many rough sleepers who would not normally be entitled to accommodation were provided with assistance.
Also, in 2020 the Government announced the Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme, which was backed by £435 million over the lifetime of the current parliament. This funding sought to support up to 6,000 rough sleepers into longer term accommodation through capital funding to build or purchase properties. In addition, revenue funding to support rough sleepers in their home including specialist staff to access the help they need, such as support for mental health and substance abuse problems, moving towards training and work.
Local strategic context
Wealden’s Corporate Plan 2023-27 recognises the need to help people who are likely to become homeless or are already homeless. (This plan is currently under review).
Our Housing Strategy 2020-25 aims to deliver more affordable homes, including smaller, one bedroomed homes. This contributes to alleviating the pressure on temporary accommodation and the housing register, particularly for single person households.
Our Cost of Living Strategy aims to ensure that that individuals have the financial help and skills they need, but also to support them during times of financial difficulties/emergencies. This strategy directly links with the Homelessness Strategy, as many households find themselves in housing difficulty as a result of financial and affordability issues.
As a result of the Government’s rough sleeping strategy, in East Sussex we have set-up multi-disciplinary teams to work with rough sleepers which are funded by a number of different successful bids to government funding streams. One example of this is the East Sussex Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI). Partners include Adult Social Care, Local authority housing, substance misuse, mental health, probation and health. In addition, each local authority has been successful in bidding for revenue and capital funding to deliver supported, ‘Housing First’ units of accommodation for former rough sleepers.
The Homelessness Review conducted in 2022/23 developed the groundwork for the Strategy by:
Key findings of the review:
Reasons for homelessness
The main reasons for homelessness over the past 5 years are parental eviction (19.2%), non-violent relationship breakdown (17.8%) closely followed by loss of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (a type of private rented tenancy at 17.5%).
Prevention of homelessness is vital to encourage low numbers of emergency accommodation placements, however statistically only 22.37% of prevention cases successfully retain their existing accommodation, with the remaining households being supported to find alternative accommodation.
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 and for those with complex needs.
The number of rough sleepers provided within emergency accommodation is growing and those assisted into settled accommodation has remained consistent over the past 3 years.
As a result of the review findings, we have developed and consulted on our three key aims for tackling homelessness in the District. These are:
- Improving access to early housing advice and homelessness prevention services
- Preventing and ending rough sleeping in Wealden
- Establishing greater local collaboration between services and partners
- Ensuring our services are accessible to all and that wider stakeholders know our offer and can refer to us;
- Work with landlords and tenants and mediation services to try and prevent homelessness from occurring;
- Work collaboratively with partners to identify those at risk of homelessness and address the causes of homelessness;
- Continue to develop and offer a flexible approach to meet the needs of our customers;
- Align the objectives of our strategy to other corporate objectives and strategies;
- Increase information available digitally including better use of Personal Housing Plans (PHPs).
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 Act strengthens 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 will have an assessment of their situation, support needs and housing requirements. A personalised housing plan (PHP) will be agreed and steps for the Council and the applicant to take to prevent or relieve their homelessness. Applicants will be supported to carry out the actions within their plan, which is monitored and regularly reviewed.
What are we doing to prevent homelessness?
Ensuring our services are accessible to all and that wider stakeholders know our offer and can refer to us – continuing to update the Council’s media platforms on housing advice and homelessness to ensure advice is accessible early on. Keep stakeholders updated on services available and the work we are doing and can offer.
Work with landlords and tenants and mediation services to try and prevent homelessness from occurring – Improving our collaborative work with landlords and letting agents to ensure they contact the Council if a tenant is experiencing difficulties so that we can offer early support, providing newsletters to landlords advising on the support available, with particular promotion of our Tenancy Sustainment service.
Work collaboratively with partners to identify those at risk of homelessness and address the causes of homelessness – 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.
Other partnerships include:
- Housing support – BHT 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 and People Matter
- Debt Advice – provided by CAB throughout Wealden
These links can be developed and enhanced further.
Continue to develop and offer a flexible approach to meet the needs of our customers – Training in Neurodiversity and Trauma Informed Care for all housing staff to better understand the needs of our applicants. Offering flexible interview approaches either in person, telephone or video conference to better suit the needs of the applicant. Providing personalised housing plans suited to the individuals circumstances and support needs.
Increase information available digitally including better use of Personal Housing Plans (PHPs) – Our personal housing plans offer an interactive form of communication with applicants, enabling us to send messages, ask for information, give tasks for the applicant to complete and also shows the applicant the tasks and work we are undertaking to support them in their application. It also shows the stage at which their application is at, keeping the applicant fully informed. The capabilities of the plan have not been fully utilised and these are now being explored and implemented.
- Continuing to support and work with our outreach partners to provide an effective and tailored support;
- Continue the provision of severe weather placements during cold or adverse weather conditions;
- Maintain and grow collaborative working with specialist support services for clients with complex needs;
- Provide Tenancy Sustainment to try to avoid repeat homelessness or loss of accommodation once accommodation has been secured.
It is essential that we continue to support those most vulnerable across our district in line with ministerial objectives to “end rough sleeping for good”. Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness and in Wealden it is relatively small occurrence. The proactive work of the Housing Options team endeavours to keep the level of homelessness and rough sleeping at a comparably low level.
What are we doing to prevent and end rough sleeping?
Continuing to support and work with our outreach partners to provide an effective and tailored support – The provision for rough sleepers across East Sussex is divided into 4 areas delivered by Southdown Housing which have funding until 2025. These areas are the Move on Outreach Team, Changing Futures, Safe Accommodation and Housing First. We will continue to work in partnership with these services to ensure tailored support is provided.
Continue the provision of severe weather placements during cold or adverse weather conditions – SWEP applies between 1 November and 31 March when the ‘feels like’ temperature is predicted to fall to 0°C or below for one or more nights.
There are instances where the policy applies outside of these months, for example where flooding is expected due to excessive or sudden prolonged rain or very high winds or very hot temperatures.
In these situations, rough sleepers who are not owed a housing duty will be provided with emergency accommodation (subject to any risk assessment) by the Council.
Maintain and grow collaborative working with specialist support services for clients with complex needs – We are now in the process of recruiting co-located staff with specialisms in drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and domestic abuse to increase the support available at the earliest opportunity to support our applicants. It is hoped that with specialist support many rough sleepers will start a journey to becoming independent and maintaining a tenancy.
Provide Tenancy Sustainment to try to avoid repeat homelessness or loss of accommodation once accommodation has been secured – with personalised housing plans being offered to tenants with a history of rough sleeping once they have secured accommodation, our Tenancy Sustainment Officer will be able to provide administrative support, advice on budgeting and employment and how to be a good tenant to enable the applicant to sustain their accommodation.
- Working with partners to identify gaps and supporting those most at risk;
- Confirming pathways with services that provide move on accommodation;
- Developing and maintaining effective relationships with both statutory and non-statutory services.
We continue to work with a number of statutory, voluntary and charity organisations to provide help and assistance to those that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
What are we doing to establish greater local collaboration between services and partners?
Working with partners to identify gaps and supporting those most at risk – Although the situation has improved in recent years, we are still missing a specialist provision for older people with for example dementia awareness, understanding of other medical needs, lack of digital access or skills and the skills to be able to support older people experiencing these issues.
Our review has highlighted a significant need for 1 bedroom accommodation across the district for homeless households, with better communication and collaboration we can ensure this demand is considered within development opportunities.
Confirming pathways with services that provide move on accommodation –
Across East Sussex there are provisions for supported accommodation for young people, or people with complex mental health needs, however the pathways to access this accommodation and the move on pathways require further exploration and clarification. Confirming these routes will ensure supported accommodation for applicants who meet the criteria for support.
Developing and maintaining effective relationships with both statutory and non-statutory services – Successful support and prevention of homelessness can be achieved by a collaborative approach across East Sussex, making best use of the services available, ensuring protocols and referral pathways are agreed will ensure timely support that can make a difference.
The Homelessness Strategy will be delivered and monitored through the accompanying action plan which will be reviewed and updated annually. These three key priorities will also feed into the council’s Housing Service Plan. Staff will be responsible for the delivery of the action plan through annual appraisals.