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COMMUNITIES, HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE

2 March 2021

 

Homelessness Activity During 2020

 

Final Decision-Maker

COMMUNITIES, HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE

Lead Head of Service

William Cornall

Director of Regeneration and Place

Lead Officer and Report Author

John Littlemore

Head of Housing & Community Services

Classification

Public

 

Wards affected

All

 

Executive Summary

 

Homelessness activity has changed in comparison to previous years during the period April 2020 and the end of December 2020. The increase in activity is mainly due to those affected by the lockdown and the Councilís response to assisting single households during the pandemic and over the winter months. It is noted that the steps taken by government to protect tenants in the private rented housing has resulted in a temporary lull in approaches from households in that sector but this has been offset by an increase in applications from family evictions and those needing to leave their homes as a result of domestic abuse or relationship breakdown.

Purpose of Report

 

For noting.

 

 

This report makes the following recommendations to this Committee:

1.   To note the contents of the report.

 

 

Timetable

Meeting

Date

COMMUNITIES, HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE

02-03-2021



Homelessness Activity During 2020

 

1.       CROSS-CUTTING ISSUES AND IMPLICATIONS

 

Issue

Implications

Sign-off

Impact on Corporate Priorities

The four Strategic Plan objectives are:

 

         Embracing Growth and Enabling Infrastructure

         Safe, Clean and Green

         Homes and Communities

         A Thriving Place

 

 

Head of Housing & Community Services

Cross Cutting Objectives

The four cross-cutting objectives are:

 

         Heritage is Respected

         Health Inequalities are Addressed and Reduced

         Deprivation and Social Mobility is Improved

         Biodiversity and Environmental Sustainability is respected

 

 

Head of Housing & Community Services

Risk Management

         Homelessness is identified as a high-level risk on the Councilís strategic risk register.

 

Head of Housing & Community Services

Financial

         The proposals set out in the recommendation are all within already approved budgetary headings and so need no new funding for implementation.

 

Head of Housing & Community Services

Staffing

         We will deliver the recommendations with our current staffing.

 

Head of Housing & Community Services

Legal

         Report is for noting only.

 

Head of Housing & Community Services

Privacy and Data Protection

         Report is for noting only

 

Head of Housing & Community Services

Equalities

         The recommendations do not propose a change in service therefore will not require an equalities impact assessment

Head of Housing & Community Services

Public Health

 

 

         In accepting the recommendations the Council would be fulfilling the requirements of the Health Inequalities Plan

Head of Housing & Community Services

Crime and Disorder

         Report is for noting only

Head of Housing & Community Services

Procurement

         Not applicable

Head of Housing & Community Services

 

2.††††† INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

 

2.1     Despite long periods of lockdown and the moratorium on possession proceedings, the Housing Service has experienced overall demand for our services that is fairly consistent with previous years.

 

2.2     Persons may present to the Housing Service at either Prevention or Relief stage. Prevention can be summarised as those who are threatened with homelessness and the thrust of the Homelessness Prevention Act is to assist people in being able to remain in their homes. The Relief stage is entered if the threat of homelessness cannot be prevented; or may occur when the person presents to the Council as not having any accommodation at the time.

 

2.3     Table 1 below sets out the number of new approaches to the Council over the past three years. The 2020/21 figure is for the first 3 quarters ending December 2020. The figure in brackets is an estimate for the whole year based on an average of the year to date.

 

Table 1.

 

Description

2018-2019

2019-2020

2020 -2021

Number of new cases

2267

2288

1854

(2225)

Number closed as advice only

1049

922

805

(966)

Number of homeless applications

1200

1354

967

(1160)

2.4     Unsurprisingly, the number of people seeking housing advice has grown compared to the previous year, which is a reflection on the financial hardship that has been endured during the various lockdowns. However, through a combination of early advice and help together with the moratorium on possession proceedings, the number of people needing to go on to make a homelessness application has reduced from the previous year.

 

2.5     The above is also reflected in the those assisted under the Homelessness Reduction Act, which centres on our ability to prevent homelessness. Prevention can be achieved through a range of measures including negotiating with families and landlords, so that the person can remain in their current housing for at least 6 months. Table 2 below demonstrates the increasing success of the Housing Advice Team in preventing homelessness.

 

2.6     For those applicants who we are unable to prevent becoming homeless, they are more likely to need assistance through the traditional homelessness route, which has resulted in an increase in the number of main duty cases.

 

Table 2.

 

Description

2018-2019

2019-2020

2020 -2021

Number of successful preventions

191

249

335

(402)

Number of successful relief duties

130

299

176

(211)

Number of main duty cases

89

78

79

(95)

 

 

2.7     To provide an indication of the reasons why a household may be threatened with homelessness the following table is a breakdown of the main causes of homelessness amongst Prevention cases over the last three years:

 

Table 3.

 

Description

2018-2019

2019-2020

2020 -2021

Loss of private rented

 

151

163

41

(55)

Family/friends no longer accommodating

117

133

146

(195)

Non-violent relationship breakdown

32

27

39

(52)

Domestic abuse

 

17

35

66

(88)

Loss of social rented

 

68

53

18

(36)

††

2.8     The moratorium on possession proceedings has had a dramatic impact on the number of cases whose homelessness is due to their tenancy ending in both the private and social housing sectors. Since the end of March 2020 there have been various regulatory edicts that have extended the notice period that landlords must give their tenants; stays on possession hearings in the Courts; and a halt to eviction warrants being executed by bailiffs.

 

2.9     However, this pause in possession proceedings is only temporary and at some point in the future landlords will once again be able to exercise their ability to regain possession of their properties, which is likely to greatly increase the number of persons approaching the Council for help with their housing. Although the County Courts have resumed hearing cases, these are being prioritised to the most serious e.g. arrears of more than 6 months, significant anti-social behaviour. We anticipate it will take some months for the Courts to work through the current backlog of listings and for the impact to be seen in homelessness applications.

 

2.10  Unfortunately, the reduction in rented homeless cases has been offset by a significant increase in persons becoming homeless as a result of family and friends no longer willing to accommodate them; and relationship breakdowns Ė both non-violent and as a result of domestic abuse.

 

2.11  In normal circumstances, if the Council cannot prevent a household from becoming homeless the Council may be under a duty to secure temporary accommodation whilst it makes further enquiries. A local housing authority would normally owe this duty to households that meet the statutory definition of Ďpriority needí. This might be due the households having a dependent child or a household member who is pregnant. These are referred to as Part 7 cases in Table 4 below.

 

2.12  The Housing Service has been able to assist a large number of people, so that in spite of the increase in approaches the number of Part 7 cases in temporary accommodation remains lower than in 2018/19. Table 4 below sets out a snapshot at the end of January in each year.

 

Table 4.

 

Temporary accommodation snapshot

2018-2019

2019-2020

2020 -2021

Number of Part 7 cases

118

97

105

Number of RSI cases

-

28

55

Total number accommodated

118

125

160

 

2.13  During the pandemic the government urged local housing authorities to accommodate all persons who were homeless. Maidstone Council was in a positive position at the time, largely due to the excellent impact of the street homeless Outreach Service. Very few people were street homeless in Maidstone at that time, as most were already being assisted through the Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI).

 

2.14  The number of people being accommodated through the RSI project has grown over the last year and the figure in Table 4 includes those who have been assisted through the Winter Provision and Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). Due to the reduction in the number of street homeless in Maidstone and the resources available through the purchase of our own accommodation, it was not necessary to operate a Winter Shelter this year. In addition, Covid19 restrictions in the use of shared bedding areas, normally a feature of Winter Shelters, would have made such an approach undesirable.†

 

2.15  The increase in approaches came not from those who were actually street homeless but people who were in precarious housing situations e.g. mainly sofa-surfing. The nervousness of hosting families caused by the pandemic has resulted in an increased number of sofa-surfers losing their ability to move from one accommodation to another and ending up in making an approach to the Council. An exit strategy is being developed to help this cohort move from temporary accommodation into more settled housing.

 

2.16  The cost of providing temporary accommodation has largely been mitigated by the Councilís temporary accommodation strategy, including the investment in its own accommodation. The Council has also been successful in applying for housing grants that will be able to offset the additional costs of providing accommodation to single households as part of the Winter Provision and SWEP.

 

 

3.   AVAILABLE OPTIONS

 

3.1     To note the report.

 

 

 

4.       RISK

4.1    The report is for noting. Homelessness remains a high-risk area on the corporate risk register.

 

5.        REPORT APPENDICES

 

   None

 

 

6.        BACKGROUND PAPERS

 

      Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy 2019-2024