Housing Support Programme Strategy and Homelessness
Scrutiny of the Housing Support Programme Strategy prior to submission to Welsh Government on 31st March. Report to be accompanied by a Homelessness Update.
Stephen Griffiths presented the report and answered the members’ questions with Ian Bakewell and Rebecca Creswell.
This draft will go to a full draft and then to a full council decision?
Yes, we have permission from Welsh Government for it to be agreed in retrospect (in the new council term, June or July).
Would early intervention operate in association with registered social landlords? How would you identify those at risk, in order to intervene at an early stage?
Identifying households that are experiencing problems that could lead to homelessness is the great challenge. We are looking at ways of data collection and intelligence gathering from many organisations, for example, the vulnerability of households experiencing rent arrears. Those in receipt of local housing allowance will be asked for a Discretionary Housing Payment – that is a flag of a situation that could result in homelessness. If that is flagged to us at an early stage, then we can perform an early intervention to identify needs and the requisite support. We have also contacted every estate agent in Monmouthshire to give them the opportunity to flag up any of their tenants who are beginning to experience low-level risk. We want to link with the Council’s poverty campaign too to encourage anyone experiencing a problem to talk to us.
Is it worth surveying the youngsters and those with complex needs, as to how they ended up in a homeless situation, to assist with prevention?
We are looking at a system to identify those who might become homeless in order to get a housing pathway in place to anticipate possible homelessness.
Is it possible to change the circumstance so that landlords are paid directly out of benefits, rather than by the person in receipt of benefits?
This is harder now because DWP changed the rules relating to universal credit. There is a direct payment arrangement but it’s harder than it used to be.
Regarding prevention, can we compare our picture with other authorities, and collaborate on particular areas of experience?
The previous homeless strategy was a Gwent one but the issues a year ago were so acute that each local authority wanted to focus on its own situation and response, which led to the strategies being individual. But we network very closely with our neighbours – there is a meeting today between the local authorities, for example – which are opportunities for sharing and comparing notes. There is a Gwent scheme to support prison leavers. As things begin to settle down post-Covid joint working will increase further.
There is a lot of pressure on families now from the cost-of-living problem. Perhaps if there is mediation, they wouldn’t need to progress from temporary to permanent accommodation?
We have financial inclusion workers in the housing options team to support people with outgoings and income maximisation. The Housing Support Gateway also does a lot of this work, as does Citizens Advice, so it is a key part of what we do. When trying to find someone accommodation we do an affordability assessment, in order to put them in accommodation that is financially sustainable. There is a Monmouthshire Mediation Service which has dropped off the radar somewhat but based on this suggestion we will pick it back up and ensure that it is part of the prevention toolkit.
How much accommodation has been lost due to private rented accommodation being taken off the market to let as Air BnB? Is this increasingly a problem?
We aren’t aware of landlords defaulting to Air BnB, but our study from a year ago showed a decline in the market. Anecdotal feedback that the housing options team gets is that landlords are selling. The trend therefore does feel as though it’s down, rather than getting better.
Has any assessment or modelling been done concerning the cost-of-living crisis that we’re entering, particularly the long-term effects?
This sort of modelling is a focus of the Community and Partnerships team, looking to better understand the situation. Modelling is at the heart of the rapid rehousing project; s Welsh Government is asking us to define the gap between housing need and housing supply. Once we’ve completed it, we should have a definitive number of how many properties we are short of, in terms of homelessness, and will be a number for us to work towards constructively. Poverty and affordability work will inform how we articulate the gap.
Has there been any development in the Welsh Government initiative to buy up old properties e.g. Mulberry House? Wouldn’t we be in a much better position if we didn’t have to rely on private landlords, but could build our own units?
Mulberry House was discussed previously in relation to our Empty Property Enforcement action plan, which gives us a stronger enforcement position if owners won’t interact or work with us properly. We can purchase properties directly through that route. But the point about the council owning accommodation and having more direct provision is a key conversation that has been going on for some time. It is being given serious consideration, and we have been looking at accommodation with that potential in mind.
Has a rise in interest rates and cost of living been factored in?
We won’t lose sight of this. We’ve had a period of relatively low interest rates, and mortgage repossessions aren’t a big feature of our current demand. We are notified of them when they occur. But going forward this is something to be mindful of, in addition to fuel bills and other household pressures increasing.
The committee thanks the team for its hard work. In addition to the main questions, members have expressed concern about the number of houses in the county being sufficient and reiterated their wish for the use of vacant properties in high streets to be explored for homeless and affordable housing. The Chair asked that the rise in interest rates and cost of living be included in the report as a key risk. The team will next bring the Rapid Rehousing Proposal to the committee.
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