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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 13/11/2006
SAVINGS RESULTING FROM HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION AND
REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL POST



Summary & Purpose
The purpose of this report is to seek member approval to use some of the savings produced by the Homelessness and Housing Advice sections to fund a new post to build further on the progress the team has already achieved to ensure that its continued success is sustainable.

APPENDIX F
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

COMMUNITY OVERVIEW & SCRUTINY –
13TH NOVEMBER 2006
_________________________________________________________________________
Title:
SAVINGS RESULTING FROM HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION AND
REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL POST
[Wards Affected: All]
Summary and purpose:

The purpose of this report is to seek member approval to use some of the savings produced by the Homelessness and Housing Advice sections to fund a new post to build further on the progress the team has already achieved to ensure that its continued success is sustainable.


Environmental implications:

There are no environmental implications arising from this report.

Social/community implications:

Providing housing options advice plays an important role in helping build sustainable and cohesive communities.

E-Government implications:

No direct e-government implications.

Resource and legal implications:

Over the last 4 years the Homelessness and Housing Advice annual budget has reduced by just under 190,000. This report recommends re investing 28,000 in a new role to continue to build on this success.
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Background

1. Under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, Waverley has a statutory responsibility to provide housing advice and assess homelessness and to provide accommodation to certain homeless households.

2. In order to discharge its statutory duty and to avoid the very expensive use of bed and breakfast accommodation, Waverley has had to lease private properties as temporary accommodation, in addition to using its own hostels and short-life properties.

3. Whilst cheaper than using bed and breakfast, leased properties are still very expensive and represent the largest expenditure in the homelessness budget.
4. The Homelessness Act 2002 produced a requirement for all Council’s to produce a Homelessness Strategy. Among the aims of the Government for the strategies is that Councils adopt more cost effective ways of dealing with all homeless people and help people access alternative housing. The emphasis is targeting resources at prevention of homelessness rather than assessment of homelessness. The Government has subsequently produced a requirement that Councils reduce the number of homeless applicants in temporary accommodation by 50% by 2010. The importance the Government places on prevention of homelessness is reflected in the likelihood that a Council’s performance in preventing homelessness will contribute to its overall CPA assessment.

Waverley’s progress
5. a) Waverley produced its Homelessness Strategy in July 2003.
Number of homeless applications, decisions and acceptances

98/99
99/00
00/01
01/0202/03
03/04
04/05
05/06
Homeless Applications
NA
NA
219
182185
158
123
72
Homeless Decisions
138
114
160
113
121
121
103
56
Homeless Acceptances
91
73
65
92
86
81
75
32
Numbers in temporary accommodation at
31st March
129
106
133
115
116
107
80
53
Numbers in bed and breakfast at
31st March
1
1
0
0
4
7
4
1
How has this progress been achieved?

6. Waverley has re-directed its resources to give greater emphasis to housing advice in order to help prevent homelessness. Recently a ‘Homelessness Officer’ post was re designated as a ‘Housing Advice’ post. It makes much more sense to reduce the numbers through prevention advice than processing homeless applications with the additional expense on top of providing temporary accommodation. 7. Waverley has used its ‘Rent Deposit Bond’ scheme to help housing applicants threatened with homelessness to access private rented accommodation rather than be placed in temporary accommodation. Issuing a Deposit Bond enables an applicant to secure accommodation in the private sector that at best costs Waverley nothing (besides the administration of the scheme) or at worst 1,000 if the bond has to be honoured and the outlay cannot be recovered.

8. For cases where the Council would have to place a household in bed and breakfast or other temporary accommodation and where a landlord will not accept a bond, the Council will sometimes pay cash deposits and rent in advance to enable an applicant to secure private rented accommodation. Although this can be a significant one off outlay of funds, it is still more cost effective than placing someone in temporary accommodation with ongoing cost to the Council. The average annual cost of a leased property to Waverley is in the region of 10,000 reducing to 5000 if rented out and rent is collected for a full year. Even if a cash deposit and rent in advance is issued to the sum of 2,000, this one off expenditure is much more cost effective than the annual cost of using a leased property.

9. Whilst cost effective, the issuing of bonds and cash deposits is resource intensive in terms of administration and monitoring. In 2003/4, 11 bonds/deposits were issued, in 2004/5 40 were issued, in 2005/6, 75 were issued.

10. Waverley’s success in reducing homelessness and numbers in temporary accommodation has resulted in a successful bid to increase an annual Government grant from 20,000 to 30,000. This money is used flexibly to fund rent deposits and rent in advance or to pay for one off costs to prevent homelessness. 11. Reducing numbers in temporary accommodation is addressed in 2 ways: Reducing the number of those applying as homeless through preventative advice and by ensuring that those already in temporary accommodation are housed in more settled permanent accommodation. The latter has been achieved by amendments made to the Council’s Allocation Policy last Autumn, when those who have lived in temporary accommodation for a long time were given increased priority. The former will be enhanced by moving to a Banding System with effect from December 2006 as the new policy removes any incentive applicants may have had in the past to approach the Council as homeless and be placed in temporary accommodation. The new policy does this by not penalising people for making their own accommodation arrangements in the private sector. Applicants living at home with relatives or renting privately or living in temporary accommodation will be placed in the same band and prioritised according to the time they have spent on the housing register.

12. Whilst cost effective, housing advice is much more time consuming for front line officers. It is much easier to place someone in temporary accommodation and assess the reasons for their homelessness than to try to prevent the homelessness in the first place. The number of housing advice cases received in 2003/4 was 409, in 2004/5 606, in 2005/6 the number rose to 659. Such an increase in inquiries and related case-work inevitably places considerable strain on staff resources.

13. Housing advice work entails assessing peoples’ current housing circumstances and the triggers that are causing the threat of homelessness, advising people as to their legal rights and trying to resolve the problems. Where homelessness cannot be prevented, the work includes assessing peoples’ financial circumstances, their entitlement to state benefits, convincing them that accommodation in the private sector can be a viable housing option and negotiating with private landlords to secure a suitable accommodation option.

14. Once accommodation has been secured there is the matter of trying to support both the tenant and the landlord to ensure that the tenancy runs smoothly so homelessness does not occur again. Whilst the team do this when they can, Officers are not resourced to do this to the extent that is needed.

15. As well as trying to support the existing cases that have been helped into the private sector, the team are dealing with a constant stream of people seeking advice as to a whole raft of housing problems by phone or in person, a number of whom previously we would have assessed as homeless and placed in temporary accommodation.

16. Along with the success of homelessness prevention has come additional administrative burden of issuing the paperwork for the rent deposits, rent in advance and rent bonds and maintaining the database records. Some of this administrative burden has been taken on by spare capacity created by the reduced use of temporary accommodation but this does not address the full need.

How can the progress be sustained?

17. As noted above, the Homelessness and Advice Sections have already adapted to the new approach of prevention of homelessness by redirecting precious resources to where they are most needed e.g. changing a ‘Homelessness Officer’ post to a ‘Housing Advice’ post and using Homelessness Assistants to provide administrative support for the Rent Deposit Bond scheme. The current Homelessness Officer doubles up as a Housing Advisor to provide as much flexibility as possible in managing the demands on the service. 18. However, officers consider that having re-directed the current resources there is still a need for an additional post if the current progress is to be maintained. This would also create greater capacity for the housing advisors to properly monitor those applicants who have been assisted into the private sector to avoid repeat homelessness.

19. It is proposed that a front line ‘Housing Options Officer’ is recruited to deal with initial housing advice queries in person and by phone. Such a role will release the existing advisors to concentrate on more detailed casework and securing alternative accommodation for homeless applicants. The proposed role would also help complement the introduction of Choice Based Lettings in Waverley which is due to be launched in March-April 2007, as a number of housing advice queries span the private sector as well as people’s social housing options.

Financial Implications

20. The cost for the proposed role is 28,000 taking into account on costs, based on a maximum pay grade of 9a and including essential car user allowance and mileage provision estimate.

21. Members are reminded that the Council is continuing to reduce its stock of leased properties that will in turn reduce the building maintenance budget next year. In addition, there is likely to be a reduction in the B&B budget. As noted in paragraph 10. above, from this year Waverley is receiving an additional 10,000 in Government Homelessness Grant. Operationally the post is required as soon as possible and is being is requested from April 2007. Conclusion

22. The housing advice and homelessness teams have made an outstanding achievement in embracing the new Government homelessness prevention agenda and, in doing so, have not only provided better housing options for applicants but have also generated savings to the Council. To maintain and sustain this work requires additional officer time. If the officer resources are not available to prevent homelessness there may be homeless applications with the consequence of increased expenditure in B&B and leased property costs. This will in turn jeopardise Waverley’s ability to achieve the Government target of a 50% reduction in numbers in temporary accommodation by 2010. As the number of cases that the Council assist into the private sector increases, so does the management/monitoring burden increase to ensure that these tenancies are a success and are sustainable longer term.

23. The Council has a statutory duty to respond to homelessness cases and have access to some sort of temporary accommodation for those households for whom the only viable option is assistance under the homelessness legislation. However, by targeting some of the savings already made and being made by the homelessness and advice sections at the homelessness prevention services that are producing these savings, Waverley will be best placed to keep its expenditure on homelessness to a minimum.

Recommendation

It is recommended that Waverley uses 28,000 of the savings that have been and are being generated in the reduction of Waverley’s leased property stock, to employ a Housing Options Officer from April 2007 to build on and sustain Waverley’s work to prevent homelessness.

________________________________________________________________________
Background Papers (DoH)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.
________________________________________________________________________

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Mike Rivers Telephone: 01483 523013
E-mail: mrivers@waverley.gov.uk


comms\o&s2\2006-07\045a.doc