Homelessness and rough sleeping strategy
Strategic priority 2 - supporting households into sustainable housing solutions
A key part of preventing and relieving homelessness is being able to access suitable accommodation.
Short-term temporary accommodation
We have a duty to secure short-term temporary accommodation for homeless households believed to be in priority need under Part 7 of the 1996 Housing Act (as amended), this may be pending investigations. The circumstances when we will usually place households in temporary accommodation are:
- pending the completion of inquiries into their homeless application
- when an application is accepted until suitable secure accommodation becomes available
- under severe weather provisions
The range of temporary accommodation options available to us are:
- bed and breakfast accommodation
- temporary accommodation units
- hostel accommodation in other local authority areas (although places are limited)
- private rented stock
- refuges for women fleeing domestic abuse
We try to limit the use of all types of temporary accommodation in the borough for alternative more long-term sustainable options. Historically we have been extremely successful in our low usage by managing our requirements through our temporary accommodation unit and occasional use of bed and breakfasts. However, during the past few years and even more so since the introduction of the HRA we have seen an increase in the need for and use of temporary accommodation.
Despite increasing the number of temporary accommodation units available to us to 10, the increase in demand has occurred at a time when the range of accommodation options available to us has become more restricted. Funding restrictions, local connection criteria, and competing demand for bed spaces by other statutory agencies have led to a reduction in the choice of appropriate temporary accommodation options available to us. This has meant that we are still reliant upon bed and breakfast accommodation (sometimes out of the area) which is seen the most unsuitable choice of temporary accommodation.
To exacerbate our problems further, the increase in customers with more complex needs has meant that we have also been faced with the challenge that some providers are unwilling or do not have the resources to accommodate more complex individuals, deeming them too high risk.
The increase in numbers and limited accommodation options available to us is a cause for concern, it puts additional pressure on our staff who are trying to help households. We are looking for innovative solutions which also provide suitable support services.
Long-term affordable and sustainable accommodation
The need for affordable and sustainable housing in Newcastle goes above and beyond homelessness, improving access to permanent accommodation is a much broader priority and meeting the need for more permanent affordable housing is fully addressed in our housing strategy. We recognise that the provision of affordable housing can reduce the length of time homeless households have to wait for re-housing and in certain circumstances can help people address their housing needs at an earlier stage without having to make a homelessness application. Therefore this strategy will focus upon what improvements we can make on the long term housing options for households who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Long-term - social housing
We have already acknowledged that we are no longer able to meet our objective of providing affordable sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible for homeless households solely through social housing stock alone. The turnover of register provider's (social landlords) stock has slowed, which means we have fewer opportunities for re-housing homeless households in this type of tenure. Therefore it is important for us to ensure that effective use is made of the housing stock that is available.
Part of NHA's remit is to operate our housing register and allocations policy. Applicants who join the housing register are assessed in line with the criteria set out in the housing allocations policy, which awards a 'banding' priority to applicants based upon their housing needs and is the mechanism for letting social housing in the borough. Applicants are then able to express an interest in properties that are advertised under the choice-based lettings (CBL) scheme.
Long-term - a suitable private rented sector offer
Our objective is to provide affordable sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible for homeless households, as this will remove the need to provide temporary accommodation. It is clear that we are no longer able to meet this objective by relying solely on the social rented accommodation in our borough. The pressures on waiting lists for social rented housing mean it’s really important that we also make the best use of the alternative stock available, especially in the private rented sector. The private rented sector has an important role to play especially for households who cannot access social housing or afford to buy.
As with temporary accommodation and social housing, demand for private rented stock in our borough is continually increasing. When appropriate we will encourage private rented sector pathways as prevention measure. We are realistic with our customers about their options, what is available and affordable and we can support people into the private rented sector to meet their housing needs.
There are good working relationships in place with landlords, estate and letting agents and our housing benefit department, all who play a key role in assisting us in preventing homelessness and enabling access to the private rented sector. Within the NHA housing team is a dedicated role to explore innovative ways to secure access and good quality accommodation in the private rented sector for our customers. Since the beginning of the role the officer has completed 26 rent deposit guarantee scheme sign ups, 22 of these were able to access the deposit and rent in advance agreements, 4 solely accessed the deposit scheme and 1 benefited from the private rented scheme one-off payment scheme.
We recognise the importance of the private rented sector in providing households with suitable housing options and want to develop our links into the sector further. Our focus is to increase the number of partners we work with in the private rented sector and develop the relationships we have with landlords further.
Quality of stock
Our Housing Services Team work within the private rented sector to ensure that the stock is of good condition. The service takes a pro-active approach in the provision of advisory services, signposting and providing advice on financial support that may be available to improve property condition. The service supports and promotes the North Staffordshire landlord accreditation scheme and facilitates training to help landlords understand best practice and legal requirements, including tenancy management and the correct use of section 21 legal notices.
The team also works with a range of partners to encourage empty property owners to bring their empty properties back into use. They work closely with owners to advise and assist them into bringing their properties back into use and if necessary will use the enforcement powers available to ensure a positive outcome.
The right landlord for our customers is someone who is accredited, understands their letting responsibilities and works with us to keep the rents low in return for the range of services or incentives we are able to offer.
We provide support to landlords through a variety of ways including our website, a specific private sector officer at NHA, regular newsletters, forums and officer advice and assistance. Whilst completing the homelessness review, feedback highlighted that landlords would like more support and assistance with households if things go wrong further into the tenancies.
The ideal tenant is someone who cares for and keeps the property tidy, doesn’t cause anti-social behaviour or a nuisance to neighbours and pays the rent on time.
We recognise that an effective way of preparing customers for independent living and giving them a greater chance of sustaining their tenancy successfully is to provide pre-tenancy training. However, during consultation on this strategy our partners indicated that the provision of pre tenancy training could mean that for those that do not participate in such training, it’s becoming even harder to access accommodation. We support the offer of pre tenancy training and any work that prepares customers for the realities of independent living.
We will always seek to maximise the income of our customers and ensuring they are able to access all the benefits to which they are entitled. We recognise customers with money problems can be at high risk of losing their current accommodation if they don’t pay their rent. If appropriate we will support our customers to access money and benefit advice and discretionary housing payments (DHPs).
- continue to work with our register provider partners to ensure that the nominations through the housing register are working and we gain appropriate access to social housing stock
- continue to work with registered providers to increase the supply of social housing. Opportunities for this are through section 106 agreements with private developers or through registered providers undertaking their own independent housing developments. The housing strategy will continue to monitor and feed into this area of our activity
- review and develop the private rented sector offer in the borough
- continue to work and engage with landlords, estate and letting agents in the borough
- investigate opportunities where our homelessness households can access empty properties that have been brought back into use
- continue to ensure that information is readily available to landlords to facilitate understanding of the responsibilities involved in rented properties
- continue to ensure that our customers are offered a full range of advice and assistance to maximise their income
- work with our partners to identify ways to encourage take up on pre-tenancy training