170% increase in homelessness prevention and 50% decrease in homeless applications set the benchmark for the next three years ahead of new challenges

Mike Rouse (con)

Mike Rouse (con) - Credit: Archant

‘Proactive’ initiatives, the appointment of a new Housing Service team and a ‘redesigned service’ have led to a 170 per-cent increase in homelessness prevention in the area.

According to The Homeless Strategy 2015-18 there has also been a 50% decrease in homeless applications.

It states that the number of applicants placed in bed and breakfast accommodation has remained at a level of zero households since August 2013 and the housing register was ‘freed up’ for all who qualified, not just the homeless.

Additionally, figures show East Cambridgeshire District Council has taken just one third of the homeless applications that Cambridge County Council and Huntingdon District Council have.

Councillor Mike Rouse, housing service delivery champion, said: “A home environment is the hub of life.

“Health, well being, education and employment are mainly dependant on someone having a place they can call home.

“To become, or at risk of becoming homeless, is one of the most frightening experiences imaginable.

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“At East Cambridgeshire we are determined to do everything we can to prevent this happening to our residents”, he added.

Pre-2013, the team comprised just one head of housing, one senior housing officer and three housing options officers and there were no prevention initiatives in place, meaning the team were reactive as apposed to proactive.

Hostels were left oversubscribed and bed & breakfasts in high demand as 137 people applied for Band A homelessness.

Similarly in 2012/13, there were approximately 34 families housed in B&B accommodation which cost around £500,000 per year.

The high level of demand rendered the housing register more like a homelessness register as only Band A homeless applicants were being housed.

The drop over the last three years is said to have been the result of a number of homelessness prevention tools, including: the introduction of three drop-in surgeries a week; ‘crash beds’ for 16 to 17-year-olds in need of emergency accommodation where they are given help in training, education and employment, alongside proactive advice to prevent long term homelessness; an increased use of home visits enabling people with mobility or transport issues access to advice; the introduction of a part-time floating support officer who is dedicated to preventing families from homelessness and a rent deposit scheme being bought back ‘in-house’.

Other measures leading to the decline in homelessness also include: joint assessments, crash beds for 16 to 24-year-olds who are at risk of becoming, or are homeless, and a Young Parents Project, providing support in education, training or employment.

The plan states that all residents should have access to a home that is of a good standard which they can afford and are able to sustain and maintain.

The proposed strategy for 2015-18 states that the main reasons for homelessness remain the same; eviction from private rented accommodation, relationship breakdowns and family/friend evictions.

To further prevent homelessness the council is working with local landlords and letting agents, continuing to work with private landlords to ensure that private renting is a viable option for clients, increasing the number of houses of multiple occupancies in the district and is continuing to seek out new private landlords to house clients.

However, the report notes a number of new challenges to homelessness prevention.

Universal Credit, which begins in December 2015, will apply to all single new claimants meaning that vulnerable people and households will be paid all of their benefits in one monthly lump sum.

It will then be reduced in April 2017 meaning all new claims will be limited to two children only and therefore likely to cause financial hardship to larger families on benefits.

EADC is working with Anglia Revenues Partnership and the Department for Works and Pensions to see how officers can protect vulnerable clients’ rents by enabling them to be paid direct to landlords.

Additionally from April 2017, a minimum age of 21 threshold will be introduced for new claims in housing benefit which will affect everyone except parents, care leavers, claimants in temporary accommodation and people who could previously afford their rent without assistance.

Cllr Rouse said of the expected challenges: “It will become more difficult to house homeless 18 to 21-year-olds if they are not in receipt of housing benefit.

“Officers will need to continue building on the good work already carried out to assist young people in gaining employment or apprenticeships.

“The full impact of these changes cannot be fully assessed at this time. Officers will continue, wherever possible, to put in place measures to prevent homelessness and work with the multi-agencies to ensure that the right advice and support is provided.”

The report states 10 objectives to continue a high level of homelessness prevention.

• To maintain a level of zero families in bed and breakfast accommodation

• To reduce the number of private sector leased properties with Kings Street Housing as theses properties are becoming more unaffordable for our clients

• To expand the Landlord Resolution Service by encouraging more landlords to work with the council in using private rented accommodation

• To continue to implement the policies and procedures that are currently in place and ensure that they continue to be fit-for-purpose

• To increase the collection of rent deposit loans which will enable increased recycled funds to assist more clients

• To explore the potential of a Landlord Accreditation Scheme

• To manage the introduction of Universal Credit and Welfare Reform changes

• To ensure that information and advice on housing and homelessness prevention is widely available and that our customers are seen at the earliest possible opportunity

• To achieve Gold Standard by completing the 10 challenges set out by the National Practitioners Support Service (NPSS).

• To review the ownership and management options for the existing gypsy and traveller sites.

He added: “Prevention of homelessness, or where prevention is not possible, minimising the detrimental effects of homelessness, remains at the heart of what the council aims to achieve for the residents of the district.”