To consider the attached report.
Contact Officer: Elaine Hassall (01296) 585364
The Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2019-2022 had been produced following a review of the housing and homelessness needs of residents within the Vale and been approved by full Council on 12 December 2018. The Strategy outlined the Council’s plan on addressing these needs over the next 3 years. The accompanying Action Plan was detailed at Appendix 1 to the Committee report.
The report included information on the Housing Team that was part of the county-wide housing work stream that was currently working to map all contracts and processes to ensure that relationships were maintained post Vesting Day. Transition provisions allowed up to 24 months for a new County-wide Strategy to be produced.
As AVDC’s Strategy was valid until 2022, the immediate focus was on maintaining business as usual for all clients. Beyond this, the new Strategy would start to be developed that would continue to uphold the positive contribution that AVDC and the other Districts had made to homelessness in the Vale.
The Committee was informed on the 4 strategic aims of the Strategy and notable achievements during the period January – June 2019 were highlighted, as follows:
1. Strategic Aim No. 1 – The Prevention of Rough Sleeping.
In February 2019, the number of rough sleepers had fallen below 10. However, the most recent count in May 2019 had identified 17 rough sleepers. Information was provided to Members on rough sleeping initiatives that were being undertaken to support those at risk from homelessness, which included carrying out bi-monthly counts. A lack of high needs supported accommodation within the county remained a significant challenge.
Implementation of the Homeless Reduction Act continued to place demands on the Housing Team as more complex data recording was required. The partnership with Riverside Housing for Winter Emergency Provision and temporary accommodation at Bearbrook during the coldest periods had proved to be successful. In February 2019, the first properties had been supplied and released by VAHT as part of a housing first type model for medium risk clients.
Following on from lessons learnt from the Building Resilience Pilot, the Districts had funded a county-wide short-term Prison/Probation and Housing Liaison Officer contract provided by Connection Support, to ensure prisons met their statutory duty to refer which came into effect in October 2019.
The Tenancy Sustainment Contract managed by the County Council had been extended to include support for new tenants.
2. Strategic Aim No. 2 – To Facilitate and maximise the supply of affordable housing.
The number of new affordable homes for January-June 2019 was 155. While there were no statutory obligations to provide a certain number of new affordable homes, Aylesbury consistently achieved more than the other Bucks districts.
Shared equity loans were being explored in Haddenham, as were plans to bring forward a number of social rented houses. The current figure was 34, subject to changes in the exact number of completions. A proportion of the New Homes Bonus had also been ring-fenced for the delivery of new affordable housing.
Members were informed that Bucks Home Choice, the social housing allocation policy for Bucks, had been reviewed and the new policy would go live on 1 October, 2019.
Information was also provided on the Accommodation Officer post, on the Environmental Health team successfully prosecuting landlords in breach of HMO Licensing rules, and that the draft masterplan for Aylesbury Garden Town was currently being developed.
3. Strategic Aim No. 3 – Responding to the ongoing challenges of welfare reform.
The Revenues and Benefits team continued to support Universal Credit (UC) claimants and worked closely with the housing team to help mitigate and prevent homelessness. Information was also provided on the Housing Debt Advice team and the Citizens Advice service “Help to Claim” for customers who required extra support when making a new UC claim or moving onto UC.
4. Strategic Aim No. 4 – Contribute to the improvement of health and well-being services for people at risk of homelessness.
The Mental Health Nurse post within the Housing team was working well to identify homeless people who had mental health needs so that appropriate interventions and referrals could be made.
The Housing Team had met with the Clinical Commissioning Group, who did not have a Duty to Defer, to explain the need for GPs to notify the Housing team on patients at risk of homelessness at the earliest opportunity.
Members were also informed on the following pieces of legislation introduced this year:-
· The Homes Act (Fitness for Habitation) – 20/3/2019 – which gave additional rights to tenants who lived in social or privately rented houses and flats.
· Draft Domestic Abuse Bill – 21/1/2019 – together with a consultation document.
The Housing Team had also responded to a number of Government consultations regarding tackling homelessness, the Mental Capacity Act Code, an MHCLG Allocations Evidence Collection Exercise and on improving access to social housing for members of the Armed Forces, Veterans and their families.
Members sought additional information and were informed:-
(i) that there were 4,900 people on the Bucks Home Choice waiting list, which included 1,700 applications for over 55s. However, many of these were not necessarily people with a housing need but people who had a house but wanted to move. The biggest pressure and shortage for BHC was for one bedroom single person accommodation.
(ii) that the targets in the VALP in relation to providing affordable housing as part of new developments was completely separate to the Housing and Homelessness Strategy. However, the Council was always proactive to negotiate as much affordable housing as possible and 700 lets had been delivered last year.
(iii) that Aylesbury Vale was fortunate to have 100 units at Griffin Place for temporary accommodation. Wherever possible the Council tried not to use B&B accommodation for temporary accommodation although a few had been used that were located in the High Wycombe area. Wycombe had inspected these B&Bs to ensure they complied with safeguarding requirements although there were also plans for Officers from AVDC to check relevant premises.
(iv) that while the Council Housing teams already had good work relationships, Officers were working to ensure that a seamless service would continue to be provided from 1 April 2020.
(v) on the process for children who came out of care and had a housing need.
(vi) that the AVDC Housing service was proudest of how quickly it responded to housing, and especially homelessness, issues. While homelessness legislation provided Councils with wide discretion on how they responded to homelessness issues, AVDC accepted 80% of homelessness applications compared to a national average of 55%.
(vii) that the Housing team had worked with the Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group (who were based at the Gateway offices) in relation to homelessness / rough sleeping issues that GPs might encounter and had rolled out information so that GPs knew how to refer people who were homeless or had no fixed address.
(viii) on the partnership working done with organisations specialising in primary care, substance dependency, mental health, employment and health.
Members noted the amendments to the strategy document and commented that they were happy for the Action Plan updates to be published on the Council’s website, and –
That the progress and achievements up to the end of June 2019 against the Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2019-22 Action Plan be noted.