Agenda item


Report of the Executive Director (Place)



Members received a presentation from the Council’s Housing Options Manager about the work of the Housing Options Team and the support provided for residents through temporary accommodation. The presentation is attached to these minutes.


Members commended the presentation. A number of points were raised and discussed:

·        Members asked whether there was a joined-up approach when there were issues of dual diagnosis or other complexities. Officers responded that the data they could now obtain from systems was enabling them to link people’s support needs. This could relate not just to mental health and drug dependency but also mental health and domestic abuse. The close working relationship with the County Council supported this.

·        Members asked about Howlands House in respect of temporary housing. Officers said that when it was redeveloped it would be the largest accommodation site in terms of units but acknowledged it was an old building. It was important to have the right facilities for people who needed temporary accommodation and the new accommodation would help with that.

·        Members noted the rising demand for temporary accommodation and asked what happened to the significant number of people who did not meet the criteria. Officers explained that usually about half the number of people approaching the Council in this regard were assessed as either homeless or at risk of homelessness. The Council needed to consider which of those were owed a duty to be provided with temporary accommodation and a lot of partnership work was focused on the people who were not owed this duty; specialist officers worked with single people so they could receive more targeted support, and an officer worked directly with Probation and the prison service. It could be difficult to find accommodation to move people into as while officers could identify the issues and cause of homelessness, what was needed were options for accommodation, which was where work with the private sector and other supported accommodation came in.

·        A Member had noticed police speaking with rough sleepers in Welwyn Garden City and asked about work with police. Officers said they became aware of rough sleepers in various ways and were promoting referrals through the Street Link service as the data could then be used to target people more smartly. Officers worked with police and antisocial behaviour teams; patrols took place and staff had an understanding of who might need assistance. People might not necessarily want to accept help at first and repeat visits meant they became more familiar with the service which built trust. There could also be a crossover with people begging or who appeared to be sleeping rough but were not.

·        A Member reflected on how difficult it must be for officers to work in such difficult circumstances and how disappointing it was that Council accommodation was only available for the most vulnerable. Officers responded that although the work is difficult, staff wanted to support people and celebrated their successes. This was not the only route into Council housing given the allocations policy and work of the homeless team.

·        A Member commented that pride should be taken in Inspira House as a resource for homeless people.

·        A query was raised about whether people recovering from substance use who had been housed in Hatfield received onsite assistance and could support each other while they were there. Officers replied that the individuals got to know each other in the houses and had support workers. The Council was trying to move away from houses in multiple occupation (HMO) as it was not a long term solution; the idea behind Housing First was that accommodation was provided and then support was offered but it was important the individual could see their accommodation as their long term home which was hard if they were in an HMO.

·        A Member commented that members of the armed forces had not been mentioned and asked if they received support, noting they could include young people who had served a few years and had post-traumatic stress disorder or families left without accommodation. He was aware that the rule that stipulated a prior association with the area was no longer in place. Officers said there was not a specialist officer for veterans as the numbers did not currently support it but the team had a good understanding of the Armed Forces Covenant and had met with an umbrella agency which supported veterans. In the event that a veteran was to present locally as homeless, officers could plug into different charities and an online database, and were confident any period of homelessness would be short.   

·        Officers advised Beam (a social enterprise) was crowdfunded. It treated each individual as a project, assessed what they needed to move into accommodation and employment (eg a deposit for the first month’s rent or a laptop to apply for work) and people then donated to help people move on. The individuals were not identified on social media. Members asked for their thanks to be passed on to Beam.

·        A Member noted the increase in market rents and that the local housing allowance for Universal Credit was frozen, and asked whether support was provided to help bridge that gap and if there was guidance on this. Officers confirmed this support was available for people the Council was trying to move into accommodation as landlords and letting agents would want to know they could afford the rent. If an individual could afford it with the assistance of local housing allowance with a top-up then it was a question of how sustainable that was as individuals’ access to resources varied, so decisions were made on a case by case basis. Meeting each shortfall was not realistic and would undermine looking at the local housing allowance freeze. The team worked closely with Housing Benefits colleagues who had access to discretionary housing payments which would be prioritised; however this was usually awarded on a short term basis whereas Housing Options was looking towards long term sustainability. Personalised housing plans were a legal requirement. Finance was key in trying to sustain tenancies; there were tenants who landlords were happy with but who could have sizeable rent arrears, costs associated with finding new tenants, and some local letting agents had been helpful in identifying the costs in order for negotiations to take place.

·        A Member asked about provision of support when tenants received a S21 notice as the Council might speak to the landlord to see if it could be rescinded; otherwise they would incur the landlord’s court costs. Officers said help had been provided, usually with the intent of obtaining more time. Ultimately at this point the Council should be housing households which was not always possible but in some cases where the landlord had been flexible or there was no other way to rectify the situation officers had agreed to do so, and this was a more cost-effective measure than rehousing a household.    





Members noted the contents of the report.


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