The Strategic Housing Manager and the Housing Options Officer provided a report in respect of the Council’s policy in Homelessness Policy and the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
It was reported that the Homelessness Reduction Act profoundly altered the ways in which local authorities and their clients would work together to try and resolve housing issues. The Act recognised that there was a shortage of social housing and that by clients and the Council working together there was a much better chance of preventing homelessness.
The Act had transformed the way the Council tackled homelessness and the way the services were delivered by introducing two new duties in addition to the main housing duty:
· Duty to prevent homelessness: The Council had to help people at risk of losing suitable accommodation, as soon as they were threatened with homelessness, within 56 days. This meant that the Council would try to prevent the homelessness of everyone who was eligible and threatened with homelessness.
· Duty to take steps to relieve homelessness: This duty was for those who were already homeless. The Council would provide advice and assistance to all those who were homeless to help them find suitable accommodation for themselves and their families.
· The original Housing Duty: If the Council had not been able to secure alternative accommodation, Officers would assess whether or not a main housing duty would be owed to the client after the relief duty ended. The main housing duty was owed to those who remained homeless after the relief duty, were in priority need and had not made themselves intentionally homeless.
In advance of the introduction of the Act in April, 2018, training events had been provided for all Housing Options staff to ensure that they had a good working knowledge of current local authority homelessness duties and associated policies and procedures.
The challenges and risk going forward were identified as follows:
· The additional administrative requirements associated with the Act could lead to backlogs in casework and lengthen waiting times for appointments;
· Accommodation options had not increased to cater for the greater focus on prevention and relief so the increase in duties had not been accompanied by an increase in resources; and
· Recruitment issues could impact on provision of the service - high turnover rates of temporary staff could be particularly challenging with a national shortage of experienced staff driving up the rates of pay.
The Chief Executive reminded the Committee that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had proposed a recommendation in September, 2018 that “Redditch Borough Council should take part in any opportunity to deliver Housing First in properties in the Borough. This should include applying to participate in any Housing first pilot schemes operated by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)”. The Chief Executive stated that Officers were working closely with the WMCA on this and hoped to be able to deliver Housing First arrangements in the Borough in the future.
One of the key challenges that Housing Services were facing related to the availability of experienced and trained staff. To help individuals and families to avoid homelessness it was recognised that there was a need for more capacity in order to work with all clients to help resolve any housing issues. As part of the review of the Housing department the number of staff and the specialisms required were being assessed.