Councillor CE Smith – Cabinet Member Regeneration and Economic Development
PA Jolley – Corporate Director Operational and Partnership Services
A Bowen – Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration
The Scrutiny Officer introduced a report on Social Housing which gave an overview of how the Council is working in partnership with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), including advising of the Welsh Government’s responsibilities and governance arrangements for RSLs.
The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration reported on partnership working with RSLs, on an update on the Social Housing Programme and advised how services provided under the Supporting People Programme contribute to homeless prevention and better outcomes for service users and the wider community.
The Committee questioned how the Council is notified of V2C dwellings which are vacant. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee that the Council is only notified of vacant dwellings when they are available for possession. This is to avoid incurring costs of providing temporary housing costs to nominees whilst the accommodation underwent repairs or improvements by V2C. She stated that RSLs had responsibility for ensuring that Welsh Government targets on void properties are met.
In response to a question from the Committee, the Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration confirmed that families who refuse an offer of accommodation must give reasons for doing so. The Committee questioned the reason why a RSL had recently been granted planning consent without outside amenity space which appeared to be at variance with the Council’s own standards. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee that this would be due to families with older children not necessarily requiring outdoor amenity space whereas families with younger children would require such amenity space to play. She stated that increasingly children continued to live at home longer with their parents as opposed to finding their own accommodation. The social housing scheme being developed in Bridgend town centre would be aimed at being let to adults without young children due to its proximity to night time economy establishments.
The Committee welcomed the change in focus by the Council and its RSL partners in developing smaller units of accommodation as part of the Social Housing Programme. The Committee referred to a BBC News report of today which reported that 900 families had been made homeless by RSLs in Wales, with 500 of those families having children and questioned the steps being taken by the local authority to reduce these levels. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee that the authority actively worked with RSLs to reduce the homelessness numbers, particularly since the introduction of Welfare Reform where campaigns had been run. Work was undertaken with families with children to avoid eviction action being taken. She stated that some families leave it critically too late in the eviction process before approaching the authority for advice and assistance. She also informed the Committee that the authority did not place families with children who were homeless into B&B accommodation. She stated that many families are reluctant to accept the financial hardship they find themselves in and are also often reluctant to declare the extent of their indebtedness with all agencies, which is the focus of the authority’s intervention.
The Committee questioned the part the authority plays in ensuring families are made aware of changes under Welfare Reform and benefits that could be made available to them. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee that the authority works proactively with the Benefits Team and RSLs in relation to any Welfare Reform changes that are taking place. She stated that a Financial Inclusion Service which is funded by the Communities First programme focuses on assisting households with debts to other lenders, such as door step lenders within C1st Cluster areas, and that a new financial advice service commissioned by Supporting People is due to commence in November working with the Housing Solutions Team. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee that under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 the authority was able to widen its advice to citizens to include advice and nominations to the private rented sector. There was now a requirement on the authority for early intervention and prevention to help citizens maintain their tenancies and prevent homelessness and that Housing Solutions was now available to all.
The Committee questioned the support given from the Supporting People programme to prisoners on release. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration explained there had been a change in legislation and Prisoners were now no longer a priority need category under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. However, transitional funding was available for prisoners to be eligible for temporary accommodation following their release.
A member of the Committee referred to the quality of responses to referrals received from RSLs and asked whether a clearer pathway for submitting referrals could be made available to Members. The Corporate Director Operational and Partnership Services stated that this matter would be raised with RSLs but added that he would not want to have an additional stage inserted into the referrals process. He informed the Committee that RSLs are not responsible to Councillors.
The Committee requested that a case study be undertaken of vulnerable people who had received the support of the Supporting People programme in developing their independence. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration confirmed that she would provide case studies. She informed the Committee of the early intervention support from the Supporting People programme which was available for 12 weeks which is to assist individuals in being less reliant on health and social services. She stated that hubs are available where individuals can self-refer for early access to services.
The Committee questioned whether individuals would retain their place on the waiting list if they refused an offer of accommodation. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee of the process for individuals being placed on the waiting list in that they are placed on the waiting lists of all areas in the County Borough if they were homeless with the exception of if they were fleeing from domestic violence or excluded from living in certain areas. She stated that if an individual rejected an offer of accommodation for circumstances which the Council deemed to be unreasonable, they would lose their homelessness status and not necessarily be removed from the waiting list, but reduced to a lower band. If they subsequently refused another offer without reasonable grounds they would be removed from the waiting list.
The Committee requested an explanation of the number of challenges facing the Council and its RSL partners. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee that the challenges are primarily are in relation to the introduction of Welfare Reform and in meeting the need and demands for different types of accommodation and with having 800 households on the register waiting for single persons accommodation. Further challenges related to the Supporting People programme and the rent payable by individuals living in supported accommodation such as Sheltered or Extra Care Housing. She stated that the Government was looking at bringing rent levels for accommodation offered by RSLs in line with rent charged by local authorities.
The Committee questioned the financial standing of RSLs. The Group Manager Housing and Community Regeneration informed the Committee that the responsibility for ensuring the financial standing of RSLs lay with the Welsh Government who would intervene should an RSL get into financial difficulty.
The Chairperson thanked the invitees for their contribution.
The Committee welcomed the introduction of the Local Housing Strategy 2016-18 and the fact that the Authority are responding to the housing needs of the County Borough when working with partners to make best use of existing homes and to deliver the right type of new housing.
As part of the new financial advice service that will be available from November 2016, Members suggest that the Council monitor the take-up of these services and if there was capacity look at appropriate ways to approach all tenants, to advertise the new service and to encourage residents to make contact to help deal with financial pressures prior to issues escalating.
While Members understand that the Council are unable to hold RSLs to account, the Committee would appreciate if any referrals made could be responded to in a timely manner with a detailed response, to ensure they are able to update the tenant appropriately.
The Committee requested the following additional information:
In relation to the Supporting People programme, Members have asked to receive a case study showing how the programme helps vulnerable people live as independently as possible as referred to at 3.18 of the report.