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Agenda item

Scrutiny Review : SID and Introductory Presentation ( Homelessness)

Minutes:

The Committee received a presentation from Ramesh Logeswaran, the Interim Head of Housing Needs regarding Homelessness and Rough Sleeping in Islington. A copy of the presentation is interleaved with the agenda.

The following points were noted in the discussion:

·         Islington Council’s overriding approach to the issue of homelessness is to help people build resilience through prevention and early intervention. As the reasons for homelessness varies, the council endeavours to provide practical assistance such as being able to access rent deposit schemes and signposting residents to organisations such as Home finder UK, Sanctuary scheme and Islington Lettings where alternative and affordable accommodation can be offered.

·         Housing officers intervene on behalf of tenants with landlords in the private sector so as to alleviate homelessness by guaranteeing rental income especially if they are willing to offer discounted market rents.

·         Members were informed that for those already homeless, the service makes decisions in line with the Housing Act and support remains in place until a decision is made.

·         Collaborative and strong partnership across the public sector and ideas shared at the Islington Homelessness Forum and Lead officers at strategic housing needs across the North London sub region has resulted in a different approach to addressing homelessness.

·         In comparison with neighbouring authorities, Islington has had a significant reduction in the number of homelessness decisions due to its approach and has therefore exceeded the Council’s Corporate target of 400 over the last three years. Meeting was informed that between 2016 and 2017, 1173 households were prevented from becoming homeless.

·         Islington has one of the lowest numbers of households in temporary accommodation in London and 60% of temporary accommodation is within the borough. Islington will continue to purchase properties to use as temporary accommodation, minimising the use of private sector accommodation and also ensuring that those who are homelessness are still able to retain their social, educational and family networks.

·         Collaborative and strong partnership across the public sector and ideas shared at the Islington Homelessness Forum and Lead officers at strategic housing needs across the North London sub region has resulted in a different approach to addressing homelessness.

·         The Lead Officer acknowledged that the increase in homelessness was due to insufficient supply of affordable housing and the removal of assured short-hold tenancies in the private sector such as housing associations. In addition, the introduction of housing benefit restrictions in 2010 and the governments welfare reform has worsened the situation.

·         2,504 households approached Islington Council’s Housing Aid Team and sought advice in 2017/18 a fall from 2014/15. The meeting was informed that a common reason for homelessness is parents, family or friends not willing to accommodate and having children within the family or expecting a child.

·         In terms of breakdown, the meeting was advised that two thirds of accepted cases are between 20 and 40 years old and about two thirds of accepted cases tend to be female with a small majority of accepted cases being lone parents.

·         Members were advised that the Homeless Reduction Act has introduced a number of changes ,the duty to provide advisory service has been strengthened; the period during which an applicant can be considered as threatened with homelessness has increased from 28 days to 56 days; a new duty to assess all eligible applicants and for Council’s to take reasonable steps to prevent and relieve homelessness.

·         The Lead Officer informed the meeting that one of the requirement to alleviate homelessness is to produce a personalised housing plan which is collectively agreed between the local authority and the applicant.

·         Members were advised that although it was too early to assess the impact of the new legislation on the Housing Revenue Account, anecdotal evidence shows that there has been a reluctance by applicants to engage in Personalised Housing Plans; an increase in bureaucracy as a result of the new duties thereby diverting resources from carrying out specific their duties of searching for alternative accommodation and negotiating with landlords.

·         The Lead Officer acknowledged the increasing numbers of people rough sleeping in Islington and highlighted Council’s robust plans to address it. Members were informed that the Council had in place a coordinated response from multiple departments within the Council and externally with other London wide initiatives. In addition the Council has commissioned additional units for emergency shelters; recruited staff to support rough sleepers; joint working with neighbouring boroughs and services to tackle hot-spot areas and is seeking additional funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

·         As a result of the Council’s initiatives, 5 long term rough sleepers have now been placed in Social Housing as part of the Council’s Housing First pilot, 3 mental assessments had been undertaken via EASL which allows Officers have a better understanding of the support needs of the applicant and the type of housing required. In addition, the meeting was informed that outreach workers had been able to secure accommodation for 6 rough sleepers with complex needs within 4 weeks and provided dedicated support to maintain accommodation.

·         The meeting was informed that following governments requirement that all local authorities have a strategy to address homelessness, a five year (2019-2023) Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy, endorsed by the Health and Well-Being Board is being drafted. A comprehensive action plan to be delivered by the Housing Needs service and a number of partners has been developed.

·         Members were advised that the delivery of the action plan will be sponsored by the Health and Well-Being Board annually after it’s has been agreed by the Council’s Executive Members in 2019. The Lead Officer advised that the various vulnerable groups will continue to be included as part of the strategy. The meeting was informed that in addition to other groups, former members of the regular armed forces and people from outside of the UK without settled status and no recourse to public funds will be given particular attention.

·         The Council proactively engages with stakeholders such as Homes and Communities, Children’s and Adults Social Care, Community Safety and external partners such as Partners for Islington, Housing Associations and St Mungos Outreach through which it is quickly able to intervene early in households before the situation worsens.

·         The Lead Officer acknowledged that due to the dearth in supply of social housing and applicant’s reliance on private sector accommodation especially housing associations, the Council is aiming in the long run to build more social housing to address homelessness in the borough.

·         In response to concerns that homeless people had been observed settling down on pavements and designated cycle routes with beddings and its implications regarding pedestrian safety, the Lead Officer acknowledged that in addition to introducing punitive measures, officers are looking at options with counterparts in the community safety team to address this issue.

·         In response to a suggestion that the Council’s criteria for eligibility be extended to include elderly and disabled persons which has been noticeably been on the rise, the lead officer advised that the Council treats all applicants irrespective of age with dignity, however cases identified will be looked into.

·         In response to a request for more details on the reasons for officer refusal’s and outcomes from judicial reviews, the lead officer informed Members that a report which details the breakdown will be circulated, however noting that in general the Council has a good successful rate in appeal cases.

·         On the issue of medical assessments of applicants, the Service Director, Housing Needs & Strategy informed Members that the Service would be prepared to look at other options and will be in discussion with the local Clinical Commissioning Group on whether they would be prepared to carry out the medical assessments.

·         In response to concerns that the public still continue to give homeless people money, food and clothes, the Service Director, Housing Needs & Strategy acknowledged that years ago the Council distributed leaflets in well-known hot spot areas advising against giving monies provided which was well received by the public.

·         Members welcomed a suggestion that in the process of assessing applicants, officers should consider applicant’s life journey as most do not intentionally become homeless. Members agreed that a further analysis would ensure that housing officers take a right decision on whether for example moving the tenant into a more affordable accommodation would prevent homelessness.


The Chair thanked Officers for their presentation and their responses to issues raised.




 

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