LGA First Magazine | Helping the homeless

LGA-first-mastheadbc540x304w

No.606 | December 2016

Helping the homeless

A wider housing strategy is needed to deliver on the Homelessness Reduction Bill’s aims

Rough sleeper outside ECC

Ever since the draft Homeless Reduction Bill was published in Parliament in October, the LGA has worked hard to influence proposals within it and highlight concerns that without a wider housing strategy the Bill would not achieve its aim of reducing homelessness

The Private Member’s Bill – being led by Bob Blackman MP – proposes to extend the duties on local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness.

Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can with existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, the LGA has warned there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness.

The causes of of homelessness are many and varied, ranging from financial to social, and councils were concerned the original draft Bill was undeliverable and would not achieve its outcomes.

LGA engagement with Government officials and Bob Blackman ahead of the final Bill being published has led to a series of positive changes. This has helped shape it into a more realistic piece of legislation that is more workable for councils to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

This included the removal of the 56-day accommodation duty for those with nowhere to stay, as there is an insufficient supply of suitable accommodation to discharge this duty.

The requirement to recognise an expired section 21 notice [issued by landlords to evict tenants] as proof of homelessness was replaced with a more flexible requirement in line with existing statutory guidance.

The LGA has been clear from the outset that all new duties proposed in the Bill will also need to be fully funded. As a result of this lobbying, the Government committed to fully funding the new duties under the New Burdens Doctrine when the Bill received its Second Reading in October.

The sector continues to press the case for sufficient funding from the Government to successfully deliver responsibilities.

It wants the Government to commit to undertaking a comprehensive review of the bill’s impact after a year of implementation to ensure that it is achieving its objectives and that councils are being properly funded.

it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness.

Homelessness is spreading across all areas of the country. The number of households local authorities have been forced to place in temporary accommodation has risen by 48% since 2010, while rough sleeping has doubled.

This crisis is spreading nationwide. Since 2010, the use of temporary accommodation has gone up 44% in London and 58% across the rest of England.

Councils also need powers and funding to address the widening gap between incomes and rents, resume their historic role as a major builder of new affordable homes and join up all local services – such as health, justice and skills.

This is the only way to deliver on the national ambition to address the causes of homelessness and prevent it happening in the first place.

LGA Briefing | Homelessness Reduction Bill House of Commons, Second Reading, 28 October 2016

LGA_new_logo

Homelessness Reduction Bill House of Commons, Second Reading, 28 October 2016

KEY MESSAGES 

 The LGA has worked productively with Bob Blackman MP following the first drafting of the Bill. We look forward to working to ensure the Bill delivers on our collective ambitions to better help prevent and resolve homelessness.

 Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to support those who become homeless to get into accommodation and to prevent it happening in the first place.

 Legislative change will only deliver on our ambitions if implemented alongside housing, employment and welfare reforms that tackle the broader causes of homelessness. If we are all to succeed in ending homelessness, then all new and existing duties on councils must be fully funded.

 There are a number of structural and personal factors that make homelessness more likely. Faced with increasing demand, reducing budgets, falling social housing and wide-ranging welfare reforms, it is clear that councils cannot tackle this challenge alone.

 Effectively tackling homelessness will rely on a collective effort from all partners. This should involve addressing the gaps between household incomes and rising rents, bringing together local housing, health, justice, and employment partners and allowing councils to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes.

The meaning of homelessness (Clause 1): The availability and cost of suitable housing to the local authority should be taken into account as a relevant factor in local authority decisions on whether to advise applicants to remain in their home. This is currently the case in the existing Code of Guidance.

The duty to provide advisory services (Clause 2): Councils share the Bill’s ambition to prevent homelessness through timely advice and bespoke personal housing plans. It is important that all relevant public services work together to achieve this for households. Given this, there should be a duty on other public services to cooperate with councils in fulfilling duties resulting from Clauses 2 and 10.

Duty to assess all eligible applicants’ cases and agree a plan (Clause 3): The focus on developing a personalised model of support is welcome. The prescribed process should allow councils to flexibly meet the wider needs of households without being too prescriptive. The resources needed to develop this approach for all eligible applicants must be fully met by the Government.

Duty in cases of threatened homelessness (Clause 4): Councils are committed to efforts to prevent homelessness within existing resources. Additional responsibilities must be fully funded. It is important that other elements of the Bill does not detract from the emphasis on prevention, and that there is clarity on the consequences for non-priority need applicants that refuse to cooperate with efforts to prevent homelessness.

Duties owed to those who are homeless (Clause 5): This clause places a duty on councils to relieve homelessness for all eligible households, which should be fully funded. We are also seeking clarification that the interim duty to accommodate an applicant in apparent priority need ends once a council is satisfied that the applicant is not in priority need, rather than enduring for a period of 56 days. There may be significant financial risks to councils should this point not be clarified.

Clause 4 and 5 should also clarify the right of households to reapply once their circumstances have changed materially, reducing speculative reapplications from applicants that may have refused to cooperate.

Deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate (Clause 7): The Bill intends to create parity of service for everyone. However, unlike in Wales, this Clause places a duty on councils to offer applicants with priority need that do not cooperate a six month tenancy. Those that are not priority need and do not cooperate with the local authority do not have access to this support. This may impact on priority need applicants’ cooperation in a preventative approach. There is a risk that this may encourage local authorities to target limited resources away from prevention activities, as they would have a duty to accommodate priority need applicants regardless. It would be preferable to replicate the Welsh model in this case.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON HOMELESSNESS 

A shared ambition to end homelessness 

It is a tragedy when a person becomes homeless. Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to support those who become homeless to get into accommodation and, where they can, to prevent it happening in the first place. This includes helping people develop the skills needed to find work, improve their health and wellbeing or gain access to family or relationship support.

There are a number of structural factors that make homelessness more likely, including the availability of affordable housing and the rise in the number of people struggling as rents increase at a faster rate than incomes. However, there is no silver bullet. Faced with increasing demand, reducing budgets, falling social housing and wide-ranging welfare reforms, it is clear that councils cannot tackle this challenge alone.

Legislative change will only deliver on our ambitions if implemented alongside structural housing, employment and welfare reforms that tackle the broader causes of homelessness. Crucially, this is a collective effort that should address the gaps between household incomes and rising rents, bring together local housing, health, justice, and employment partners and allow councils to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes. If we are all to succeed, then all new duties proposed in this Bill will need to be fully funded.

The need to build more homes: The Bill places a number of new duties on councils. Realistically, these will only help to end homelessness if they are accompanied by measures that address the national shortage of housing supply. 3

Around 139,000 new homes were built in the year to June 2016, whilst estimates of the housing need of people across the country indicate that we need to be building up to 250,000 homes a year.i Stable social housing is therefore increasingly important for housing people who are homeless or at risk. However, the availability of social rented council housing has halved since 1994, dropping from 3.6 million properties to 1.6 million properties in 2016.ii

The private rented sector has doubled in size over the last decade and the growing uncertainty of the sector increases the significance of providing a sufficient supply of genuinely affordable housing options for helping reduce homelessness. The Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s recent report into homelessness highlighted that the ending of a private sector assured shorthold tenancy (AST) is now the leading cause of homelessness in England.iii It is likely that this trend will continue to grow and it should be a focus of future policy.

Addressing gaps between household incomes and housing costs: Alongside a shortage of housing supply, two thirds of local authorities in England have reported that falls in household incomes relative to rents have increased homelessness in their area.iv In our Autumn Statement submission we argue that the freeze on the Local Housing Allowance rate should be lifted as part of a strategy to reduce Housing Benefit by building more social rented homes.v

Focus on prevention: Councils want to ensure that any legislative changes contribute to their existing focus on prevention. Local authorities are delivering homelessness strategies that seek to respond to local conditions. Local approaches, led by councils, are best placed to succeed in reducing homelessness, as they are able to shape housing markets and target the delivery of services to prevent and respond to homelessness. In 2009/10, 85 per cent of 165,200 cases where action was taken were successful in preventing homelessness. In 2015/16, 93 per cent of 212,600 cases were successful in preventing homelessness.vi

Collective local effort: For individuals at risk of homelessness there is a need for any legislative changes to be accompanied by coordinated action to bring together local housing, health, justice and employment partners to tackle the broader causes of homelessness. Since 2009/10 in the number of people who are found statutory homeless because they are vulnerable due to old age (up by 47 per cent), have a physical disability (up by 62 per cent) or because of mental ill-health (up by 56 per cent) has risen.vii Councils cannot address this challenge alone.

Fully fund new duties: Local authorities are facing significant financial challenges. Therefore, any extension of legal duties on councils would need to be accompanied by sufficient powers and funding from the Government. Without this, local government will continue to find it difficult to deliver on our ambitions to end homelessness.

DETAIL OF THE LEGISLATION 

The meaning of homelessness (Clause 1) 

Clause 1 sets out the circumstances whereby households would become homeless. It integrates a series of tests from the existing Homelessness Code of Guidance into judgements about when it might be appropriate for applicants to remain in their home after the expiration of a section 21 notice.

The existing wording does not take into account the availability of suitable housing in the local area, or the costs to the local authority in securing accommodation as relevant factors in local authority decisions on whether to advise applicants to 4

remain in their homes. The existing Code of Guidance allows for this, and it is important that councils are able to factor such local circumstances into their decision-making. We would therefore welcome clarification that the availability and costs of suitable accommodation can be taken into account in the decision-making process under the new reforms. This might be achieved by including ‘(iv) the local authority’ under 3F (a) and (b) in Clause 1.

In order to help councils to focus on preventing homelessness it might be useful to consider and accept an applicant as homeless once they have been issued a section 21 up to the expiry of a possession order, rather than upon granting of any order of the court. This will enable councils the opportunity to negotiate a solution with tenants landlord, maximise the amount of prevention work the council can undertake with the tenant, and reduce the chance of them presenting late after the expiry of a section 21.

If councils are unable to factor in the costs of accepting applicants as homeless upon the expiration of a section 21 notice, then the increased numbers of homeless acceptances will increase the overall costs for housing authorities. This new burden should be recognised as such and met by the Government.

The duty to provide advisory services (Clause 2) 

Councils share the Bill’s ambition to utilise local expertise to prevent homelessness through timely advice and bespoke personal housing plans.

It is important that public services work together to achieve this for households facing varied circumstances. For instance, the existing Code of Guidance advises joint working between prison staff, probation officers and housing providers to identify housing options for prisoners or youth detainees on release, to prevent homelessness and enable them to make a smooth transition from prison, or remand, to independent living.

There is a risk that the singular duty on councils to design housing plans for persons released from prison or youth detention (in addition to Clause 10 which enables other services to refer households onto councils) incentivises other services to ‘pass on’ vulnerable households to councils without having a responsibility to work with councils to meet their overall needs. This could discourage the provision of earlier support to households. The singular duty could also potentially increase costs for housing authorities. If this is the case, this burden must be fully met by the Government.

In our view, there should be a duty on other statutory services to cooperate with preparing the actions and working in partnership to take actions relevant to them to help prevent or relief homelessness.

Duty to assess all eligible applicants’ cases and agree a plan (Clause 3) 

Clause 3 sets out in some detail the process that councils and applicants must go through in agreeing a homelessness plan. While we welcome the focus on developing a personalised model of support, it is important that the prescribed process is not too overly prescriptive and allows councils to meet the wider needs of households. The resources needed to develop this approach for all must be fully met by the Government.

Duty in cases of threatened homelessness (Clause 4) 

Clause 4 sets out duties on councils to take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants threatened with homelessness. A lesser duty is owed to those deemed to be threatened with homelessness intentionally and those deemed in non-priority need. It also sets out circumstances under which an authority’s duty to prevent homelessness may be brought to an end by the service of a written notice.

Councils are committed to efforts to prevent homelessness as far as possible within existing resources. Additional responsibilities must be fully funded. Furthermore, it is important that other elements of the Bill do not detract from the emphasis on prevention. There should also be greater clarity in the Bill around the consequences for an applicant owed a prevention duty but where that duty has been brought to an end if they refuse a suitable offer of accommodation, or become homeless intentionally from accommodation secured for them

Duties owed to those who are homeless (Clause 5) 

Clause 5 would place a duty on councils to relieve homelessness for all eligible households. This would involve taking reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure suitable accommodation over a period of 56 days.

Clause 5 also states that homelessness applicants in apparent priority need are entitled to be placed in interim accommodation for the duration of the 56 day relief duty. We would welcome clarification that the interim duty to accommodate an applicant in apparent priority need ends once a council is satisfied that the applicant is not in priority need, rather than enduring for a period of 56 days.

As drafted, the requirement that councils must accommodate apparent priority need applicants “until the later of” a decision on their priority need status or 56 days appears to replicate the 56 day accommodation duty for those with nowhere safe to stay regardless of priority need, which was removed from the previous draft of the Bill. As we set out in our policy briefing on the previous draft, there is insufficient supply of suitable accommodation to discharge the 56 day accommodation duty. Attempts to do so would have relied on councils sourcing expensive temporary accommodation, which would have detracted from their prevention work.

Reapplying for assistance following a duty ending on a previous application (Clause 4 and Clause 5) 

There is no clause in the Bill or the original 1996 Housing Act to deal with reapplications following the ending of a prevention, relief or main homelessness duty to an applicant. This would mean an applicant would be able to refuse council assistance at any of these stages and reapply to the same local authority, or any other local authority, as soon as any new facts emerge about their circumstances, such as a change of address or medication, thereby restarting the whole process.

The Welsh Government brought in new homelessness legislation in 2015. The statutory law was amended to clarify that an application is not triggered unless the person’s circumstances have changed materially. This is a higher threshold than the any new facts test set by existing case law. The Welsh legislation recognised the risk that applicants would be able to refuse help and avoid any consequences of their actions by simply reapplying. A solution along these lines is required in England if the Bill is to achieve its ambitions of ending homelessness through a focus on prevention.

Deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate (Clause 7) 

Councils support the original rationale behind the main changes to homelessness law contained in the Bill, which was to create a parity of approach for all households approaching councils at risk of homelessness, focussing on prevention. 6

There is a risk that the Bill will not achieve this aim as it places a duty on councils to offer a six month tenancy to applicants with priority need who deliberately and unreasonably refuse to cooperate, while those that are not priority need do not have access to this support. There is insufficient understanding of how this form of sanction is likely to impact on the behaviours of priority need applicants to ensure cooperation in a preventative approach -this approach was not adopted in Wales.

This duty also increases the risk that councils will struggle to target their limited resources towards prevention activities, given that they will be responsible for funding the symptoms of non-cooperation regardless. This concern is exacerbated by the fact that there is no further sanction for applicants with priority need who continuously fail to cooperate with local authorities as they try to find them six month tenancies.

In Wales, any applicant who ‘unreasonably fails to cooperate’ with prevention or relief assistance cannot progress to the main homelessness duty. We would like to explore whether or not the same approach should be adopted in England. It is strategically important to treat all households equally in relation to their responsibilities to co-operate, regardless of their priority need status.

Local connection of a care leaver (Clause 8) 

We welcome further discussion with councils and partners about the implications of local connection for care leavers. We want to ensure that councils can work together to best support every care leaver access safe, secure and suitable accommodation.

Further reading:
Homelessness Reduction Bill, as introduced [21 October 2016]

Homelessness Reduction Bill Explanatory Notes [24 October]

National Pharmacy Association | Decisions about the future of your local pharmacies are just days away

National Pharmacy Association logo

Decisions about the future of your local pharmacies are just days away

About the campaign

Keep the ‘Community’ in ‘Community Pharmacy’.

The Department of Health recently announced a reduction of £170m to the funding of community pharmacies in England this year and it has not ruled out more cuts to follow. It’s believed that potentially 3,000 pharmacies could close (that’s a quarter of all pharmacies). At the same time, government officials have suggested that people should make more use of the internet to obtain medicines. Your local pharmacies are more than just places to get medicines.

The Local Government Association has criticised the Department of Health for overlooking the role of community pharmacy as a ‘much needed social and economic asset’.  The LGA predicted ‘unintended consequences that impact elsewhere in the local community’.

Your local pharmacies are more than just places to get medicines. Help us ensure they stay here for you, the people you represent and future generations.

Find out more about the campaign: www.supportyourlocalpharmacy.org  or contact Stephen Fishwick on 07920 494081.

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-06-21-01

Dear Councillor Bull,

I spoke to many MPs, councillors and other delegates at the Party conference earlier this month, about Department of Health proposals for ‘efficiencies’ in community pharmacy in England.

It became apparent that many people believed, mistakenly, that these plans are on hold, following an announcement from Ministers in early September. In fact, cuts to local pharmacy services could begin as early as 1st December, just weeks away, and at the worst possible time in terms of loading winter pressures onto GPs and hospitals.

Community pharmacies play a far bigger role than many people realise. Along with dispensing medicines they play a key part in providing local healthcare, from treating minor ailments through to healthy living support programmes tailored to the communities they serve.
We need councillors like you to campaign to stop the closure of local pharmacies at the heart of the community. We are pleased to have the support of politicians from all parties, in parliament and in councils across the country.

You can help to secure this vital local health resource. Please:
Propose a Motion – in support of local pharmacies, for your council to consider. Newcastle City Council is one of a number of councils to have adopted Motions.
Contact your local MP
• Spread the word on social media – using the infographics here. Use #lovemypharmacy to be part of the nationwide conversation.

Best wishes,

Stephen Fishwick
Head of Communications

More reading:
LGA Media Release: Councils respond to Government announcement on pharmacies [20 October 2016]

LGA: Community pharmacy: Local government’s new public health role [October 2013]

LGA response to the consultation: putting community pharmacy at the heart of the NHS 

 

Cllr | Local Government and the refugee crisis – frontline and last resort

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-12-07-45

Local Government and the refugee crisis – frontline and last resort

Is the burden of settling refugees falling disproportionately on some councils? Patrick Kelly investigates why some authorities have still not signed up to the scheme to resettle people fleeing Syria.

Rose Bazzie is a nurse in a Sheffield hospital, runs a women’s choir in the city and is a mother of 3 children.

But 12 years ago, she was a refugee from war-torn Liberia. She arrived in Sheffield as one of the first people to be resettled through the Government-sponsored Gateway Protection Programme.

“I remember the day we arrived – I was shocked at how cold it was.” She says. ”I was only wearing slippers and a dress! I knew nothing, nothing at all about the UK. The Refugee Council showed us cookers and washers, and we had to get used to all this electrical stuff.”

In the year ending June 2016, 36,465 asylum applications were accepted in the UK. Rose’s story reminds us that behind that number lies an individual who has not only fled war and persecution, but having reached safety here, has to learn to adapt to their new home, to find shelter, education, work and support. Providing all those things is the task of Britain’s local authorities.

That job has not been made easier by the Syrian civil war, which has sparked the greatest global refugee crisis since the Second World War. Last year, David Cameron promised that the UK would respond by taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East by 2020.

Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, has agreed to help 75 of those refugees each year for the next 3 years. That’s in addition to the 1,162 refugees that it has aided since 2004 through the Gateway Programme. This involves co-ordinating the efforts of public agencies – including the police, health authorities and housing associations – as well as many volunteer agencies, from the national Refugee Council to local church groups. Together, they ensure that the refugee resettlement of people like Rosie is carried out as smoothly as possible.

It’s no easy task, but Cllr Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Housing at Sheffield City Council, is proud of her city’s record in resettling. “Sheffield is a welcoming and inclusive city. It’s important that we do our bit to respond to the refugee crisis, and help people fleeing war and persecution.”

But not every local authority is so keen on signing up to the Syrian scheme, which is voluntary and gives councils £8,500 for each refugee in the first year they arrive, falling to £1,000 in the fifth year. Councils also receive an additional £4,500 for each child aged 5 to 18 years and £2,250 for those aged 3 to 4 years, to cover the cost of education.

Less than two-thirds of councils have signed up, admits Cllr David Simmonds, who leads for the Local Government Association, which co-ordinating the scheme.

Some councils, like Haringey, say the pay-outs will only cover 70 to 80% of their costs. Cllr Claire Kober, Leader of LB of Haringey, said the council would like to rehouse more than 50 refugee families but “the Government’s reticence to put in place the support, not just in terms of housing costs, but in terms of the wrap-around support the vulnerable [people], particularly women and children, require is really causing a stick.”

But costs aren’t the only issue. Council housing waiting lists are already vastly over-subscribed, so local authorities look to housing associations or the private rented sector to find refugees somewhere to live.

Cllr Claire Kober said, “We have 3,000 families in this borough in temporary accommodation. Housing in London is in crisis and what we can’t do is look at this in isolation.”

Other councils, like Medway, say that helping refugees will have too much impact on already stretched local services. Leader, Cllr Alan Jarrett, told his local paper “Our priorities have to be with the people in Medway. It is unacceptable that children may have to be moved out, or residents should suffer.”

Local authorities in Cumbria have said that their priority is with victims of floods, while Manchester’s local authorities say that they already house 1 in 4 asylum seekers, and are demanding a change in the Government’s dispersal policy before they will join the Syrian resettlement scheme. In July, MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee criticized those councils, particularly wealthier ones, for opting out.

In September, the National Audit Office expressed concerns that although early targets have been met, more refugees will have to be resettled each quarter from now on if the 20,000 figure is to be reached. It added that 4,930 houses or flats and 10,664 childcare and school places will be needed. “The future of the programme could be put at risk by local authorities’ lack of suitable accommodation and school places.”

But David Simmonds says that it has been a relative success story. So far, more than 2,800 people have been resettled “without a great deal of difficulty” and 20,000 offers, meeting the Government target, “are now on the table.”

He says the biggest challenge for local authorities is the patchwork of other refugee resettlement schemes, many of which were contracted out to private companies purely on the basis of price. The contracts, which account for the vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, mean that companies are going for places where housing is cheap and readily available, adding to the already stretched services in areas of disadvantage. “Local authorities have no say in where people go, but they still have obligations in education and social care,” says Simmonds.

In addition, there are pressures created by schemes for unaccompanied refugee children and other EU agreements under freedom of movement regulations.

The LGA estimates more than £100m a year is spent by councils in looking after refugees, money that is not backed by any central Government funding. “Of course, no-one is saying that councils should not be helping, but that help needs to be backed by funding,” adds Simmonds, who points out this would assist in cementing public support for resettling refugees.

He sympathises with authorities which face significant housing shortages, and suggested that areas which are facing depopulation are in a better position to accommodate refugees.

David Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services [ADCS], says that outside of major cities, it does get harder for infrastructure to cope. There are fewer translators, and local schools are unused to dealing with traumatised children from conflict zones but “if we’re going to make this work, everyone has to make it work together,” he says.

Some councils are calling for more drastic action.

Coventry City Council, which has taken in more than 100 Syrian refugees, is writing to MP Theresa May, demanding that the Government enforces a minimum quota on all local authorities.

Coventry’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Abdul Khan, say, “We are very happy to support the programme because we believe these Syrian refugees are facing real danger and have been recognised by the UNCHR. It is part of our common humanity.”

He says that’s it not a question of money or resources. There is little justification for other local authorities not sharing the responsibility. “It’s not a question of having the right infrastructure, it’s a question of providing a place of safety,” he says. “Our argument is basically about fairness.”

Across the political divide, Tory-run Kent County Council also wants a compulsory system, The council, which sees itself in the frontline of the refugee crisis, because of its proximity to France, says it faces “enormous pressures” on services, foster placements, accommodation and finances.

“We believe that any national dispersal scheme should be mandatory,” says Cabinet Member for Childrens’ Services, Cllr Peter Oakford. “We urgently need to share the numbers fairly across all local authorities.”

Finally, the NAO in its report suggests that councils were worried that the Syrian Resettlement Programme is dealing with the most vulnerable group of refugees, and many of them may need substantial support beyond the 5 years of the programme. “Support for these needs is not covered by existing programme funding,” says the NAO.

Patrick Kelly is a freelance journalist

LGA | Homelessness: Councils call for more homes, not more duties

LGA_new_logo

Media release | 14 September 2016

Homelessness: Councils call for more homes, not more duties

Proposed new legislation to tackle homelessness will not work – and councils say what they really need is to be able to build more homes.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the Government needs to address the increasing gap between household incomes and rising rents, allowing councils to build more affordable homes.

If passed, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons next month (October), would impose on councils a raft of new duties, such as providing emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days for households not in priority need. It would divert resources away from other essential homelessness work leaving councils less able to support vulnerable people.

Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and support those who are homeless into housing as soon as possible but are struggling to deliver due to rising demand, reducing budgets, and falling levels of social housing. The Government needs to fully fund existing commitments – and any additional commitments new legislation would incur.

LGA Chairman Lord Porter said:
“Simply adding more duties to councils is not the answer to tackling homelessness. The only viable long-term solutions are increasing the availability of suitable affordable housing and addressing other underlying causes of homelessness.

“Councils want to help everyone at risk of homelessness and to support those who are homeless into accommodation as soon as possible. However, legislation alone will not resolve homelessness – the causes are complex and range from the economic and social to the personal.

“The Government’s commitment to more mental health spending is a step in the right direction but it must ensure it reaches the people it is designed to reach.

“There is no silver bullet – homelessness is a historical problem which has been inherited by successive governments.

“Housebuilding is well below the levels needed to meet current demand. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and has caused an increase in rents that can make independent living more difficult.

“Social housing is critical if we are to house people who are homeless or at risk.  But the availability of social rented council housing has halved since 1994. We’ve got 69,000 people already currently living in temporary accommodation and more than a million extra on council waiting lists. If we are to succeed then we need to address the gaps between household incomes and spiralling rents, and resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

Notes 

  • Housebuilding is well below the levels required. This is pushing more people into the private rented sector and causing an increase in rents and prices that can make independent living more difficult.
  • Stable social housing is therefore increasingly important for housing people who are homeless or at risk. However, the availability of social rented council housing has nearly halved since 1994, dropping from 3.6 million properties to 1.6 million properties in 2016.
  • Councils have developed five year strategies for dealing with homelessness and spend £330 million a year tackling homelessness. In 2009/10, councils were successful in preventing homelessness in 85 per cent of cases (165,200 in total). In 2014/15, councils were successful in 93 per cent of cases (220,800 in total)

Background

The Bill proposes:

A new duty for local authorities to take action to prevent the homelessness of anyone eligible for assistance (e.g. ‘habitually resident’ in the UK) and threatened with homelessness within 56 days, without regard to their priority need status.

A new duty for local authorities to take steps to relieve the homelessness of anyone who is currently homeless, eligible for assistance and has a local connection to the area.

For households who are not in priority need but have nowhere to stay, the local authority must provide emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days.

The full homelessness duty of settled accommodation will remain in place for households who are eligible for assistance, homeless through no fault of their own, have a local connection, are in priority need and where the prevention and relief duties have failed.

 

First | No place for hate

LGA-first-mastheadbc540x304w

 

 

 

 

No.604 | October 2016

No place for hate crime

by Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board

Councils are best placed to tackle the challenges posed by reported increases in hate crime

National Hate Crime Awareness Week 2016 [08-15 October] is all the more relevant this year. Hate crime report to the police in the last 2 years of July were 49% on the same period in 2015.

The charity Stop Hate UK – which organises the awareness week – saw a 60% increase in reports in late June and referred 40% more cases to the police. Racially-motivated reports more than doubledd.

reported-abuse-post-eu-referendum
Post-referendum racism and xenophobia: abuse reported online [courtesy Worrying Signs/StreetWatch/PostRefAbuse]
Incidents included xenophobic graffiti [for example on the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith], arson against a Polish family in Devon, anti-immigation cards distributed outside a primary school, physical assaults and verbal abuse.

Although attacks are perpetrated by a tiny minority – the local community in Hammersmith was quick to offer the Polish Centre sympathy and moral support – both David Cameron and his successor as Prime Minister, Theresa May, have spoken of the need to tackle hate crime, and the Government has published a fresh action plan – Action Against Hate: The UK Goverment’s plan to tackling hate crime [26 July 2016].

Local government has a vital role in building community cohesion and combating extremism. The impact of hate incidents and crimes on both individuals and local areas is far-reaching. Victims are more likely to suffer serious and longer lasting damage when they have been targeted in this way, and the anxiety and tension this causes can permeate entire communities.

As soon as it became that we were facing an increase in incidents, the LGA provided a collection of documents and links on our website [see Community Cohesion and Hate Crime resource]. The page contains useful contacts, guidance, case studies, toolkits and other resources.

Councils are already doing much to combat hate crime.

For example, Essex has established a Strategic Hate Crime Prevention Partnership, bringing together schools, police and voluntary organisations, and using social media to encourage reporting and deliver sessions to schoolchildren.

Birmingham City Council has created a faith map to show the contribution faiths make to life in the city.

Tower Hamlets has a No Place for Hate Forum which brings together the council and key agencies to co-ordinate responses to race and hate crime.

Manchester has worked closely with voluntary and community partners, including housing providers, to establish reporting centres across the city. Each organisation has received training and signed up to a set of standards that support them to deal with incidents.

And Derbyshire has organised hate crime awareness training for staff, partner agencies, housing providers, third sector organisations, and police, probation and fire & rescue services.

Every community is different, and councils are best placed to tackle the challenges each faces. A great deal of good work is being done by the sector, and National Hate Crime Awareness Week offers us an opportunity to promote it and encourage our communities.

Further reading:
Stop Hate UK: Hate crime reporting post-Brexit

PostRefRacism: Post-referendum racism and xenophobia: the role of social media in challenging the normalisation of xeno-racist narratives 

 

The Times | Planning chaos leaves Tory pledge to build more homes in tatters

The Times logo

15 August 2016

Planning chaos leaves Tory pledge to build more homes in tatters

Homeowners and developers are experiencing “severe” delays in decision making as the government struggles to meet its pledge to get Britain building [Peter Byrne/PA]
Homeowners and developers are experiencing “severe” delays in decision making as the government struggles to meet its pledge to “get Britain building”.

Almost a quarter of a million applications have not been processed on time since 2010, with planning departments reducing staff numbers, freedom of information requests show.

Despite repeated government pledges to liberalise planning laws, the proportion of major applications approved has fallen between 2010 and 2015.

Fewer than 120,000 new homes were built last year, well short of the 250,000 that most experts say are needed to tackle the housing crisis. Developers say that delays are curtailing their ability to meet the demand for homes.

Gavin Sherman, from Linea Homes, which specialises in regenerating derelict sites, said that his business was suffering delays even when applications were sent with the correct paperwork and were “policy compliant”.

“Local authorities are so under resourced that they simply can’t acknowledge and administer the number of applications they are receiving,” he said. “Some officers only work two days a week which makes it impossible for them to deal with the workload they are given. We are not the only developer experiencing severe delays.”

Freedom of information requests to every council in Britain found that a third of major applications, which include large housing and commercial developments, have suffered delays over the past five years, with some councils only managing to process one in three applications within the statutory three-month time limit.

Homeowners and smaller developers have also suffered delays, with more than a quarter of minor applications, which include developments of fewer than ten homes and extensions, waiting longer than two months.

Not a single council has processed every application on time, while one in 16 is failing to process half on time.

Delays to minor applications were up 16 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Over the same period councils have shed 10 per cent of their planning workforce, equivalent to 1,200 jobs. Brighton and Hove city council, which has cut its planning staff by a third, is now processing less than a third of minor applications on time compared with three quarters five years ago.

However, the link between the number of staff and the speed of applications is not straightforward. Wigan borough council, for example, has lost 48 planning staff since 2010 but has managed to improve the proportion of major applications processed on time from 55 per cent to 83 per cent.

Many councils appear to have shifted resources from minor to major applications, forcing smaller developers and homeowners to wait longer so as to speed up big commercial projects.

Rico Wojtulewicz, from the National Federation of Builders, which represents local builders, said: “Councils overlook smaller builders. They don’t push through applications of less than ten houses even though these are the developments that can been done quickly to increase the number of homes. Larger projects can take years to deliver. Local builders used to make two thirds of homes — now we only build a quarter, and delays don’t help.”

The Local Government Association denied that planning delays were the main barrier to building new homes.

A spokesman said: “Hundreds of thousands of homes given planning permission are yet to be built.

“However, we want to do more and developers and councils have repeatedly called on government to resolve the underfunding of planning. Government limited the planning fees councils can charge, which impacts on services and means council tax payers have had to subsidise planning applications by £450 million over the last three years.

“Developers are increasingly willing to pay more, and fees need to be set locally so that they cover costs”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said that more than a quarter of a million new homes received planning permission last year.

A spokesman added: “We are getting Britain building again, with almost 900,000 homes delivered since the end of 2009. Now our plans to allow councils to introduce competition into the planning system will help speed up the process and bring a renewed focus to our efforts to build more homes. But the new local government secretary accepts we need to do more. That’s why housing will be a priority.”

Homeowners and developers face a planning lottery with some councils twice as likely to approve an application as others in 2015.

Many local authorities have also got tougher over the past five years despite pledges to make planning easier.

There is a north-south divide, with some in the south refusing more than half of applications while others in the north approve every major project.

Waverley borough council in Surrey approved the lowest proportion of major applications last year at 41 per cent, down from 80 per cent in 2010. Carlisle council approved every major application.

Councils near each other also have different approaches. Worcester council approved every major development last year but Stroud turned down a third.

There are also huge variations in the likelihood of extensions being approved.

In Amber Valley 97 per cent were given the green light but in Maldon only 59 per cent succeeded.