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Rhondda Cynon Taf: tackling rising homelessness

Responding to rising homelessness applications, proposed changes to homelessness legislation in Wales, the impact of the Welfare Reform Act, reduced resources and the economic climate. Cheryl Emery explains.

Background

In recognition of the many challenges that lie ahead, Rhondda Cynon Taff has undertaken a review of the Common Housing Register and its Homelessness and Housing Options Service, with the aim of providing a more modernised, cost effective, customer focused service.

The review undertook many forms including working closely with our housing association partners to review our allocation scheme and Common Housing Register arrangements. We also carried out an internal review with staff to seek their thoughts on what worked well and not so well. We were also fortunate in being able to work with consultants ICE to carry out a ‘Systems Thinking Review’ for our Housing Options and Homelessness service.

The desired outcomes of all elements of the review included:

  • improving services for both staff and clients
  • improved quality of service
  • reduced duplication of work
  • simplified systems and working practices
  • recognition of the need to give better and more realistic housing options
  • better use of resources

Like many other authorities, we already have a number of prevention tools in place which include:

  • a mediation service in partnership with Llamau for young people aged 16 -21
  • a Housing Advice Service in partnership with Gofal Cymru for those experiencing mental health issues
  • a Bond scheme
  • access to specialist Independent Advice Service and debt advice via surgeries held by Shelter Cymru at the Housing Advice Centre
  • an E learning Module which assists housing providers to work with their tenants and prevent homelessness in cases where there are issues of domestic abuse
  • Project Noddfa which assists those who are or who have experienced domestic abuse to remain in their home by offering target hardening and other security measures

Such arrangements continue to offer important housing options to many vulnerable client groups and provide a vital role in the prevention of homelessness and delivery of the services provided by the Housing Advice Centre.

However, we recognise from our service review that we cannot stand still and need to adopt new approaches and re-think our front line service model, including improving the housing options we offer.

In considering our proposed service changes and working within limited financial constraints and resources, we recognise that we need to actively engage and work in partnership with the voluntary sector and other local partners to ensure the delivery of a holistic housing options service.

What next: our vision for change

The Common Housing Register

October 2012 will see the introduction of a new allocation scheme in partnership with Cynon Taff Community Housing Group, Hafod and Newydd Housing Association, RCT Homes and Rhondda Housing Association. This will include the implementation of a banding scheme replacing the old points based model, with all applications made via an online form. This will offer one point of contact for applicants applying for social housing in the borough. The new working arrangements will aim to ensure applicants are fully informed of the housing options available to them at the point of application to the register, including assistance where practicable to enable them to remain in their existing home.

Staffing resources

We need to meet the new service requirements with the existing staffing resources available and respond to the requirements of the new homelessness legislation to offer a holistic housing solutions model. A staffing restructure is to be undertaken with the aim of combining the Common Housing Register assessment and housing advice and housing options function into a generic officer role. It is proposed that all staff will undertake intensive training to ensure they are able to fully advise on all housing options and have an up to date knowledge of all legislation relating to homelessness and tenancy law.

This will avoid duplication of service delivery, as well streamlining processes providing a more flexible efficient and effective front line response, offering an individual tailored solution and providing the right outcome for the client.

The private rented sector

We recognise that the private rented sector is largely under-developed within Rhondda Cynon Taff particularly in relation to providing accommodation for vulnerable households.

A resource been created to assist in developing the private rented sector and increase the supply of accommodation. This role will be crucial to assisting us in meeting and managing the increasing demand for alternative housing options.

This will include rooms in houses, shared housing and the development of accommodation pathways for young people and other vulnerable homeless households. The role will also be integral to providing a point of contact for landlords in offering advice and support on fulfilling their legal responsibilities and assistance to find tenants.

The role will also establish links with local letting agencies and other agencies. It will also work closely with the council’s housing enforcement team to ensure we are taking appropriate action where needed as well as raising standards in the private rented sector.

We also recognise that we need to make rented accommodation work by supporting people to remain in their homes. We are currently working with our housing providers, Children’s Services Department and our Supporting People Team to develop accommodation options such as supported lodging schemes, responsive tenancy support services and furnished tenancy arrangements.

Addressing the causes of homelessness

The main reasons for homelessness in the borough include family breakdown and leaving prison. Staff resources will be redeployed to ensure we are routinely carrying home visits in cases of parental exclusion and relationship breakdown. In addition, we intend to carry out pre-release work by visiting prisons and working with offenders to assess needs and assist them to leave prison in a planned way.

Debt advice

Debt has become a significant issue for many households who present to our service linked with affordability and being able to remain in the existing home. In order to ensure we are assisting all households struggling financially, we routinely refer all clients (subject to their permission) to our independent Shelter Debt Advisor based at the Housing Advice Centre. This offers early identification of issues and provides basic advice to help work out the best outcome based on financial circumstances. This joint working also assists in identifying priority for housing via the Common Housing Register where it is deemed unreasonable for a client to remain in their accommodation due to exceptional financial hardship.

There are still a number of improvements to be made and other key housing options to be implemented as part of our vision of change. This will include providing a service that assists all households regardless of whether they are families, couples, or single people and statutorily homeless where they are experiencing housing difficulties.

The new approach is still in its early stages with some areas still to be developed. But we hope it will improve the way we work by providing a seamless easy to use service offering early intervention, rather than just reacting to crisis.

For more information, contact Cheryl Emery [email protected]


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