The Council is required by The Homelessness Act 2002 to review the issues relating to homelessness and to have a Homelessness Strategy setting out its plans to prevent and tackle the causes of homelessness, support homeless households and ensure that there is sufficient accommodation available for those who do become homeless.
This is the Council's third Homelessness Strategy since 2003 and in that time considerable work has been carried out by the Council and its partners to tackle the issues around homelessness. We have also been able to build a good knowledge base around local issues.
The objectives of previous strategies have included improving awareness of help and access to services, continuous improvement in the effectiveness of those services measured in improved outcomes for residents, and active and equal partnerships with those organisations who share responsibility for supporting those at risk of homelessness. This ambition continues and in developing the Homelessness Strategy 2013-18 the Council has taken into account the 10 'Local Authority Challenges' set out in the Government report 'Making Every Contact Count: A Joint Approach to Preventing Homelessness' in 2012.
The ten challenges for local authorities to consider form the framework for a 'gold standard' for housing options services. Where it supports local priorities and is within local resource capabilities the Council will work to meet these challenges and is committed to Step 1 of the Challenge to "strive for continuous improvement in front line housing services".
A review of the issues facing homelessness services highlighted three main changes since the last strategy:
- The impact of 'financial crisis' and the new economic situation;
- Austerity measures, most notably welfare reform; and,
- The Localism Act 2011.
While the first two present challenges for residents and those advising and supporting them, the Localism Act has given the Council greater freedom in determining priority through its Allocations Scheme and introduced the requirement for a Tenancy Strategy which has allowed a strategic approach to making the best use of the limited local social housing stock.
The review also found that there were two main challenges that remained:
- The main causes of homelessness remain the same (nationally as well as locally); and,
- The use of Bed and breakfast for homeless households is still an issue as initial success in reducing reliance on this accommodation has slipped and in 2012/13 the Council was routinely using bed and breakfast.
While these challenges remain it is important to note that in the years leading up to the first Homelessness Strategy in 2003 the Council regularly accepted around 100 households a year as homeless, and while there was an increase in 2012/13, numbers over the last five years have remained well below this. At the same time, year on year more households have had their homelessness prevented than have been accepted as homeless. While there is still more work to do and new issues to deal with this is a success to build on.
In light of the review highlighting challenges both new and old, the Homelessness Strategy 2013 - 18 will focus on three priority areas of activity:
- Reducing homelessness against its main causes;
- Supporting residents affected by welfare reform; and
- Making the best use of the local housing stock to maximise housing options.
As noted in previous Strategies this is not work that the Council can do alone, and in tackling homelessness the Council needs to work effectively with a variety of agencies in equal and active partnerships.
The Action Plan at Annex 2 of the Strategy was updated in November 2014.