Housing Achievements  and Law Changes lead to Homelessness Strategy Refresh

Lowfield Road Completed 011
OVER the last two years the Council has adopted a successful early intervention approach which has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of homeless households being placed in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation.

Almost 180 households were in emergency bed and breakfast  accommodation in Reading three years ago but now that figure has dropped to 10 or fewer since November last year.

Earlier this year the Council also achieved its target of having no families in bed and breakfast with shared kitchen or bathroom facilities. This success combined with significant changes to legislation in the shape of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 has prompted a refresh of the Council’s current Homelessness Strategy and the development of a new Homelessness Strategy for 2019-2024.

Reading’s existing homelessness strategy sets out three key priorities:

1.      Increase the use and accessibility of the private rented sector.

As well as drastically reducing the use of emergency accommodation, the Council’s housing team has managed to cut the number of households in temporary accommodation from 315 in March 2018 to 188 in March 2019. The number of households prevented from becoming homeless increased from 321 in 2017/18 to 421 in 2018/19.

This has been achieved with the help of the Rent Guarantee Scheme, helping families with deposits and rent in advance and improving the standards of property in the private sector.

2.      Prevent homelessness by supporting people to access housing and to sustain their accommodation.

The introduction of newly commissioned Homelessness Support Services in September 2018 and additional funds secured from the government resulted in a reduction in the number of rough sleepers found on the annual count from 31 in 2017 to 25 in 2018. There has also been a significant reduction in families found to be intentionally homeless thanks to increased support for those households at risk of losing their homes.

3.      Increase the range and accessibility of information and advice available to enable people to make informed decisions about their housing situation.

Additional staffing of homelessness prevention teams, a pilot of an early intervention team and specialist frontline housing advice support team helped keep down the number of households coming to the Council in housing crisis. This is reflected in the decrease in placements to emergency and temporary accommodation.

The Council is to consult on the new Homelessness Strategy with the proposed three priorities of:

·        Intervening early to prevent and reduce homelessness in Reading

·        Increasing access to decent, suitable accommodation

·        Supporting people who are vulnerable to recurring homelessness

Members of the Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure committee approved a consultation on the proposed priorities for the strategy, at a meeting on Wednesday 3rd July. The consultation is due to take place throughout August and September.

Rough Sleeping Strategy

A new Rough Sleeping Strategy has also been developed with the aim of halving the number of rough sleepers in Reading by 2022 and to achieve zero by 2027 in line with national targets.

Rough sleeping increased nationally and in Reading between 2010 and 2017 but decreased in the borough at the last annual count.

In comparison with most neighbouring Berkshire authorities Reading provides more local authority funding towards support services to prevent and relieve homelessness for single people and couples.  Reading was successful in securing £316,500 additional funding in 2017/18 and £335,000 in 2018/19 from the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) under their Rough Sleeping Initiative.

The Council has also secured funding from:

– the Private Rented Sector Access Fund to the amount of £200,000 for 2019/20 to employ four Tenancy Sustainment Officers to work alongside the Homelessness Prevention Team in providing additional support to people at risk of homelessness and additional links and support to the private rented sector.

– the Rapid Rehousing Pathway fund to the amount of circa £300,000 to work with rough sleepers/former rough sleepers, to employ two navigator roles within St Mungo’s and four Out of Hours Tenancy Sustainment Officer roles within The Salvation Army to support people who have formerly slept rough who require support to sustain their tenancies in the evenings and at weekends.

The Council’s key priorities in this area are to prevent rough sleeping, support individuals sleeping rough while protecting residents and the business community from the effects of any associated anti-social behaviour and to investigate ways for individuals to support vulnerable people.

Cllr John Ennis, Lead Councillor for Housing, said:

“Reading’s housing team have managed to dramatically reduce the number of households using emergency accommodation. This is a significant achievement and some relief to individuals and families who suddenly find themselves without a home.

“The change in circumstances in Reading and updates to national legislation means that now is the right time to refresh the borough’s Homelessness Strategy.

“Reading commits a lot of resources and effort into preventing homelessness and supporting those sleeping rough.  Progress is being made but there is still much to do and our new Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategies will help provide direction for the Council and its partners.”  

David Millward

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