How and where people live 

Homelessness 

People experiencing homelessness are often affected by debt, poor health and wellbeing issues. They are generally disconnected from the pathways to essential services that can help them to identify the disconnection and break their downward cycle.

 

Homelessness can be a complex situation, like health and wellbeing issues it can be caused or contributed to by underlying conditions such as mental health, drug and alcohol problems. In addition, homeless people can experience difficult and stressful situations such as social isolation which compounds the negative impact on their health and well-being in many detrimental ways: It is noted that there is a distinct categorising of homelessness as roofless however in many inner city areas homelessness is disguised; often homeless people live with friends; live in overcrowded accommodation and many are a product of relationship breakdowns, job losses and financial problems. Sadly the homeless statutory framework only helps the most vulnerable people in housing crisis which are vulnerable adults, families with children and very ill people and the most reliable data relate to these groups.  The homelessness problem covers a wide range of people and can be a larger problem than sometimes reported. 

 

People are homeless if they:

 

·      Have no regular place to live

 

·      Have few or no legal rights to remain where they are currently staying

 

·      Are unable to return to their home due to an illegal eviction by their landlord

 

·      Cannot reasonably be expected to remain in their home due to risk or actual violence

 

·      Their family home is not large enough so they are forced to move out

 

·      They are living in poor conditions which is damaging their health


5.3.1 What can we do? 

The law says that the council must arrange accommodation for people who become homeless through no fault of their own, in “priority need” and “eligible for assistance‟. Homeless households seeking accommodation are provided with an option of being rehoused into the private rent market or available social housing. The housing legislation requires that the council provide suitableaccommodation for homeless households initially on an interim basis pending enquiries and subsequently, on a temporary basis until a long term housing solution can be found. Temporary accommodation can take a broad range of housing types including bed & breakfast although the general feeling of uncertainty and insecurity which goes with it can have a deleterious impact upon health and wellbeing. Wider impacts can also arise for households living in temporary accommodation including children who are absent from school (Shelter, Impact of TA on Homeless Families, 2004).

Once the Council has accepted a duty to a homeless household the person(s) can remain in temporary accommodation until such time as a long term housing solution is found.

The Localism Act 2012 empowers the Council to discharge its homeless duty by the provision of a property in the private rented market for two years and one day with an assured short-hold tenancy via a private landlord, although the council is not doing this until November 2014. At present where the council agrees a housing duty is owed the customer is given the option to find their own permanent housing or be placed on the council list for an offer or for social housing. Given the projected waiting times for social housing many priority cases are opting to find their own housing solution either with the support of the council’s in-house letting teams (Barking & Dagenham Lets) or the Reside team. 

In the course of the last year the Council has experienced a continued increase in housing pressures which has manifested itself in a rise in temporary accommodation placements. Although every effort is being made to prevent the use of temporary accommodation the numbers remains unacceptably high due to the sheer demands for accommodation set against the rise in homeless applications.  It is unfortunate that whilst we have reduced our dependency on bed and breakfast usage it is still an essential option for ours and for many other authorities. Families placed in this type of accommodation particularly in excess of six weeks are given a priority for a temporary move however more work is required to reduce the use of bed and breakfast further. 

Aside from homeless duties, the Council has seen a general rise in demand for housing and a fall in supply of affordable homes resulting in the waiting list growing over the last five years to 13,126 as of June 2014. This increase in demand is against a backdrop of a reduced supply of Council accommodation and the impact of the Council’s regeneration programme which will deliver new affordable housing in the medium term but has a short term impact of reducing supply, leaving less available for those in temporary accommodation to move on to.

The housing situation had been exacerbated by the economic downturn, limited prospects in the housing market, and the impact of the early phases of Welfare Reform. There has been a large increase in demand in the borough for private rented accommodation although the council struggles to get an adequate supply from the providers. This is mainly due the financial competition from other local authorities operating in our borough and the general shift of letting agents moving from social tenants to private ones where the market determines the rent levels.  Some of the changes are due to working households on modest incomes being unable to access homeownership and unlikely to succeed in gaining a social rented home.
 

Barking and Dagenham are faced with similar problems to those experienced across London however it is exacerbated locally because we are less competitive in procuring properties as wealthier authorities with more spending power demand a larger share of the rented market and other less affluent but more desperate authorities with an inflated spending power also compete for a share of the available properties.  All of this presents Barking and Dagenham with a big problem. It is also extremely difficult to quantify the level of impact that welfare reform will have on income collection in temporary accommodation and increased levels of homelessness. London Boroughs with higher rent levels and who get higher local Housing Allowance subsidies are more likely to be affected by this change but will turn to renting in Barking and Dagenham area as it will fall within their budget hence is more attractive for benefit claimants outside of the borough. Universal Credit will replace individual benefit payments with a transitional move starting in August 2014 through to 2017. It will be paid directly to claimants one month in arrears. This will pose problems for households who have difficulty budgeting and who currently have their rent paid directly to their landlord. Clearly this has the potential to cause tenants to fall into rent arrears and face eviction, a difficult cycle to break. 

The number of people in the main priority need groups to whom the Council has accepted a full homelessness duty has increased significantly over the last year. This is due to a combination of the rise in homelessness and the team clearing a large backlog of under assessed homeless cases (Table 5.3).

Table 5.3 Numbers in main priority need groups who are homeless 2008/09 – 2012/13 

Main Priority Need Groups

2008/09

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

Household with child/ren/pregnancy

235

157

156

150

501

Single people 16/17years - 18/20 years

25

30

9

8

10

Physical disability

11

8

18

9

39

Mental Illness

17

28

25

21

69

Source: LBBD NSSA data

 

 

The reasons why people become legally homeless are also reflected in the data on main causes of homelessness (Table 5.4). This shows that the most common reason is a breakdown in relationships with parents or relatives however there has been a rapid rise in people losing their home as a result of the loss of their private tenancy. This figure conceals the true reason for the ending of private tenancies as landlords can give a non-specific reason why they have decided to reclaim their property through the legal system.

Table 5.4 Main causes of homelessness 2008/09-2012/13

Main Causes of Homelessness

2008/09

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

From Parents/Relatives

144

109

120

69

340

Relationship Breakdown

21

15

22

28

81

Loss of Private Rented Accommodation

71

45

47

64

333

Mortgage Arrears

20

1

5

4

20

Source: LBBD HSSA data

Barking and Dagenham is attractive to people with low and medium incomes because housing costs for all tenure types, including home ownership and private sector tenancies, are relatively inexpensive compared with much of London.

Table 5.5 shows the decisions made about those who applied to be classified as homeless. About half of the applicants are black and minority ethnic households. Although the numbers of applicants have increased significantly over the last 12 months, the numbers of BME’s  actually meeting the criteria for statutory homelessness has remain stable.

Table 5.5:  Applications and decisions to be declared statutory homeless Barking and Dagenham 2008/09 – 2012/13 

Homeless Decisions

2008/09

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

Total

BME

Total

BME

Total

BME

Total

BME

Total

BME

Statutory Homeless

306

185

232

110

221

75

199

107

664

305

Intentionally Homeless

74

44

67

21

25

12

12

4

49

24

No Priority Need

22

15

146

45

197

78

46

16

82

31

Not Homeless

117

     80

237

109

269

91

128

61

324

136

Ineligible Households

5

5

29

8

27

16

23

20

67

48

Totals

524

329

711

293

739

272

408

208

1186

544

BME Percentage

 

63%

 

41%

 

37%

 

51%

 

46%

Source: LBBD HSSA data


Table 5.6 Age breakdown for those accepted as statutory homeless, Barking and Dagenham, 2008/09 – 2011/13

Age

2008/09

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

16-24

132

101

79

54

171

25-44

148

102

115

125

401

45-59

22

26

21

15

81

60-64

2

2

1

4

6

65-74

1

1

4

1

3

75+

1

0

1

0

2

Source: LBBD HSSA data

The majority of those accepted as statutory homeless were young people with the 25 to 44 being the most vulnerable group. Figure 5.6 shows the age breakdown. The figures also shows a decline in young people aged 16–24 years being accepted as homeless. 

The household type that predominates amongst those accepted as statutory homeless is lone parent (Table 5.7)  

 

Table 5.7 Household type for those accepted as statutory homeless, Barking and Dagenham, 2008/09 – 2011/12

Household Type

2008/09

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

Couple with child/ren

62

50

45

31

114

Lone Parent

173

104

110

119

374

Single Person

71

75

64

46

155

Others

0

3

2

3

21

Source: LBBD HSSA data

Although the restrictions on Local Authorities to build new homes within their areas are reducing, there are still insufficient numbers of public sector properties to meet both current and future identified needs.  The number of homeless approaches from working applicants unable to afford their rent or mortgage is increasing and often the cost of temporary accommodation is higher than their former housing charges.

Actions taken by the Council to reduce the number of homeless people include:

  • A contract with public sector landlords that is compatible with Local Housing Allowance regulations.
  • A choice-based lettings scheme operated by the council for public sector tenancies, continuing to allocate tenancies to both homeless and qualifying persons under the Housing Act 1996.
  • External funding of £388,550 delivering on a GLA programme to bring 50 empty dwellings back to use by 2015 which will be managed by the Council’s Temporary Accommodation Unit . The programme has so far secured 35 properties with leases of five years.
  • Rent Deposit Scheme that has assisted over 758 homeless households since 2007/08.
  • The Court Advocacy Scheme which protects homeowners from eviction at the courts has been transferred to Edwards Duthrie Solicitors in partnership with the citizen’s Advice bureau.
  • Dedicated team to assist in overcrowding and under occupation in the borough. They facilitated 338 moves between 2010 and 2014, 66 of which were under the Seaside and Country Homes scheme, and the team were able to released 564 bedrooms.

5.3.2 Proposed strategic approach  

In order to keep pace with the rapid and profound changes and increased demand, a further structure review of the Housing Advice Service was carried out in 2013/14 to ensure the generation of a sufficient supply of accommodation and that new demand is robustly managed.

The Mutual Exchange service has been transferred to landlord services is a way to assist tenants who are under-occupying and unable to meet the shortfall in their rent.

Following the successful conversion of Brocklebank Lodge, a former care home, into a unit for homeless single people and the development of a new Riverside family hostel the additional living space has eased the immediate pressure to use bed and breakfast as a short term resolution for housing. As the past developments of council hostels appear to be successful further plans are in hand to convert more disused or alternative buildings to provide alternative temporary accommodation and reduce the reliance upon bed and breakfast which is both costly and unsuitable

The Council’s Housing Allocations Policy is currently under review. The Localism Act enables the council to create a policy that suits local prevailing housing conditions. There has been significant Member involvement in the development of the policy which will impose a residential qualification to new applicants.

The Council is in contract with the GLA and will complete 762 new affordable homes by April 2015. In addition there will be a further 300 Council homes developed by 2018.

The Council has committed to set up a Social Letting Agency in 2014, and deliver savings to the general fund. The intention being to work directly with Landlords to procure property for use for homeless households and save on costs incurred by using accommodation agents to manage this process. We are currently exploring the opportunity of bringing forward this action, to procure property to use as a means of homeless prevention and thereby avoid the longer term homeless duties and costs associated in providing temporary accommodation. This approach would enable the council to offer out of borough /London private rented properties as an option to those interested is relocating without breaching suitability regulations. We are currently in talks with Waltham Forest who have successfully set up a Social Letting Agency using their rent deposit staff and funding as a launch pad. A pilot proposal is currently being drafted.

Finally, in common with most London boroughs we are exploring the feasibility of acquiring Council owned property out of London that could be an affordable option for tenants who wish to downsize and would enhance the existing Seaside and Country Homes scheme that Barking and Dagenham tenants utilise more than any other London borough.