To receive a presentation from the Housing and Communities Portfolio Holder on the homelessness issues associated with Covid-19 both during the pandemic and immediately post-pandemic and the end of the furlough scheme (45 minutes)
Councillor Bundy, Portfolio Holder for Housing and Environmental Health gave a presentation on key areas of activity during the pandemic and looking ahead to the future. The ending of national pandemic measures may also relate to future housing pressures. Councillor Bundy also reflected on the role of the Environmental Health Service to ensure that the Committee had an understanding of the role they have played in recent months supporting our communities.
It has been an unbelievably busy year for the housing and environmental health teams who have been at the sharp end of some of the work to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the past 15 months being very much not business as usual, the teams have been able to continue delivering high quality services and service improvements during this time. The presentation focused on some specific areas which explained the pre-existing strategies and plans, and put these in context of pressures arising now and in the future as a result of the pandemic.
The Head of Housing and Environmental Health explained that the Council’s investment in front line service delivery and commitment to making offers of emergency accommodation to people regardless of priority need put us in a good place to begin to address the emerging demand from single people during the pandemic. He further suggested that the existing strategies and plans, alongside the additional funding recently achieved from government, mean the service is in as good a place as we might have hoped to move forward and respond proactively to any subsequent impacts.
The presentation covered;
· Housing Strategy 2020-2025
· Preventing Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy
· Progress towards strategy aims
· External (MHCLG) Grant Funding achieved
· Pandemic Impacts
· Where we are now
· What will the end of the moratorium on evictions mean
· Landlord possession activity 2003-2021
· How are Housing Associations responding
· Current and future plans
· Environmental Health
During subsequent questioning, members explored the following;
· Preventing evictions by working with other agencies and having a package of support in place to support sustainable tenancies.
· Some good ways of working have come out of the pandemic including accelerated partnership working. There is a countywide group which includes public health, NHS, mental health, southern health, Districts and HCC.
· Looking at ways in which the Council process people through the homelessness legislation. May want to use the legislation differently to move people through temporary accommodation quicker. The Council has also invested in a resettlement service to work with people in temporary accommodation to help them move on and Test Valley Lettings which offers support to private landlords and their tenants, in order to support people with more complex issues to access tenancies in the private rented sector. Following a successful funding bid to MHCLG, the Council will be recruiting a complex needs support worker, and are currently exploring the potential to second in clinical mental health support using Public Health funding.
· Working with local businesses to assist them with safe working practices which they share with other national branches of that business.
· Environmental Health is nearly fully staffed. Engaging a contractor to patch up some of the work which has built up during the pandemic.
· Energy efficiency grants.
· The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which is a huge piece of legislation – HCC are under a duty to complete a needs assessment to inform future commissioning decisions by August. The district council’s homelessness duties are extended by the Act to ensure that anyone who is homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse is treated as a priority by virtue of the domestic abuse they have suffered – this means no change for TVBC as we have always operated in that way in these instances. Cuts to HCC Services proposed in the Balancing the Budget Consultation will have an impact on vulnerable people in Test Valley which could contribute to homelessness.
· Suggestion to use the Former Magistrates Court in Andover for rehousing people experiencing homelessness.
· Aster Void Disposal – it was noted that Aster are identifying properties across their operating area that are highly energy inefficiency and would cost vast sums to bring up to standard and these are considered for open market sale. There have been a number of these disposals in Test Valley. Aster’s position is that they use the proceed to fund the new provision of 2 new affordable units for every one that they sell within a 4.5 mile radius. The committee were advised that recently 3 new units of affordable housing were being developed by Aster on an old garage site in Kings Somborne.
Councillor Lodge thanked the Portfolio Holder and his team for the informative presentation and answering the questions.