Welsh law proves that early support prevents #homelessness #housing #solutions #housingcrisis #squatting #olsx #occupy #respace #reuse the 1.5 Million empty buildings in the UK #homes4all #nuitdebout #nightassembly #homes #land #freedom
Very impressive results in Wales are fueling calls for England to adopt a homelessness prevention law that obliges councils to help people in housing crisis
A recent March with the Homeless in London 15th April highlighting homeless deaths
A list of landlords’ phone numbers would have been the only support Alice Rivers could have expected from her local council if she had become homeless a few years ago. But following trailblazing legislation in 2015, Welsh councils have transformed the way they respond to people who have been evicted, as well as those at risk of losing their home, by intervening earlier and more creatively to prevent homelessness. So when Rivers, 18, was recently thrown out of the family home after coming out as transgender, Flintshire council found her a place in a temporary “nightstop” and is now helping her to move on to a place of her own in north-east Wales.
“I was so worried – I thought the council wouldn’t be able to help,” says Rivers. “I burst into tears when they told me they could find me somewhere.”
Under the Housing Wales Act, all Welsh local authorities are now required to work with anyone facing homelessness, whether through family breakdown, rent or mortgage arrears or eviction, and to help all those who actually become homeless, rather than those who reach certain thresholds of priority need. According to Flintshire, it is an approach that has seen staff able to move from “tick-box” decision-making to a much more supportive role.
“With a case [like Rivers] we will now say, ‘Here’s a young person who’s got a job and can’t go home – what can we do?’, whereas a few years ago we might have been saying, ‘There’s a narrow gap to help – will we let them through?’” says Katie Clubb, the customer services manager in charge of Flintshire’s Housing Solutions service. There’s been a real culture shift, she adds, so that, where once the focus was on sifting out those such as young single people who were not considered a priority, now staff are able to focus on offering some help and advice to all those who get in touch.
Flintshire, which borders the English county of Cheshire, was piloting the preventive approach before it came into force in April 2015. It has been praised by Shelter Cymru for the way it has been prepared to spend its share of the Welsh government’s £5.6m implementation fund on a range of measures to prevent homelessness. The council’s £228,000 spending in the first year has included helping with rental deposits and letting agents’ fees, paying off rent and mortgage arrears for those who might otherwise be evicted, and funding support workers and an environmental health officer to help sort out poor housing conditions in the private rented sector. It has also paid for a Shelter Cymru caseworker to work alongside its own officers, so transforming the once adversarial relationship between those making the decisions on homeless applicants and those challenging them. “Rather than sending letters to each other, we are working together,” says Shelter Cymru caseworker Ashleigh Stevens. “It’s a real change of focus – it used to be very prescriptive, but we now cooperate on how to resolve each situation, and there’s buy-in from everyone.”
A recent March with the Homeless protest 16th April in Brighton highlighting homeless deaths
Across Wales, initial results of the new approach are encouraging. While the number of households accepted as homeless in the last quarter of last year rose by 6% in England to 14,470, in Wales the number fell by some 67% to 405 in the same period. Lesley Griffiths, Welsh minister for communities and tackling poverty, says about two-thirds of those who have received help under the new legislation have successfully avoided homelessness. “The legislation is a UK first – it addresses the issues that cause homelessness and seeks to ensure that everyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness gets the help they need to secure a stable home,” she says.
The success so far in Wales is fuelling calls for a similar homelessness prevention duty to be introduced in England. But isn’t it just easier to tackle homelessness in a smaller country like Wales where the pressures on housing simply aren’t so great? Not so, according to those on the Welsh frontline. Welfare reform and the bedroom tax have hit Wales particularly hard, adding to the problems of those who need to find a home they can afford. Simon Rose, housing needs manager at Newport council and chair of Wales’s homelessness network, says many areas in Wales including his own are struggling to meet the demand for social housing, while the private rented sector is becoming increasingly unaffordable. While the new prevention framework doesn’t solve those problems, it does give the council the flexibility to find new ways of helping people with their housing difficulties.
In Newport, that means the south Wales council, alongside offering rent deposits and clearing arrears, has even helped pay everyday bills in order to ensure one pregnant tenant could get settled in her home without the fear of running up debt. And, like Flintshire, Newport is also working closely with support services, and to ensure the most vulnerable people don’t get trapped in the revolving door of evictions, B&Bs or failed tenancies, which would end up costing the council more in the long run. “We estimate that for every pound we spend, we are saving £4,” says Rose. He adds that the new set-up gives housing officers much more autonomy to help people whatever their circumstances. “It changes the mindset of staff on the frontline,” he says. “They can now have an open and frank discussion with people about their options. It gives staff a bit more confidence in delivering – they become almost like salespeople in presenting the options.”
For someone like Anna Williams there is no doubt the new approach is working. Williams was helped by Rose and his team to avoid eviction after her marriage broke up and she was left with mortgage arrears. “Being a homeowner, I never thought I’d get the help I did. It was amazing,” she says. “I’m told councils in England don’t intervene till you’re on the doorstep and have got the bags in your hand, and that’s no good – you need help before that happens.”