The report was presented by the ADH which provided the Committee with an update on the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA17). This followed on from the original report brought to the Committee in October 2017. Since then, the service had remodelled services and reconfigured teams, ready to meet the new Act requirements. Thurrock Council had received a total sum allocation of £242,544 from the new burdens funding which would be split over the three years. The first year’s allocation of £81,700 would be used to hire two new specialist officers and on a bespoke system titled ‘Jigsaw’.
The service had been visited by a representative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government which had resulted in a positive visit. There would be a Homelessness Forum on 5th March in which Thurrock would share their preparations with partners. The aim was to be one of the best Boroughs to successfully implement the requirements of the HRA17.
Welcoming this update and the HRA17, the Chair felt it was the little things that made a big difference. He went on to say the demand did not seem to be so high considering the ratio of the number of people coming into the service per officer. The ADH agreed with this comment.
Referring to paragraph 3.2, Councillor Pothecary sought clarification that the current statutory notice period of 28 days would be extended to 56 days. The ADH confirmed this was the case and would be in line with the Assured Shorthold Tenancy in the private sector. However, the service currently did not wait until the end of the notice; instead, they would allocate the case immediately to an Options Officer. Most boroughs, including Thurrock, were already carrying out best practices in general.
Councillor Pothecary welcomed this as it was a big issue. She felt paragraph 3.2 needed rewording for clarity regarding the 28 days and 56 days framework. She sought clarification on the wording of paragraph 3.5 which the ADH clarified it referred to families with children and not the children themselves that were made intentionally homeless. It was the parents that were the subject of intention for homelessness and the unfortunate impact was on the children. He went on to state the paragraph focused on the strengthened partnership between housing and children’s services. This was a part of the ethos of the new Act which highlighted and encouraged successful partnerships.
Referring to the funding, Councillor Pothecary expressed concern over the funding of £81,700 in the first year which would already be used up by the two specialist officers. Whilst this placed new duties on the Council which she felt was right, she was concerned on the lack of resources, such as available properties and discretionary payments, the Council had to fulfil these duties. The ADH agreed the new legislation could not change anything and did not create new housing options. The funding allocated had been based on demand statistics and would be used up fairly quickly but there should be no need for more new staff after the first year. The Act did bring in a lot of new legal duties which councils would be bound to but the service would look to use the funding effectively. Regarding this, the Chair queried if this provided a more accurate picture of homelessness as many had not been recorded in the statistics of local authorities.
Agreeing with this, the ADH continued by saying that there would now be a new statutory return called the H-Click which would be used to inform government of the returns. It would capture customers on every return which would be in Thurrock Council’s best interest as it would capture every customer and provide a more accurate level of the demand within Thurrock. This could be used to lobby central government for more resources to meet demands. The ADH also added that the service was doing a separate piece of work called ‘Demand and Delivery’ which looked at data within the Borough in regards to housing needs and options. This related back to the new Act.
With the new HRA17 requirements, Councillor Allen felt this would improve Thurrock’s duty of care towards homelessness. He congratulated the service on the work done so far.
A revised version of the report has been added to this agenda in light of Member comments.
1.1 That the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee commented on the information provided on the introduction of the Act and the continued work of the Housing Solutions Service in preparing for implementation.