The Housing Strategy &
Quality Manager introduced the report and stated this was a review
of the approach to homelessness in the borough. He elaborated that
this was a statutory duty that the council had to undertake every
five years, and the current strategy was coming to the end of its
life. He stated that this was compounded by new government
legislation which would affect the borough. He discussed how the
strategy was divided into two sections, the first being a strategic
analysis in the context of Thurrock, and the second being the
consultation phase with key partners and stakeholders, such as
Youth Cabinet, and Members. He stated that the first stage analysis
would begin in February 2019 and run until April 2019, with the
second consultation phase running from May 2019 until August
Councillor Redsell began the debate by stating she felt homelessness was a problem across Essex, such as in Southend, Basildon and Brentwood. She asked which stakeholders would be consulted with at the consultation phase. The Corporate Director replied that although homelessness was a problem, the number of street homeless had been declining in Thurrock, and there were currently only 140-150 people living in temporary accommodation across the borough. He added that people staying in bed and breakfasts were only there for a short time, and compared this to other boroughs, which had significant numbers of people in bed and breakfasts and temporary accommodation. He then commented that people placed out of borough had also been decreasing. He felt that there was more work to be done to tackle the issue, but that the council had a robust policy and could implement it well. He finally stated that the team would be consulting with key stakeholders, and people who work with the homeless on a day to day basis.
Councillor Liddiard felt that there had been a change in the past four to five years in the reasons for homelessness, as it used to be primarily divorce, loss of employment or health issues; but felt now homelessness was often due to tenants being evicted by landlords and given a Section 21 notice. He mentioned that he had also heard that London borough councils were offering landlords significant reward to take their tenants, and wanted the council to find out from London boroughs why this was happening and how many people from outside Thurrock were being housed. He then gave the personal example in his Tilbury ward of a block of flats which was being used to house Newham residents. The Assistant Director Housing replied that as the cost of renting was increasing and benefits were decreasing, more landlords were giving out Section 21 notices. She stated that the council were working with landlords and tenants to solve problems, and added that there was a dedicated financial inclusion officer in the housing team who specifically helped those residents. She clarified that some London boroughs did offer rewards to landlords to house their tenants, but this was happening in all boroughs which bordered London. She then commented that Newham Council had roughly 5000 people living in temporary accommodation compared to only 140-150 in Thurrock. The Assistant Director Housing summarised and stated that the Leaders of every council in Essex had written to all London boroughs to raise this issue and try to solve the problem.
Councillor Liddiard questioned whether Thurrock Council could negotiate directly with developers to purchase houses and flats. The Assistant Director Housing replied that developers did not want to sell to the council, and the council did not want to buy, as the houses built could be of poor quality due to the fact they were built to rent. She added that if the council brought these properties there would be a high maintenance cost due to their poor construction. She commented that the council could rent them and were talking to developers to be able to do this. Councillor Redsell added that the housing team and planning team should consider more linked-up working to be able to solve this issue. The Corporate Director commented that the council were open to conversations and had been in contact with developers, although most flats and houses were outside of the council’s price range. He clarified that Essex Leaders had written to the London Councils and GLA, although there were no statutory powers in place to stop London boroughs placing their tenants in neighbouring boroughs. Councillor Redsell added that placing Newham residents in Thurrock had a knock-on effect for Thurrock residents as it increased rent prices and therefore increased the number of homeless people.
Councillor Pothecary thanked the team for their report and felt it was a positive strategy with some good ideas. She asked if the council were going to contact Shelter during the consultation phase, as they were an important frontline service. She also asked if the council could approach developers to ask for the 35% social housing which they were required to build, as then more residents could be housed through the council. She then drew the Committee’s attention to point 3.21 and stated she felt private rent was too high, so more houses needed to be built and the council could take control of social housing. The Corporate Director replied that the council were looking for permanent accommodation solutions and were open to conversations with developers regarding increasing stock, although the council did not have large capital resources to be able to buy. He added that the team were also looking into currently vacant houses to use as temporary accommodation and social housing.
Councillor Liddiard began a discussion around benefits and rent, during which the Assistant Director Housing stated that due to welfare reforms there was a limit to the amount of benefits a person could get to use on housing. It was also clarified that people who were single and under 35 would be on the average house-share rate, even if they had children or family who stayed with them. The Housing Tenant Representative stated that in her personal experience of running a food bank, it was often used more during school holidays, and asked if this was because people on benefits had to look after their children returning from university. The Assistant Director Housing responded that this was mainly due to families not receiving school meals for their children during the holidays.
1. The Committee noted the contents of the report, and commented on the proposal to develop a new homelessness strategy. In particular, commented on the consultation proposals set out in section 5.