Rapid rehousing transition plans are a key delivery mechanism for moving away from a reliance on temporary accommodation and prioritising settled homes for all. The Covid-19 pandemic presented huge challenges for local authorities in their efforts to support people into settled housing. None more so than the increased demand for temporary accommodation experienced during the pandemic. Some of the other challenges presented by Covid-19 and Brexit, as highlighted in the temporary accommodation section, also had a knock on effect on accessing settled accommodation. In their RRTPs, local authorities highlighted some of the work carried out to help maximise settled and supported accommodation options and to support households access and sustain tenancies.
In Renfrewshire, using RRTP funding, the council recruited three resettlement assistants (temporary posts) as part of its Tenancy Resettlement Service. This is described as a proactive approach to help service users establish and sustain their tenancy. The council reported that since April 2020, in line with procedures developed in response to the pandemic, these new posts, as well as existing resources from within the council’s Homelessness and Housing Support Service have seen 290 tenants assisted to settle into their new homes.
Highland Council adopted a similar approach to focus on support for tenants with complex needs who do not require Housing First. Three Rapid Rehousing Officers were recruited in August 2020 to provide support around: harm reduction (drug and alcohol); personality disorder; learning difficulties; repeat criminal offending; and NHS restricted patients’ list clients.
Glasgow City HSCP is continuing to fund a post within the West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations to support the continued strategic development of the Local Letting Communities. The aim of this post is to build strong planning/operational partnerships with RSLs in order to improve access to tenancies for homeless people.
In February 2021 South Lanarkshire Council decided to extend the appointment of its RRTP Co-ordinator, initially appointed for 18 months. This post has specific responsibilities for working with partners and co-ordinating the implementation of the plan. A total of 339 additional affordable homes for social rent were delivered in 2020/21. This included 142 new build homes by RSLs and 197 additional council homes.
Many local authorities highlighted the impact of the pandemic and Brexit on their attempts to turn around void properties. A combination of supply issues, lack of available tradespeople and recruitment problems, together with Covid-19 restrictions, has slowed this process considerably during 2020/21, and continues to do so.
In Falkirk, following a review of its voids procedure the council introduced a specialist voids team, aiming to quickly turn round voids. The council reports that this has reduced the average time a property is unavailable from 28 days to four days. Also, despite the service being hampered by lockdown, they have found annual savings of around £230,000 from overall costs.
Fife Council pulled together all voids management across several services to form an integrated team during the pandemic. The staff focused on business critical activities to maintain a good supply of repaired empty houses for let to homeless people. The Chartered Institute of Housing recognised the effective working of the team through the Team of the Year award in 2020.
During 2020/21, Glasgow City HSCP continued to reform how it delivers homelessness services. A key element of this work was the void led letting pilot with the Wheatley Group and three Housing Associations in the Govan area. The Activities and Spend Template indicates there have been significant improvements in the section 5 process with:
- Settled lets to homeless applicants increased; and considering the Covid-19 context significantly increased.
- Temporary accommodation capacity increased due to a rapid increase in temporary furnished flats provided by RSLs and repurposing city centre hotels.
- Refusals of an offer of settled accommodation on the part of service users fell from 21% to 12%.
- Section 5 rejection refusal referral rates fell from 17% to 3%.
Perth and Kinross Council (PKC) recruited a handyperson to work with the Housing Options and Support Team. The council felt that this role would offer a number of benefits in terms of removing barriers to rapid rehousing. The remit of the handyperson in this context included:
- Delivering items to/from temporary accommodation properties or items being provided through the Property Ready Fund. This would be limited to small items such as microwaves, starter packs, etc. which would not require two people to handle safely.
- Minor repairs or decoration to temporary accommodation and PKC Lets/Rental Bond Guarantee Scheme (RBGS) properties such as changing/fitting light bulbs, re-fixing carpet strips, adjusting doors, minor paintwork, etc.
- Carrying out small tasks within properties to turn a house into a home – hanging curtains, helping to lay floor coverings, assistance with small areas of decoration, etc.
- Cleaning temporary accommodation and PKC Lets/RBGS properties.
- Topping up gas/electric meters where required.
- Maintaining a record of stock levels in the store both in terms of new goods and storage of customers’ property.
- Carrying out Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) of electrical items in temporary accommodation properties or in storage (subject to appropriate qualification).
By having a dedicated resource to assist with these tasks, the council aims to support people to move on from temporary accommodation quickly and recycle temporary accommodation units, enabling it to maintain a relatively small portfolio of temporary accommodation. It is also viewed as a means of avoiding excessive expense in relation to small jobs that would otherwise involve using a contractor.
In their RRTP, many local authorities are, or have committed to, reviewing their allocation policy, including percentage of lets to homeless households.
North Ayrshire Council undertook a pilot to allocate 100% lets to homeless households during the third quarter of 2020/2021. They agreed to prioritise: households with children recognising the impact of homelessness on adverse childhood trauma; households in employment given the cost of temporary accommodation and the impact it can have on employment and affordability; and women experiencing domestic abuse, to reduce the risk of further trauma.
The council extended this pilot throughout the pandemic, prioritising the allocation of all social rented lets in North Ayrshire to either homeless households or those with a strategic need for housing. This resulted in a positive impact on the duration of homelessness. Prior to the pandemic, 76% of households were homeless for more than six months. However, as at Q2 (2021/2022) only 22% of households have been homeless for more than six months.
Dundee City Council increased its target quota of lets to 75% of lettable houses for households on its homelessness list. The council looks to make best use of stock on a housing needs basis, for example, wheel chair adapted, sheltered amenity, and other housing policy protocol allocations, which it noted does impact on its target of 75% to homeless households. However, the council has engaged Common Housing Register partners who are also aiming to work towards this level of allocation. This is in addition to preventative measures put in place such as its Homelessness Prevention Pilot and supporting access into the Private Rented Sector, where appropriate.
Stirling Council set out how its new allocation policy will support a reduction in time spent in temporary accommodation:
- The policy makes best use of housing stock, with single people and couples being able to choose two bedroom properties in addition to one bedroom properties. This significantly increases the opportunities for smaller homeless households to be offered a property.
- The policy sets out 50% of lets to homeless applicants and how Housing First cases are prioritised for housing.
- The policy targets 30% of lets to transfer applicants. This enables a vacancy chain and it is projected that this will increase the overall number of relets the council will make from approx. 300 per annum to more than 420 lets per annum, with half of those lets being made to homeless households.
In South Ayrshire, a working group has been established to review Section 5 and nomination arrangements, involving representatives from the Housing Service and RSL partners. In addition, an RSL partner has delivered 27 specialist units to meet the housing and support needs of people with learning disabilities, with the first tenancies starting during 2021/22.
Similarly, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Restart/Move on project, set up during 2020/21 following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions after the first lockdown, involves a group consisting of its RSL partners meeting with its Housing Options and Homelessness Assessment Supervisors weekly to discuss allocations to homeless applicants that have been matched to a potential offer of permanent accommodation. This is to ensure that the potential offer is a viable and sustainable offer for the household moving forward, enabling discussion around any further support that might be required.
This initiative has found that, by fitting the property to the individual household, the number of appeals has decreased and there has been a reduction in the length of time spent in temporary accommodation for clients, which had initially increased due to Covid-19 restrictions. Monitoring will continue in order to gauge the impact on tenancy sustainment. Consideration is currently being given to mainstreaming the project.
Private Rented Sector (PRS)
Improving accessibility to the private rented sector as a route out of homelessness is a key theme of settled accommodation within RRTPs. This can be a challenging area for local authorities, especially around affordability. Many have highlighted a range of measures to improve access and promote the private rented sector as a sustainable and accessible housing option.
In April 2020, Angus Council introduced its Rent Deposit Scheme to assist individuals by paying a cash deposit or rent in advance to a landlord on their behalf. The tenant makes a savings plan to repay the money back to the council. In addition Angus introduced a rent guarantee scheme. In its RRTP, Angus reported that 17 households were supported to access the PRS through a combination of these schemes. The council noted some challenges with the repayment plans and with housing officer resource being stretched, which led to the recruitment of two Private Sector Officers in 2021/22. Their role is to build engagement with landlords, support people to access the private rented sector and be a first point of contact for tenants and landlords to prevent homelessness from the private rented sector.
Since the service was launched in June the officers have received 53 enquiries:
- 19 referrals have been received for existing tenants experiencing difficulties from a range of sources including landlords, tenants and other services;
- 23 referrals have been received for people looking for assistance to access accommodation in the PRS; and
- 11 have been general enquiries.
Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City and Angus Councils worked together with Crisis to design and carry out an online survey of private landlords during August 2020. The aim was to capture the views of landlords and identify the role that the PRS could play in increasing access to sustainable solutions for those with the greatest housing need. This included gathering information on their experience of existing PRS access schemes and the effect of Covid-19.
Taking on board some of the landlord concerns, Aberdeenshire Council used RRTP funding to test a dedicated post of Housing Officer (PRS) for a fixed term of 12 months and has now agreed to make this post permanent. The role involves maintaining contact with landlords/letting agents and developing positive relationships to sustain tenancies and address at an early stage any issues that may threaten homelessness. This includes making referrals for housing support or benefits advice and mediation as well as promoting and administering Aberdeenshire’s Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme.
South Lanarkshire Council established a Private Sector Access and Sustainment Project, administered by YPeople, which replaces the existing rent deposit scheme, expanding the service to include a new Innovation Fund which provides financial assistance to sustain private sector tenancies and prevent homelessness. RRTP funding of £20,000 is the smaller part of the financial contribution, with £140,000 from the local authority. While access to the PRS has been hit by the pandemic, this project has enabled tenancy sustainment and homelessness prevention.
Nationally, Shelter Scotland has established the Scottish Government funded Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, with an objective of bringing as many privately-owned empty homes back into use as possible. Some local authorities have implemented similar initiatives at a local level such as in Perth and Kinross where its Empty Homes Initiative has seen the council providing grants totalling £330,016 in 2020/21, bringing a total of 30 properties back into use.
Angus Council launched an Empty Homes Grant Fund in 2020/21 with a condition attached that the property must be let out at, or below, Local Housing Allowance levels for the relevant property size for a minimum of five years. Owners are also committed to renting their property to someone currently engaging with the housing service to explore their housing options.
Highland Council is recruiting a private rented sector/empty homes liaison officer in 2021/22 with a target of bringing 10 empty homes back into use over the next two years.
In 2020, Western Isles Foyer successfully adapted their model from the provision of supported accommodation in Foyer tenancies to one where the young person is allocated a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy by the Hebridean Housing Partnership with support from the Foyer. If sustained successfully, the tenancy converts to a permanent tenancy after approximately 12 months. Western Isles Council points out that, while not fully following the Housing First model, this model adheres to the principles of Housing First.
In Dumfries and Galloway, a number of housing support services have been recommissioned during 2020/21, including services for women and children experiencing domestic abuse and/or coercive control and one outreach housing support contract, to ensure continuity of service following the withdrawal of one of the service providers. During 2021/22, the review of services will continue with the recommissioning of all outreach housing support services.
A revised nomination agreement was put in place with Women’s Aid East and Midlothian to provide those experiencing domestic abuse with settled accommodation as a first option. During 2020/21, three properties were allocated through this agreement. The number of properties allocated through this arrangement will be monitored locally during 2021/22.
Fife’s Innovation Fund has the highest RRTP funding (£623,043) of any project in the Activities and Spend Template. It supports the provision of starter packs to enable resettlement to new tenancies and ensure all measures are taken to improve tenancy sustainment and homelessness prevention linking to other projects such as the Women’s Health Improvement Research Project (WHIR), the Hospital Intervention Projects and anti-poverty work within the Area Communities Teams. During the pandemic, what had originally been the provision of a set up starter pack with essential items only moved to assistance with a full package of furniture and fittings of all items needed to set up a house and also some provision to transport furnishings and belongings to new properties. Over the year, 795 households were assisted with a mix of furniture, carpets and household items. During lockdown this was around 90 each month as opposed to 10 per month under the original scheme to assist with flow.
Renfrewshire Council provides enhanced starter packs. The council had carried out a survey with service users to establish which aspects of the existing starter packs could be improved upon and used this feedback to provide enhanced starter packs which include a double bed instead of a single bed, and providing credit for utility costs when moving in. Service users’ feedback on the enhanced starter packs has been very positive, and over 250 enhanced starter packs have been provided since March 2020. A total of £75,000 is recorded as having been spent in 2020/21 on starter packs, with £25,000 from Ending Homelessness Together/RRTP funding and £50,000 from the local authority.
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