Help to shape Ashford homelessness strategy

ABC CrestHomelessness can happen to anyone. Being made homeless or at risk of homelessness can have a detrimental impact on family stability, health and wellbeing, relationships, the development of young children, educational attainment and keeping or accessing employment.

Ashford Borough Council manages homelessness as well as any district or borough in the county and has had very a favourable recent audit of it procedures and processes.

It has put in place a range of proactive measures.

These initiatives include:

  • A scheme where the council leases 74 properties from private owners that it uses as a housing option for homeless applicants
  • The council has created its own management service, A Better Choice Lettings, which sees the council use its powers under the 2011 Localism Act to discharge its homelessness duty into the private sector. With guarantees from the council, this sees private landlords house residents who may otherwise find it harder to access private sector homes
  • A deposit bond scheme, which also enables people to access the private sector without having to pay a large deposit up front. This can be paid back over an agreed period until the deposit is paid in full
  • A former commercial property (Christchurch House), purchased and redeveloped by the council in 2014, offers short-term stays to those homelessness applicants to whom the council accepts a duty, saving them the turmoil of having to live out of bed-and-breakfast (B&B) accommodation

However, for a variety of social and economic reasons, homelessness is still an issue that all local authorities have to manage. As the legislation stands, the council must house those presenting as homeless who are assessed as having a medical or physical disability, have a significant mental illness, are pregnant or have dependent children, are homeless as a result of a natural disaster, or are vulnerable or are 16 or 17 years old.

In 2015, an average of 21 homelessness applications were made to Ashford Borough Council each month, with the council accepting its statutory duty to around 13 each month, though the number of households in B&Bs has reduced, with Christchurch House delivering savings to the taxpayer in excess of £75,00 each year.

Private rents are rising and only about 2% now fall below local housing allowance levels, making the sector largely out of reach for those in priority housing need. Evictions from private sector properties lead to many of the cases that the council deals with and it now employs liaison officers to maintain its excellent rapport with the private sector and help work with both landlords and tenants to sustain those tenancies where at all possible.

The council is now consulting on a draft strategy and wants all stakeholders to consider the online documents available at ABC’s consultation portal and answer the online questionnaire. The questions ask about how the council should deal with certain categories of homelessness people to whom it accepts a duty, how it should work with other organisations and at what stage it should be intervening to prevent homelessness.

The consultation closes at 5pm on Friday 15th July 2016. All responses received will be considered and used to finalise the Homelessness Strategy which will then be presented to Cabinet which will seek approval for its adoption by full Council.

Cllr Paul Clokie, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for housing and home ownership, said: “While we are very proactive in offering solutions for homelessness and to increase the resilience of our housing stock, we also need to consider ways in which we can improve our services. This is a vital area, both from a financial perspective but of course from a human perspective. It is absolutely critical that we get it right and so we are involving everyone in our wide-ranging review. At the same time we have to remember those of our residents who already qualify to be on the waiting list.”

Ashford Borough Council 4 May 2016

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