Consistently around 100 people a month approach Ashford Borough Council stating that they face the threat of homelessness and on Thursday 13th October Cabinet members agreed the council’s homelessness strategy.
A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) report published on 28th September 2016 showed that local authorities across the country accepted 15,170 households as being statutorily homeless between 1st April and 30st June 2016, up 3% on the previous quarter and 10% on the same quarter of last year.
Of those representations, the council is able to prevent homelessness in 80% of those cases through the wide range of proactive options it has put in place. These include:
- A scheme that sees the council lease over 70 properties from private landlords that it can use as a temporary housing option for homeless applicants
- A Better Choice Lettings, the council’s own social lettings agency that sees the council use its powers under the 2011 Localism Act to discharge its homelessness duty into the private sector. Offering a guaranteed income for landlords, in addition to variable length of contracts and an out of hours service for tenants, this is an attractive option for many landlords with ABC Lettings managing over 104 homes
- A deposit bond scheme, which enables people to access the private sector without having to pay a large deposit up front. This can be paid back each week or month until the deposit is paid in full
- Employing two Landlord Liaison Officers, who specifically work with landlords in the private sector to try and mitigate against the eviction of tenants and work with tenants to enable them to access properties in the private sector through the deposit bond scheme
- Providing funding to Porchlight for a dedicated officer to work with rough sleepers in the Ashford area in addition to working closely with Porchlight and local churches
The Landlord Liaison Officers were recruited in 2013 and have been having a strong impact in reducing homelessness in the private sector resulting from evictions, which accounts for 32% of homelessness across England.
Stephanie Boucher is a private sector landlord in Ashford, who was helped by one of the council’s Landlord Liaison Officers. She said: “Hayley Glynn was extremely helpful in sorting out rent and arrears for our tenant, who was entitled to housing benefit, but hadn’t been claiming. As a result it has been possible for us to keep the tenant in our property, her home. The help we had with this turned out well beyond our expectations.”
The Landlord Liaison Officers have prevented 46 cases of homelessness since the start of the financial year with an estimated savings cost of over £61,000 to the taxpayer.
Cabinet members also heard that 247 affordable homes were built in the borough in the 20154-16 financial year, though even this impressive number falls short of the 368 affordable homes that are needed every year to meet demand. However, make no mistake, Ashford is delivering affordable homes:
- Ashford is the first authority in the south east to be declared “housing business ready” by Government, recognising its housing delivery
- Over 40% of all rural local needs homes built in Kent are built in Ashford
- 782 affordable homes have been built/brought back into use by the council in the last five years (plus an additional 153 built through a PFI initiative at Stanhope)
- In June 2016 the Housing Finance Institute commended Ashford Borough for its house building – seeing “a surge in housing starts and completions” with a 50% increase on the previous year [DCLG stats]
The council has a short-stay facility it created in 2014, converting a former commercial property in Christchurch Road in a project that was featured in BBC1’s Homes Under the Hammer. This saves the council over £75,000 per year in bed and breakfast (B&B) costs and prevents those applicants to whom the council accepts a duty from the trauma of having to live out of B&B accommodation.
A 10-point action plan was agreed last night that seeks to address the local challenges to homelessness in the borough. These include not placing any 16 or 17-year-old in B&B accommodation and enhancing its prevention work and engagement across the private, public and voluntary sectors.
Cllr Paul Clokie, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for housing and home ownership, said: “The Homelessness Review and Strategy have been developed through widespread consultation. The focus on homelessness prevention is key and through working with other organisations will assist in reducing homelessness and the costs incurred to the individual and society.
“The decision taken by Cabinet and the emphasis on making every contact count are appropriate measures and will continue to see Ashford Borough Council addressing the challenging situation that all boroughs face in 2016 and beyond.”
Ashford Borough Council 19 October 2016