Analysis: housing initiative in Brent

brent

Enforcement officers were shocked to see a “shanty town shack” in the back garden of an overcrowded HMO in Brent, London. 

But while the shack story went wide, much of the work Brent Council has put into tackling housing issues has gone on behind the scenes. 

A report that went to the council’s cabinet last month offered some insight into the extent of that work – and where it was headed. 

Historically, Brent has had the largest number of households living in temporary accommodation (TA) in England and Wales. 

However, over during 2015/16 the council has reduced its use of TA to the extent that it now has fewer households than three other London councils – Newham, Haringey and Croydon. 

At the end of March 2016 there were a total of 2,946 households living in TA, a 7% fall from 2014/15.  

This decrease in the use of TA, and especially the use of Bed & Breakfast accommodation, bucks the national trend where the number of households in TA at the end of Q3 2015/16 increased 12% compared to Q3 2014/15, and the use of B&B also rose by13% over the same period. 

In March this year, a report went to the council’s cabinet setting out a plan of action to improve the quality of temporary accommodation and reduced revenue cost to the council – whilst alleviating the pressure to allocate so much social housing to homeless households. 

The main points of the plan were: 

  • Roll out of  a programme called “Find Your Own” programme, which aims to prevent homelessness by intervening early and empowering households threatened with homelessness to access private rented sector (PRS) accommodation in areas they can afford. 
  • Making all Stage 1 short term TA self-contained by planned development of identified sites in Brent. Stage 1 TA being accommodation in which households who approach the council in an emergency may be accommodated for a short time pending assessment of their case and/or while longer term accommodation is found. 
  • Improved procurement of PRS accommodation to prevent homelessness or end a homelessness duty, including by external commissioning and through a pilot project with other West London boroughs. 
  • Acquisition of a large portfolio of long term PRS accommodation in which to be able to accommodate households who have been homeless at LHA rates into the future. 
  • Development of new build LHA rent PRS accommodation inside and outside Brent. 
  • Development of a more integrated package to assist housing needs clients into employment. 
  • Enhanced resettlement services in the main areas where the council is placing homeless households. 

The report last month told cabinet that,  if successful, implementation of the plan would deliver long term savings and better quality accommodation for homeless households – reducing pressure on the council’s social housing allocations. 

As put to cabinet, the report offered an analysis of housing supply and demand issues across the borough – including performance in 2015/16 and challenges for 2016/17 onwards – and recommended that the allocation of 71% of social housing lettings to homeless households in 2016/17. 

That percentage, cabinet heard, was lower than last year because of a further recommendation to increase the percentage of allocations to council tenants who needed to transfer from one social housing unit to another. 

Homelessness acceptances in Brent have more than doubled since the implementation of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap in  2011. 

This rise, the report says, represents the growing unaffordability of the private rented sector in Brent to families on low incomes – recognised as the main driver of homelessness acceptances in the borough. 

The total number of households who were accepted as homeless in Brent over 2015/16 was 745 – 382 of which were evicted from the private rented sector. 

Due to the lack of availability of social housing in Brent to meet demand from homeless households, the council uses the Localism Act to offer PRS accommodation. 

But that accommodation is lacking in Brent too, leaving the council dependent on options outside the borough. 

Despite the challenges in securing affordable accommodation in the PRS, the report says the council ended the main homelessness duty to a total of 252 households in 2015/16 – 75 of whom were secured accommodation in Brent. 

Other London boroughs took 111, 42 went to the Midlands and another 24 elsewhere. 

Given the numbers going to the Midlands, the council has employed a full time resettlement officer in the region. 

But, although the council is able to meet the main homelessness duty for newly accepted households, the report concedes to a backlog of households unable to move into the PRS due to social, welfare or other reasons and needing TA while they wait for an allocation of suitable social housing. 

These are cases where the homelessness duty was accepted before the implementation of the 2012 power to end the duty in the PRS. 

However, with the government considering making this power retrospective, the council cannot end the duty to these households – with an offer of PRS accommodation –  without their explicit consent. 

All social housing in Brent is allocated through the Housing Register. 

The council operates a choice based lettings scheme – Locata – to prioritise households who require social housing. 

Because the demand for housing exceeds supply the Housing Register is a record of demand, broken down into priority bands as defined within the council’s housing allocations scheme. 

All applicants are assessed and placed in a priority band (A-C) within Locata according to their housing need. 

Band A relates to emergency need to be rehoused or releasing adapted or larger properties, B covers identified housing need and urgent need to be rehoused, C identified housing need and need to be rehoused – including accepted homeless households. 

Applicants who do not meet the criteria for band A, B or C are not be able to bid for properties on Locata. 

These applicants are placed in band D and provided information about alternative housing options. 

When applicants fall within the same band, priority is determined through their priority date. 

Initially, an applicant’s priority date will correspond to the date they registered to join the housing register. 

Priority dates may alter when an applicant moves up and down bands. 

The Housing Allocations Scheme covers: 

• Allocation of local authority housing to new tenants. 

• Transfers requested by local authority tenants. 

• Allocation of local authority housing to current tenants of Registered Providers. 

• Nominations that the Council makes to Registered Providers Demand from homeless households, council tenants seeking a transfer and applicants on the Housing Register are mapped against expected future trends and supply levels. 

Following a revision of the Council’s Allocation scheme in February 2014, the number of households eligible to bid for social housing was significantly reduced to ensure that the limited stock of social housing available is allocated to those households in the most need. 

Households that were deemed to have a low priority, or no priority for housing under the new scheme were reregistered and placed in priority Band D – no longer able to place bids for social housing. 

There are currently 4060 households in the priority Bands A to C and a further 14,081 households who are a low or no priority for housing in priority Band D, making a total of 18,141 households currently registered. 

Of the 4,060 households in ‘active’ bands on Brent’s Register, 17% are in Bands A or B and 83% are in Band C. 

Homeless households in Bands A to C make up 74% of the active register. 

The report projects 712 lettings into social housing tenancies (Council and housing association) in 2016/17 which will meet around 18% of the current total demand from Bands A to C. 

At the beginning of each financial year, Brent Council’s cabinet is asked to approve a set of detailed lettings projections. 

The overall target was exceeded by 23% in the number of lettings that were achieved compared to the forecast for 2015/16. 

This, the report says, was in part due to a number of new schemes delivered early.

The original forecast of Housing Association units that would be available for letting during 2015/16 was 371, however the actual number of units that were available was 429 – a 16% increase. 

Lettings to Brent Housing Partnership units during 2015/16 were 195 against a forecast of 218 – an 11% reduction. 

The report says this, in part, reflects the low level of transfers but also results from the trend of reduction in void and re-let rates that has been seen in recent years, which, in turn, reflects the lack of options available to tenants who wish to move on from social housing. 

There was a target of 80% of lettings to homeless households in 2015/16. 

In practice 76% of lettings were made to this group. 

The 75% (540) of the 724 units of social housing that were allocated last year were allocated to households who were registered in priority band C on Locata. 

Another 16% (115) were allocated to households in band B and 9% (69) were allocated to households in band A. 

The report says the majority of the 712 lettings of social housing expected to be made during 2016/17 will become available through re-lets within existing social housing stock, including those arising from the transfer of existing tenants. 

However the Council expects a total of 201 additional properties to be delivered through the new build programme. 

And, due to slippage from last year, another 49 properties will be delivered this financial year that had originally been forecast to be delivered in 2015/16. 

A further 60 units are expected to acquired using Right to Buy receipts taking the total supply of new units for this year to 310. 

The report recommends a reduction in the number of lettings targeted for homeless households to 71%. 

This percentage, the report says, is smaller than last year because of a another recommendation to increase the percentage of allocations to council tenants who need to transfer from one social housing unit to another, creating a chain let and an increase in the overall number of lets, as well as addressing the housing needs of some of the tenants who require a transfer to alternative accommodation due to overcrowding, under occupation, medical and other grounds. 

The report sees this as supporting achievement of the Housing Strategy objective to halve severe overcrowding in the borough’s social housing sector by 2019. 

A successful securing of £75K in funding from the DCLG for a Social Housing Mobility (SHM) scheme will help households registered for a transfer of accommodation, who currently have little realistic chance of a move due to having a low priority, or no priority for housing, as defined by the allocation scheme. 

SHM will facilitate moves among this group while increasing overall movement within the stock – and has a target of achieving 100 moves over the next two years. 

Brent’s 2016/17 net Housing Needs temporary accommodation budget is £6.83m representing a total budgeted expenditure of £50.18m and income of £43.35m. 

This includes landlord incentive payments as well as the net costs of temporary accommodation provision. 

In setting the 2015/16 l budget, the council agreed that the Housing Needs budget would make savings of £0.84m in 2016/17 and £0.5m in 2017/18, a total of £1.34m. 

Although the report recommends reducing the percentage of lets to accepted homeless families, the actual number of lets to accepted homeless will remain approximately the same as the total number of units available for lets in 2016/17 will increase. 

Given this, the report says there is no direct financial implication on the 2016/17 temporary accommodation budget in reducing the percentage of allocation.

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