Homelessness strategy for Northumberland given an update

Coun Jeff Reid, chairman of the communities and place committee.
Coun Jeff Reid, chairman of the communities and place committee.

Northumberland County Council’s homelessness strategy is being refreshed in light of new legislation, but the direction of travel remains the same.

The Northumberland Homelessness Strategy runs from 2016 to 2021 and a full review is still due to take place in two years’ time.

However, an updated version has been produced for the final two years and is due to be signed off by the authority’s cabinet on Tuesday, April 9.

At Wednesday’s (March 27) meeting of the council’s communities and place committee, head of housing and public protection Phil Soderquest explained that the changes were largely in light of the Government’s Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

“Our duty previously was to respond to homelessness,” he said. “We now have a duty both to relieve homelessness and prevent homelessness.”

Based on this change, from April 2018 to the end of January this year, 157 households were prevented from becoming homeless.

Homelessness was relieved for another 106 households, which means that the council only took 17 homeless applications during this period, of which nine households were accepted as being homeless and in priority need.

In total, 922 households have contacted the homelessness and housing options service since April last year, of which 173 are current cases, 266 were advice only and 217 were closed or cancelled.

The updated strategy has six priorities: To prevent homelessness by improving support to vulnerable client groups; to increase options for, and ensure access to, suitable temporary accommodation; to support people through Welfare Reform, particularly Universal Credit; to remove barriers to permanent accommodation; to prevent youth homelessness; and to develop services for rough sleepers.

Mr Soderquest said: “We will develop an action plan with our partners and that will be a dynamic document that will change.

“We as an organisation cannot resolve homelessness or rough sleeping on our own, we are working with partners to do so.”

He added that it still remains ‘a very worrying factor’ that domestic violence is the reason behind a large proportion of homelessness in Northumberland; in 2017-18, it accounted for 42 per cent of all homeless acceptances.

Coun Jeff Reid welcomed the direction of travel, saying there was nothing in the document that anyone could object to, but he would have liked some kind of comparison to be able to judge if Northumberland was doing well or not in terms of tackling homelessness.

“As far as I can see, our aims and objectives are the right ones, our heart seems to be in the right place,” he continued.

“What worries me is one of our priorities is supporting people through welfare reform.

“If that’s one of the barriers to providing everyone somewhere to live then we are doing something very wrong, welfare reform is supposed to help people.”

The meeting followed an announcement on Monday (March 25) by the Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire, that councils across North East will share £850,000 extra funding to help get people off the streets and into accommodation.

The money forms part of the Government’s £100million Rough Sleeping Strategy and will be used to fund rough sleeping coordinator roles, add new or additional outreach services and extend existing or provide new temporary accommodation. This includes night shelters and hostel spaces. There is also an opportunity to provide housing-led solutions such as Housing First services.

Across the North East, it is estimated that the money will provide funding for up to 10 new staff and 74 additional bed spaces, with £150,000 earmarked for Newcastle and the other £700,000 to be shared between Darlington, Durham, Gateshead, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Redcar & Cleveland, South Tyneside, Stockton and Sunderland.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service