New homelessness legislation

As new Welsh homelessness legislation kicks in, housing charity Shelter Cymru urges the public to make use of new services. From today new legislation will mean people facing homelessness in Wales will be helped in significantly different ways than before.

Shelter Cymru is urging the public to seek help from services at an early stage, not just when crisis is imminent. People can approach local authorities or seek help from independent advice providers such as Shelter Cymru.

With the introduction of Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, homelessness prevention services will be available to all households who are in danger of losing their home within 56 days – even those with no local connection and who don’t fit any of the ‘priority need’ categories.

This means that more people have a right to assistance than ever before.

At the same time, the types of help offered by local authorities are changing. Social housing will no longer be the main way of assisting people out of crisis.

Instead, local authority Housing Options teams will have the power to discharge their homelessness duties with an offer of privately rented accommodation.

Authorities have a duty to take ‘all reasonable steps’ with the aim of preventing homelessness for at least six months. This means that as well as helping to find accommodation, they may also assist with bonds and rent in advance, refer people to support services, refer to mediation to keep families together, as well as a range of other interventions depending on what people need.

If this activity doesn’t resolve the problem, the local authority will then look at whether households qualify as priority need, unintentionally homeless, and whether they have a local connection.

Although this still won’t guarantee an offer of social housing, the authority will be required to ensure that a household is in suitable accommodation – provided they pass the tests.

There has been very little awareness-raising among the public of the new homelessness duties, and the vast majority of people currently in housing crisis will be unaware of the changes.

‘Homelessness prevention services are for everyone who is at risk of losing their home. You don’t need to be on benefits and you don’t need to fit into a ‘priority need’ group anymore,’ said John Puzey, Director.

‘The fact is that homelessness can happen to anyone no matter what their background may be – a fact recognised by the Welsh Government who is opening up services wider than ever before. People need to be aware that this source of help is available to them.

‘It’s also important that private landlords let local authorities know when they have tenants who may be at risk of homelessness through eviction. The authority may be able to intervene and prevent problems getting out of hand.’

Notes
Shelter Cymru is supportive of the Welsh Government’s approach but has opposed certain elements of the new scheme, particularly the removal of priority need status for prison leavers. We have called for the Welsh Government to gradually phase out the priority need test altogether, as has happened in Scotland.

We have also raised concerns about the discharge of homelessness duties into the private rented sector against households’ consent. We are particularly concerned about the low level of security of tenure offered by the private rented sector, since most households will only have a six-month tenancy.

Shelter Cymru is Wales’s People and Homes charity. We have offices all over Wales and prevent people from losing their homes by offering free, confidential and independent advice.

Last year we helped nearly 15,000 people, preventing homelessness in 89 per cent of the cases where it was faced, while more than 140,000 people visited our website looking for help.

Additional funding to improve housing stock

The Welsh Government has announced a further £20 million investment to improve the Welsh housing stock and bring thousands of derelict and inhabitable properties back into use.

We very much welcome this additional funding. We have been campaigning since 2009 for action to bring the vast wasted resource of Wales’s long-term empty properties back into use and the Houses into Homes loan scheme has shown that a great deal can be achieved with a relatively small upfront investment.

The loan scheme for homeowners will be a big help for many people in Wales struggling with poor conditions who are unable to afford to carry out repairs. Wales has some of the oldest and worst housing stock in the UK, with far too many people having to cope with problems such as damp, mould, and excess cold.

These can lead to many health problems, especially for children, which in turn has an impact on the health service. It’s estimated that health problems associated with poor housing cost the NHS around £67m every year in treatment costs alone.

Renting Homes Bill – myths and facts

The Renting Homes Bill introduced by Welsh Government aims to reform and simplify tenancy law in Wales.

All existing tenancies will convert to either a ‘standard contract’ or a ‘secure contract’, both of which will explain in clear terms to landlords and tenants what their rights and responsibilities are. We welcome this as it will ensure standard practice and promote greater clarity for both landlords and tenants.

The Welsh Government states that private renters will have a similar level of security under the standard contract as they do now under the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST). However, one major change is that the Bill proposes to remove the ‘six month moratorium’ which currently protects tenants from eviction during the first six months of their tenancy. This will enable private landlords to offer tenancies with no fixed term at all – giving tenants in Wales a level of security of tenure that is lower than in any other country in Western Europe.

Download the Renting Homes Bill in full here »

Equal Ground Standard

The Equal Ground Standard is a tool for embedding person-centred principles in frontline homelessness services. It has been designed by service users in order to help further the aims of Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

We are offering free support to local authorities to embed the Equal Ground Standard and carry out user-led service evaluations.

Shelter Cymru has won funding from the Big Lottery Fund for the Take Notice project, a three-year initiative to develop the skills and confidence of service users and offer a service to local authorities and other providers to help check the quality of services.

Adopting the Standard is a process that can be taken as quickly or as slowly as resources allow – goals are short-, medium-, or long-term as required.

Download the Equal Ground Standard (Eng) →
Cymraeg →

We are keen to partner up with authorities across Wales to implement Equal Ground. If you would like to discuss this, please get in touch with Jennie Bibbings, Policy and Research Manager at jennieb@sheltercymru.org.uk.

The EGS is supported by the Welsh Government.

Shelter Cymru supports Welsh Ministers call to abolish ‘ right to buy’

Shelter Cymru has been campaigning for an end to the Right to Buy for several years. We have long believed that the Right to Buy has contributed to homelessness and housing need in Wales by reducing the social housing available.  It makes little sense to continue to sell rented houses at discounted prices when affordable housing provision still falls so short of projected need.

Of course the Right to Buy isn’t the only factor that we must think about. We must improve the supply of affordable housing across Wales, including low cost home ownership, secure and affordable private rented housing, and more social housing through the work of housing associations and local authorities.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-30918677

Take Notice project

Take Notice is an exciting new project funded by the Big Lottery for three years to improve housing and homelessness services across Wales.

We want to give people who have experienced homelessness and bad housing a voice and to support them to lead a positive change in the way that the services they use are planned and delivered in Wales.

We offer full support and training and a range of activities to help participants to contribute to this process in the way that suits them best. You can be involved in a way that you decide!

Take Notice is supported by The Big Lottery Fund.

For more information please visit our projects page »

Hundreds of social tenants lose their homes as repossessions hit seven year high in Wales

Social housing repossessions hit a seven year high this year in Wales with nearly a thousand social tenant households losing their homes, a leading housing charity has revealed.

Shelter Cymru analysed Ministry of Justice data on court possessions and found that while mortgage repossessions have fallen in recent years, repossessions in social housing have risen 12 per cent over the last year and are now at the highest level since before the recession.

John Puzey, Director of Shelter Cymru, said: “This year has been particularly tough for social tenants, many of whom have suffered due to changes in welfare benefits and the rising costs of living. We have been working with landlords to ensure that they are doing everything they can to help tenants stay afloat – but these figures show that more clearly needs to be done.

“While some landlords are working hard to help tenants make the most of their income, others are failing to put support in place and are rushing to court far too quickly. We are hearing that some have started charging rent in advance from new tenants, forcing families into debt right from the outset of their tenancies.”

Social housing repossessions peaked in January to March 2014 – during these months Welsh social landlords were making more than 21 households homeless per week or three households homeless every day.

Across all tenures, nearly 2,200 households had their homes repossessed by bailiffs in Wales – equivalent to more than 42 households every week or six households per day. Many more would have lost their homes without going to court, so would not be included in these figures.

John Puzey added: “Tenants who are evicted from social housing have very few options open to them. Other landlords often won’t take them on if they have arrears so the only choice is the private rented sector where they may be vulnerable to rogue landlords.

“The worst time of year for repossessions is always the first three months of the year. This year, perhaps social landlords should show some forbearance post-Christmas and not rush to court as soon as the holidays are over.”

Notes
The figures are based on analysis of Ministry of Justice Mortgage and Landlord Possession Statistics available herehttps://www.gov.uk/government/collections/mortgage-and-landlord-possession-statistic.

Over the last year (Oct 13 to Sept 14 – most recent figures available) 2,195 households had their homes repossessed by bailiffs in Wales. There were 1,002 mortgage repossessions; 958 repossessions from social housing; and 235 PRS repossessions.

Shelter Cymru is Wales’s People and Homes charity. We have offices all over Wales and prevent people from losing their homes by offering free, confidential and independent advice.

Last year we helped nearly 15,000 people, preventing homelessness in 89 per cent of the cases where it was faced, while more than 140,000 people visited our website looking for help.

Homes for All Cymru Manifesto

Homes for All Cymru brings together key housing organisations in Wales and aims to maximise the contribution housing makes to the health and wellbeing of communities.

The group provides a united voice on a range of housing issues and has recently agreed this housing manifesto to illustrate the combined concerns of its members and how improvements can be made to help people in housing need.

Membership

  • Age Cymru
  • Care and Repair Cymru
  • Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
  • Community Housing Cymru
  • Cymorth Cymru
  • Disability Wales
  • Home Builders Federation
  • Homeless Link Cymru
  • RNIB Cymru
  • Rough Sleepers Cymru
  • Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors
  • Shelter Cymru
  • Tai Pawb
  • Tenant Participation Advisory Service Cymru (TPAS Cymru)
  • Welsh Refugee Council
  • Welsh Tenants Federation
  • Welsh Womens Aid

Manifesto 2014

Affordable and suitable homes
There is a housing crisis with more than 90,000 households on waiting lists and at least 5,000 affordable homes needed in Wales each year to meet current demand. It is vital that we explore innovative ways to increase the supply of affordable homes and better utilise the existing stock for use.

We need a better understanding of peoples’ diverse housing needs; a more sophisticated approach to local housing market assessments and supply development is needed in order to address those needs and improve the planning and provision of specialist accommodation.

Providing more affordable homes not only meets need; it is a key lever for local economic regeneration and employment and job creation.

Tenancies
More families are finding themselves in the private rented sector in Wales because of a lack of alternatives. In order to provide stability for families and neighbourhoods, greater security of tenure is needed as well as improved consumer rights and defences against retaliatory evictions.

Improved levels of enforcement need to be in place to ensure that conditions are improved and those poorer landlords are held to account. Local authorities need to consider how they can work in partnership with third sector organisations to identify poor landlords and take action.

Private tenants also need greater access to legal advice to safeguard tenancies and should be supported in developing Private Tenants Associations.

Housing Conditions and Health
Poor housing conditions cost the Welsh NHS millions each year. The Building Research Establishment and Shelter Cymru estimated that Category 1 hazards cost Wales more than £160 million a year in treatment costs, lost time from work etc.

Access to secure, good quality housing is also extremely important for the whole population’s mental health and wellbeing. Poor housing or homelessness can cause or exacerbate mental health problems and have a negative impact on the health and recovery of people with mental illness.

Recognising the crucial public health and preventative role of housing, a greater emphasis on exploring jointly funding health and housing initiatives to address housing conditions should be explored.

Suitable housing for older people
Current policy and services are heavily weighted toward a crisis intervention approach. We need to develop a more coherent strategy and a proactive approach that informs, promotes, and facilitates greater housing choice in older age. To do this, we need to extend and improve the range of housing options and services. This includes:

Information and advice services that help people think about and plan for where they want to live when they are older
Improved services for helping people remain independent in their own homes, including Care and Repair services, housing adaptation services and financial help with getting repairs and improvements done (eg affordable loans and safe equity release) that make properties fit to live in.

Services that provide information and practical help that assists older people to move to different accommodation across all sectors – social, owner occupied and private rented.

In the social housing sector, develop more options and provide more choice – sheltered, extra care, retirement villages, residential care, on the strength of more robust data and local needs assessments and local strategies for housing older people.

Continue to plan and develop lifetime homes but in addition, plan and build accommodation that is not only simple to adapt in later life, but straightforward to extend and increase space – such as the ability to extend or convert lofts, to accommodate older relatives moving in.

Fuel Poverty
We believe that the time has come to stop the 2,000 plus excess deaths every winter of older people in Wales because they cannot afford to heat their own homes.

To achieve this, better use needs to be made of the significant schemes and funding that already exist to help alleviate fuel poverty, such as ARBED, ECO and NEST. Over recent decades schemes such as HEES, HEES Plus, CESP and CERT have made inroads into improving energy efficiency of social housing in particular, but much remains to be done.

This includes greater emphasis on more difficult to reach, and more widely dispersed properties in the owner occupied and private rented sector, occupied by fuel poor older people and others on low incomes. There needs to be better use of data on scheme activity to date, in order to understand where future effort most needs to be targeted.

Homelessness
The number of people experiencing and facing the trauma of homelessness is increasing. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 sets an important new framework with an emphasis on prevention and partnership work. It is crucial that this new framework influences positively the culture of homelessness services, making them more user-focussed, including involving users in the design and delivery of services.

This culture change needs to include a commitment to respect people’s points of view and meet their stated needs wherever possible. In each case local authorities should strive to ensure that the household agrees with the identified course of action.

In order to assess and continually improve the effectiveness of homelessness prevention work, user feedback, which captures important person-centred outcomes such as confidence to manage a tenancy and social support networks, should be simultaneously collected alongside the service prevention performance indicator data. Such a dual measurement will then highlight the gaps between the professional assessments of success with those of the people actually receiving the service.

The new Act also provides an important opportunity to align support for the most vulnerable citizens with developments under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act to ensure services work collaboratively to prevent homelessness.

Poverty and Equality
We believe that investment in, and the provision of, affordable and social housing is critical to supporting wider equality and anti-poverty agendas.

The Welsh housing industry has pioneered the principle that public and housing investment programmes can deliver wider community benefits, with a particular focus on maximising targeted recruitment and training (TR&T) opportunities and developing local supply chains through the use of the principles of the i2i Can Do toolkit.

This approach has travelled beyond both housing and Wales. Community benefits are a long-term solution for bringing employment, economic and social gain to disadvantaged populations, to help break the cycle of poverty and to promote the principles of equality and inclusion, as well as to help resolve the current housing crisis.

Housing organisations provide a range of additional functions for the communities in which they work, including services and projects relating to digital and financial inclusion and tackling domestic abuse and anti-social behaviour.

We believe that housing organisations are critical to developing partnerships that implement innovative and proven methods to tackle the further marginalisation of diverse and disadvantaged groups caused by increasing poverty, stigmatisation and prejudices.

Funding and budgets
Funding for housing and housing-related services should be safeguarded and increased to better reflect the preventative nature of work and outcomes delivered.

Essential programmes such as Supporting People and Care and Repair keep older and vulnerable people safe, warm and independent at home, out of less appropriate and more expensive institutional care settings, reducing demand for overstretched ambulance services, GPs and emergency hospital admissions.

There is a need for greater transparency of all publicly-funded grant streams, with clarity of purpose and much better cross-cutting understanding and working so that shared outcomes can be achieved more efficiently and cost-effectively across Welsh Government Directorates and other funding streams.

There is also a need for more flexible funding to allow planning over a longer period rather than being constrained by annual budgets.

Devolution
Wales has an opportunity to maximise benefits for Welsh communities and business through a better constitutional settlement in both fiscal and democratic terms. We would welcome the opportunity to introduce further powers to vary taxation or where appropriate to devolve further purposeful powers to enable Wales to better respond to changing demands in housing.

Caroline’s story

Things started to go wrong for Caroline after she was diagnosed with MS. A single mother with two children, she worked as a carer until she was forced to give up due to ill health. Despite the recommendations from her GP and hospital specialists, Caroline was found fit to work by the DWP medical assessment. As a result, her sickness benefit stopped and she fell into debt.

“Physically I lost weight as I couldn’t afford to eat. On several occasions I went several days without food. I had some help from food banks but you can’t have more than three vouchers. On one occasion I went four days without hot water as I had no money for gas. I had to sacrifice my car – I couldn’t afford to run it. This meant it was difficult to get out of the house, especially on the days when my legs were bad. I was just stuck in the house constantly. I think it would have helped me to cope with my health problems better if I had been able to see friends socially but there was no way I could go out with no money. My rent arrears continually went up … I couldn’t afford to pay the shortfall – I ended up in court where I was afraid of being evicted. It was very stressful and the stress of it made me even more ill.”

Caroline contacted Shelter Cymru for support and was put in touch with Suzanne, her local adviser. Suzanne has worked for Shelter Cymru for nine years.

Suzanne is our Housing Support Worker in Flintshire and has worked for Shelter Cymru for nine years.

“With Caroline, her illness made her extremely vulnerable, having to give up work not only increased the financial pressure on her and her family but also had an impact on her mental wellbeing. She simply couldn’t make ends meet. Facing potential homelessness at this point was the final straw and she felt so low that at times she felt that she couldn’t face the future.”

Suzanne has been working with Caroline and her family for two years, helping Caroline deal with her welfare benefit issues, her rent arrears and financial management, getting her back to work and supporting her with her health problems and mental wellbeing.

“I am so pleased Caroline is now feeling well enough to be doing permitted work (which is designed to support people to get off benefits and back into employment). Caroline was embarrassed to be on benefits but she like many others had no choice. Being back in work has made a huge difference both financially and mentally to Caroline. Although she is still suffering from MS, she can now look after her family again, something every mum wants to be able to do.”

“I don’t know how I would have coped on my own. The way the support has been delivered has been great – home visits were perfect for me as I know I wouldn’t have been able to get to appointments when I was feeling so low. I really don’t know what I would have done without Shelter Cymru’s support.”

Caroline and her family are unfortunately not alone. Family break ups, job loss, sudden illness, debt, the list of reasons why a family falls into rent or mortgage arrears is endless but the result is often the same, that their home is put at risk.

That’s where we come in. Every day, we work with families at risk of losing their homes.

Please help us this Christmas to support more families across Wales at risk of losing their homes by donating to us today.

British Gas Energy Trust to fund Wrexham debt advice service

A Wrexham-based debt advice service that was facing closure has been thrown a lifeline thanks to a new partnership with the British Gas Energy Trust. 

The existing debt advice service run by Shelter Cymru has been under threat due to funding cuts, but will now but will now be supported by the British Gas Energy Trust as part of a national partnership between British Gas and Shelter in England, Scotland and Wales.

The service was launched in Wrexham by Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Lesley Griffiths, on Friday 7 November.

The Minister said: “I want to ensure everybody in Wales, especially the most vulnerable, have access to the support they need to overcome financial problems and cope with the impact of welfare reform.

“The new partnership is a significant milestone for Shelter Cymru, which will enable them to build upon the successful debt advice service they have provided in the area for many years. This new service will play a vital role in providing trusted advice and preventing homelessness.”

The debt advice service will tackle the root causes of homelessness, money problems and fuel poverty, helping local people to clear their debts and get back on their feet.

The British Gas Energy Trust is a charity funded solely by British Gas, which has donated £75 million to it over the past 10 years to help 120,000 households. The Trust is open to everyone in need, regardless of whether they are British Gas customers.

Established in 2004, the Trust funds over 50 specialist energy debt advisers across the UK, like the Wrexham based service, based in the heart of communities to offer help to those struggling to pay their energy and other household bills.

The debt advisers talk to people individually and confidentially about their personal circumstances to understand their problems and give face-to-face advice.

The Trust can also provide grants to clear energy debts, to purchase energy efficient household appliances like fridges, cookers and washing machines, or to fix or replace a boiler.

Janet Loudon, Head of Operations at Shelter Cymru, said: “Our debt advice service has helped hundreds of people to deal with money problems over the last few years so the prospect of losing it was a real worry.

“We know that getting independent advice can make a huge difference and prevent problems escalating to crisis point. This new funding means that we will be able to build on the valuable service we’ve established and ensure that we are there for people who are struggling with debt and other financial worries.”

British Gas joined forces with Shelter in 2012 in a five-year partnership to work together for better homes for Britain. Their shared ambition is to improve one million homes in the private rented sector.

Christine Tate, Head of Corporate Responsibility for British Gas, said: “Last year the British Gas Energy Trust’s advisers in Wales helped 1500 households who were struggling with debt. Working with Shelter Cymru to deliver face-to-face advice in Wrexham will benefit the community and give real support where it is needed most, helping more local people to move on with their lives.”

Debt advice surgeries will held at a range of community venues in and around Wrexham. Call 01978 317911 for more information.

Notes

British Gas and Shelter
British Gas and Shelter joined forces in 2012 as part of a five year partnership to help tackle the problem of poor quality private rented homes in Britain. The partnership will tackle five key areas: safety, warmth, landlord advice, renter advice and standards.

British Gas
British Gas is the UK’s leading energy supplier, and serves around 12 million homes in Britain – nearly half the country’s homes – as well as providing energy to one million UK businesses. British Gas provides value for money, dedicated customer service, innovative energy solutions and the highest quality Home Services expertise in the country. Find out more at www.britishgas.co.uk.

The British Gas Energy Trust (BGET)
The first nationwide trust of its kind in the UK, BGET is funded solely by British Gas, which has donated £75 million to the charity over the past 10 years to help 120,000 people to clear their debts and get back on their feet.

Established in 2004 to help individuals and families facing fuel poverty, the Trust offers support which includes grants to clear energy debts, to purchase energy efficient household appliances like fridges, cookers and washing machines, or to fix or replace a boiler.

The Trust also funds over 50 specialist energy debt advisors across the UK, based in the heart of communities to offer help to those struggling to pay their energy and other household bills. The advisors talk to people individually and confidentially about their personal circumstances to understand their problems and give tailored advice and support.

The Trust is open to everyone, regardless of whether they are British Gas customers. It is governed by a Board of independent Trustees.

In 2013 BGET made nearly 12,000 (11,771) awards, totalling £7.3 million. Over 9,000 awards were made to clear energy debt and over 2,500 awards were for further assistance eg white goods etc. The average grant in 2013 was £618.