Response to Summer Budget

The summer budget promises to deliver more human misery to thousands of Wales’ poorest families. Cutting Housing Benefit for 18 to 21 year olds will affect 1,200 young people in Wales, many of whom have nowhere else to live. Leaving these young people out in the cold, while exempting them from the minimum wage increase, is sheer cruelty. Benefit freezes for people who are already in severe poverty will make life impossible.

We advise anybody who is experiencing hardship to get independent advice – call us on 08000 495 495.

Homelessness Snapshot – July 2015

Ten lessons based on emerging findings from Shelter Cymru casework

Introduction
At the end of April this year, Wales introduced its own distinct way of dealing with homelessness. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 created new duties for local authorities to help prevent homelessness for anyone who asks for help.

The philosophy of this new approach is based on partnership working with other agencies and with people facing homelessness. The aim is to involve people in designing their own solutions, looking not just at immediate housing problems but also at any underlying issues, intervening early wherever possible to prevent people’s situations escalating out of hand.

At the same time the Housing Act created other major changes in the rights of people facing homelessness, by removing automatic priority need for prison leavers, and allowing local authorities to discharge homelessness duties with an offer of private rented accommodation without the consent of the applicant.

Agencies are being encouraged to work together rather than in opposition. Independent advisers are being brought closer into some local authority teams, while social landlords have new legal duties to cooperate in the prevention of homelessness.

These are fundamental changes. Inevitably it will take time to embed new ways of working. However, it is crucial that people facing homelessness should not have to suffer poor service because their housing crisis happens to fall during a period of transition.

This report looks at how services have responded in the critical first two months. It draws on Shelter Cymru casework evidence to define ten learning points to show where things have worked well and where there is room for improvement. Our aim is to highlight good practice and nip poor practice in the bud, to ensure that services are delivered in the spirit of the 2014 Act.

Download and read the full report

If you’d like to discuss this work further, please contact Jennie Bibbings, Campaigns Manager, at [email protected]

New homelessness statistics

The homelessness statistics released today show the continuation of previous trends.

Official homelessness went down during 2014/15 but we know that social housing possessions were high over the same period, with many people facing extreme financial difficulties because of benefit sanctions and other outcomes of welfare reform. The fact is that local authorities were doing a lot of work that wasn’t recorded in the official data – they were carrying out early prevention work and in some cases we know that they were trying to deter people from making homeless applications.

Since the end of April all this has changed with the implementation of Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. Local authorities will be helping many more people than before and recording all that activity too. So we’re looking forward to seeing what the next statistical release looks like – hopefully it will be a more realistic picture of housing need.

Consultation on a Private Rented Sector Code of Practice for Landlords and Agents

Shelter Cymru warns that Welsh Gov’s new landlords code of practice needs a lot of work before it does the job

Shelter Cymru works for the prevention of homelessness and the improvement of housing conditions. Our vision is that everyone in Wales should have a decent home. We believe that a home is a fundamental right and essential to the health and well-being of people and communities.

Vision
Everyone in Wales should have a decent and affordable home: it is the foundation for the health and well-being of people and communities.

Mission
Shelter Cymru’s mission is to improve people’s lives through our advice and support services and through training, education and information work. Through our policy, research, campaigning and lobbying, we will help overcome the barriers that stand in the way of people in Wales having a decent affordable home.

  • Values
    Be independent and not compromised in any aspect of our work with people in housing need.
  • Work as equals with people in housing need, respect their needs, and help them to take control of their lives.
  • Constructively challenge to ensure people are properly assisted and to improve good practice.

Introduction
Shelter Cymru welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation. We are strong supporters of landlord licensing, and during 2014 we worked hard to persuade Assembly Members to pass Part 1 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.
Unfortunately we cannot support the Code of Practice in its current format. The draft Code needs to be restructured and rewritten to be much clearer and more easily navigable. In its current form we do not believe it is capable of supporting compliance or best practice.

As currently presented, the separation between the ‘statutory requirements’ and ‘best practice’ sections is likely to ensure that most landlords and agents will read only what they need to read, and will probably not read ‘best practice’ at all.

We are also concerned that there has been no tenant involvement in defining ‘best practice’. We believe that if tenants had been involved, the content of the draft Code would be considerably different.

We have identified a number of additional points that we believe need to be included – and we are convinced that engagement with private tenants themselves would identify further important points.

In partnership with other housing organisations we would be in a position to arrange this engagement within a short timescale if the Welsh Government agrees with us that the Code, and therefore the implementation of Part 1, would be more effective as a result.

  • Drafting points
    The structure of the Code should be revised so that statutory requirements and best practice are presented together. There should be no need to repeat all the different sections twice. Presenting both side by side will make it much more likely that both elements are read and understood. Enabling readers to distinguish between ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ ought to be straightforward.
  • There is considerable repetition between the two sections, and ‘best practice’ includes numerous statutory requirements. This is likely to confuse readers, and gives the impression that anything listed under ‘best practice’ is essentially optional. This is a further reason why we advocate a restructure.
  • The language is overly legalistic and not very user-friendly. The point of the Code should be to communicate the law, not just to reflect it. One example of this is the description of landlords’ statutory duties relating to the HHSRS: ‘Conditions in or around a property that contribute to a hazard and are determined to pose a serious risk must be mitigated so that they do not pose such a significant problem.’ The meaning of this sentence is far from clear. The word ‘mitigate’ is not likely to be widely understood. The concept ‘not…such a significant problem’ is very weak. The sentence does not effectively communicate the essence of the law, which is that landlords must ensure that there are no serious hazards on the premises. It would also be beneficial to include examples of such hazards.
  • There are too many obscure terms used such as ‘prudence’, ‘mitigate’, ‘divulgence’, ‘diligent’ etc.
  • There is too much use of the passive voice, which at times leads to a lack of clarity about who precisely is being asked to do what. One example is the HHSRS sentence above: who determines whether hazards pose a serious risk? And who should be mitigating?
  • Additional points
    The Code makes no mention anywhere of what penalties landlords and agents may face if they fail to comply with existing law. This is quite misleading. We argue that landlords and agents should be reminded of the potential consequences of non-compliance in each area of the Code.
  • There needs to be clearer guidance regarding transparency in fees and charges. Although the Code states that ‘all non-optional fees must be disclosed and made clear’, it does not mention the requirement to include charges in property adverts and listings following the Advertising Standards Authority ruling of March 2013.
  • There is no mention of excessive penalty charges, although such charges may constitute a breach of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 and should be included as a statutory requirement.
  • The guidance on ending a tenancy needs to be much clearer. The current Code refers briefly to not evicting ‘without a possession order and following due process’. There is no mention of harassment. The Code needs to make it clear that harassment and illegal eviction are criminal offences that carry a penalty.
  • There is no mention of security of tenure. Landlords and agents should be made aware that best practice is to offer tenancy lengths that meet the needs of the household, including offering longer fixed terms to tenants who have passed a probationary period and who want long-term security. Letting agents should not insist on six- or 12-month tenancy agreements as a blanket policy, just in order to maximise their renewal fees – a practice that we know is widespread.
  • There is no mention of allowing tenants to decorate to their own tastes. We suggest that this is something that is important to tenants and ought to be included as best practice.
  • ‘Best practice’ should include reference to adaptations for disabled tenants. Landlords should be asked to consider consenting to adaptations being made for tenants who require them, and should be reminded of the benefits of setting up long-term tenancies in these circumstances.
  • There is no mention of steps that landlords and agents may take to assist with the prevention of homelessness. We would urge the Private Sector Housing team to engage with Homelessness on the best practice elements of the Code relating to the ending of tenancies. With the advent of Part 2 of the Housing Act, many local authorities in Wales are trying to encourage private landlords to make contact with them at an early stage, prior to eviction, in order for prevention work to take place. The most proactive authorities are going out and speaking at local landlord forums to urge members to get in touch if they have problems with their tenants that may lead to eviction and a potential homeless presentation. Furthermore, we have been contacted by numerous landlords who want guidance on how to deal with vulnerable tenants and prevent problems escalating to the point where eviction is the only solution. We think it is very important that the Code reflects this, and signposts landlords and agents to potential sources of help and support offered by the local authority and other agencies. At present there is nothing in the Code about prevention, even though the loss of a PRS tenancy is the second highest contributor to homelessness.
  • Finally, best practice among landlords and agents ought to include signposting tenants to sources of independent housing advice. The best landlords in Wales are already doing this via their websites, written information and personal contacts with tenants.

Slide for Shelter Cymru: The Closest Thing to Flying

Imagine standing 500ft above a Welsh quarry then hurtling across it along a mile of zip wire at speeds reaching 85mph!

On Sunday 21st June, Shelter Cymru is offering you the opportunity to take on this dare defying challenge at Penrhyn Quarry, Bangor: Europe’s biggest zipwire and the fastest in the World.

As with all our events, places are going fast, so don’t wait too long to register! Registration is £30 with a minimum sponsorship of £120.

Shelter Cymru is Wales’ people and homes charity. We provide support to over 15,000 people at risk of losing their home or living in bad housing through our 75 face to face advice surgeries across Wales, and support a further 300,000 people through our telephone and online advice service. We a crucial lifeline to families across Wales.

Taking part in Slide for Shelter Cymru will help us to ensure that no one in Wales has to face homelessness alone.

For more information and to register for the event contact our fundraising team on 01792 469400 or [email protected].

Please note
To take part in this exciting event you must be between the height of 1.2 and 2.1 metres; weigh under 120 kg and be over 10 years of age (and accompanied by an adult if aged between 10 and 18).

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.

Ride to the Rugby 2015

Last February, 35 riders overcame appalling weather conditions to reach the Aviva Stadium in Dublin for the Six Nations clash between Ireland and Wales.

The ride was such a success that this year, we have no fewer than 63 intrepid cyclists taking on the ride from Cardiff to the Stade de France in Paris, again led by former Wales Captain and British Lion Colin Charvis.

Joining Colin on the challenge is fellow International Hal Luscombe and all nine members of Only Men Aloud, who will be singing the national anthem on the pitch before the kick off. It will be the first time an away team representative has ever sung their own national anthem in the competition, rather than the home team’s representative singing it.

Riders will depart on Wednesday 25 February arriving (hopefully) just before kick off on the Saturday.

You can find regular updates from the challenge on our Facebook and Twitter feeds – follow us and  show your support for our riders.

If you’d like to make a small donation, you can do so by visiting here »

Ride to the Rugby 2015 is proudly sponsored by Nation Radio.

Only Men Aloud join the Ride to the Rugby 2015

Classic Brit Award winning choir Only Men Aloud have agreed to take up their greatest challenge yet – cycling from Cardiff to Paris, arriving at the Stade de France in time to sing the national anthem at Wales Vs France on Saturday 28th February.

Leaving the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday 25th February, they will be joining over 50 other cyclists all raising money for Shelter Cymru. Ride to the Rugby’s 61 riders will do battle with the elements and ride 300 miles over 4 days to reach the Stade de France, in time for Wales’ Six Nations match.

Last year Shelter Cymru helped 15,500 people with housing problems across Wales, and prevented homelessness in 80% of the cases where it was faced. In addition a further 300,000 people visited the charity’s website looking for advice.  Ride to the Rugby is not only a fantastic challenge for all those taking part, but through the fundraising efforts of the cyclists provides crucial funds to support Shelter Cymru’s vison of an end to homelessness across Wales.

The event is supported by the Welsh Rugby Union and Shelter Cymru has linked up with Nation Radio, Gulliver’s Sports Travel, Creigiau Travel, Freight Movement Ltd and Sarn Helen Events.

You can support Shelter Cymru by sponsoring Only Men Aloud.  Please visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/onlymenaloudparis2015and donate now.

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 »