This case study is part of the LGA's Housing Advisers Programme which funds the provision of an independent adviser offering bespoke expert support to local authorities for a specific project working to deliver homes, reduce homelessness, or generate savings or revenues.
Purbeck District Council experiences a number of local housing pressures such as high rent levels and competing demands for available accommodation. The council faces a number of challenges in being able to successfully secure a sufficient number of properties in the private rented sector.
- unaffordable rents for people on Local Housing Allowance (LHA)
- a large number of second homes for tourists (7.4 per cent of all housing stock)
- the issues that arise from being a predominately rural area including planning restrictions linked to conservation designations
In addition, increased demand on homelessness provision and the increase in duties as a result of the Homelessness Reduction Act also put pressure on services. In the last three years, there has been a 125 per cent increase in the number of households being accommodated in temporary accommodation, 36 in total, in which 34 have dependent children.
Purbeck has 26 units of temporary accommodation and has become increasingly dependent on emergency accommodation, such as B&B usage. Not only is this accommodation inappropriate, it is at great cost to the council, with £117,455 being spent in 2016/17 and £177,951 in the first 9 months of 2017/18. The main cause of homelessness was the ending of private rented tenancies (50 per cent), followed by eviction by family and friends (30 percent). The council has offered landlords incentives to take households in temporary accommodation with limited success
Project aims and objectives
Purbeck participated in the Housing Adviser’s Programme (HAP) in order to source additional private rented accommodation to prevent households becoming homelessness. Due to the local rural housing market, the council were looking for a new and different insight into the local situation. The Housing Adviser was asked to use their expertise to provide assistance in scoping out the project and developing a timetable to implement measures that would -
- prevent homelessness
- increase provision of temporary accommodation
- meet the new duties of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.
The Role of the LGA Housing Advisers
The advisers spent an initial day on site understanding the council’s position and issues they face in relation to the current and anticipated future demand for temporary accommodation, and to gain an understanding of the local market. They collected current research and reports to review what is known and identify any gaps that may exist.
From this process, a detailed project plan contains a number of actions that the council can adopt to tackle homelessness in a small rural area with a limited private rented sector. Due to the nature of the local housing market, Purbeck will need to adopt a number of solutions in order to tackle the problem.
The project plan includes the following actions:
- approach local landlords and letting agents to establish why they are reluctant to offer properties to applicants who are on a low income and to jointly look at ways of overcoming barriers
- produce a list of potential sources of private rented accommodation, both locally and beyond Purbeck’s administrative boundary
- look at sources of private rented sector accommodation that are available locally, in adjoining areas and if applicable nationally where there is a surplus of affordable accommodation
- research private landlord incentives by other local authorities
- research social letting agencies
- research market rent levels locally and to provide comment on the gap between such rents and LHA levels
- consider whether there are any accommodation options available locally or beyond that may meet the needs of local residents and which are not currently being utilized; for example, mother and baby units, specialist mental health accommodation for hostel provision
- create a database to hold information gathered on the local rented markets (and beyond if applicable)
- produce a report detailing affordability issues in relation to private rented sector accommodation, sources of local (and beyond) private rented and supported accommodation options and making recommendations in relation to a private rented sector offer that would improve working relationships with local landlords and agents
- consider alternative methods of increasing accommodation including temporary and move on accommodation
- focus upon prevention of homelessness from the Private Rented Sector as part of preparation of the Homelessness Reduction Act and understand ways in which the council, and neighbouring authorities can prevent households becoming homeless
- improve access to and sharing of information, such as a Marketing Private Rented Sector initiative or a local Landlord Forum
- purchase suitable properties
- focus upon prevention of homelessness from the Private Rented Sector
- review current systems, policies and commissioned services
The immediate output from the project is a clear plan of action with a range of options to increasing the supply of private rented accommodation and prevent homelessness arising from private rented sector housing and meeting the new duties of the Homelessness Reduction Act.
The implementation of the plan has the potential to deliver significant savings. In addition, there will be a reduction in the number of households in emergency temporary accommodation.
Learning for local authorities
The housing and homelessness challenges for local authorities in small rural areas can be unique and challenging. It is also important to have an understanding of the causes of homelessness is essential in order to prevent and tackle the issue in the long term.
The lessons from this project are that a multifaceted approach is needed to understand and tackle local issues when it comes to homelessness.It is also important to understand and communicate with private landlords and letting agents to ensure that the private rented sector can play a positive role in tackling homelessness.
Mrs Chris McDermott
Senior Housing Officer (policy and enabling)
Housing Advisers Programme
The Housing Advisers Programme is designed to support councils seeking to innovate in meeting the housing needs of their communities.