Homelessness is presenting as a growing area of need to the Council, as shown by figure 1 below. This is as a result of the cost of housing in the Borough increasing and the availability of affordable, accessible privately rented accommodation shrinking. There are progressively limited private rental accommodation options as landlords end assured short hold tenancies (perhaps to sell and realise equity), this is in line with the national picture. There are fewer private rented housing opportunities where the rent level is in line with the Local Housing Allowance rates (the level at which Housing Benefit is assessed), this further exacerbates the issue.
Figure 1 below shows some of the latest statistics for homelessness in the Borough. Evidence shows that those who have poor housing choices also have reduced life outcomes and so we need to ensure that as the needs of the population alter so does the service provided. It is likely that as the population of the Borough increases, and the cost of housing continues to rise, the number of those who are in extreme housing need will increase.
Due to the recent increase in homelessness in the Borough (reflecting the national trend), we are investing in additional good-quality affordable options for temporary accommodation to reduce reliance on expensive “out of Borough” provision. Wokingham Borough recognises that accessibility to good quality advice and assistance is as important as the bricks and mortar, so that where possible homelessness can be prevented and poor housing situations improved. As a consequence of this Wokingham Borough have recruited a Housing Adviser to work specifically with young people and help them with their housing difficulties and prevent homelessness and crises wherever possible.
Figure 1 – Homelessness in the Borough between 2005 and 2015
As homelessness has increased, so has rough sleeping in our Borough.
Influencing factors that can result in homelessness and rough sleeping include:
- Lack of access to affordable first-rung privately rented accommodation or direct access emergency accommodation
- Limited options due to substance misuse or chaotic lifestyles
- Relationship and family breakdown
Organisations in the Borough (e.g. WBC Housing Needs, Salvation Army, Police) are working together to consider how to help individuals at both the personal and strategic levels. This work is currently in its early days (started in December 2015) but the co-ordinated approach based on up to date, validated information ensures a local multi-agency focus on this growing concern in our Borough.
In our Housing Register we have an active and up to date record of local housing need and are able to efficiently fill any vacancies in social housing that arise (either council or Housing Association). New affordable housing that is being developed on our Strategic Development Locations (SDL) will contribute greatly to our ability to re-house those in housing need on the Housing Register.
The number of households on the waiting lists is decreasing (see figure 2). This trend has continued, due to a re-registering exercise this year (2015/16) numbers on the register have reduced. Despite this reduction the levels of urgent need (e.g. for urgent medical or social reasons) have not decreased.
Figure 2 - Households on the Council housing waiting lists
WBC As Landlord
As a stock-retaining council our aim is to provide good quality homes that are managed effectively via a service that provides good value for money. Our programme to ensure that our homes meet the “decency standard” has meant that 94 percent meets the Decent Homes Standard.
As well as the traditional service functions such as Housing Officer, we have invested in two Tenancy Sustainment Workers. These officers provide an extra support to our vulnerable tenants and have had great successes (recognised nationally) in helping people keep their homes and make improvements to the quality of their lives. These officers provide a safety net to people who may otherwise find themselves in difficulty and could potentially lose their homes.