13.10.15

Greenwich achieves gold standard in tackling homelessness

Source: PSE - Oct/Nov 2015

Jo Beck, housing options and support service manager at Royal Borough of Greenwich, talks about the challenges facing councils in tackling homelessness.

Royal Borough of Greenwich has become the first council in the country to be awarded the government’s Gold Standard for tackling and preventing homelessness.

The programme, launched by the coalition government in 2013, is a peer-led support scheme that provides free training and support to help homelessness teams learn from each other. Run by the National Practitioner Support Service (NPSS), the programme follows a 10-step continuous improvement approach and culminates in an application for the Gold Standard challenge.

PSE caught up with Jo Beck, the housing options and support service manager at Greenwich, to find out how the council achieved all 10 of the Gold Standard challenges (see bottom of article).

Lack of affordable housing

Beck told us the biggest challenge is the “sheer lack” of affordable housing in London. So the council “looked at all of the causes of homelessness and the routes in and then developed pathways to work with the other agencies”.

Every London borough has relied on the private rented sector to help meet the demand and prevent homelessness for years, but since housing benefit rates no longer match what landlords can get in the market, it is becoming “increasingly difficult”.

“That is a real challenge for us,” she said. “But also the Gold Standard requirement about giving everybody written advice is a huge challenge for any London borough, because we are dealing with so many people.”

Despite this, the Royal Borough reduced the number of households in temporary accommodation by almost 60% between 2008 and 2013, ended the use of temporary accommodation for 16 and 17-year-olds, and limited the length of time families spend in shared accommodation to below six weeks.

“Our overall numbers in temporary accommodation are amongst the lowest in London, even though our housing demand in Greenwich is quite high,” Beck added. “We are starting from a good place, but it is becoming difficult to meet the six-week [shared accommodation] target.”

The council’s temporary accommodation team is strict when managing timescales and is constantly looking for the next placement for anybody who goes into shared accommodation. Beck praised the strong corporate and elected member commitment to the standard. “If your members are not on board with this and aren’t prioritising and tackling homelessness then you will have difficulty in achieving the Gold Standard,” she said.

Last year the council prevented 1,800 households from becoming homeless through casework and support, while its Welfare Reform Team prevented 225 families from becoming homeless in 2014, and has supported 229 into work.

Kevin Garvey, policy officer at Shelter, told PSE: “It’s welcome news that Greenwich is working hard to improve how it tackles homelessness in the borough, and the Gold Standard has set some helpful goals for councils to aim for so they can provide better services for homeless people and families.

“With growing numbers of people turning to their council desperate for help, it’s critical that the government makes available the right resources for councils to prevent homelessness, including funding for the Homelessness Prevention Grant. But the only way to truly solve this crisis for good is to invest in building the genuinely affordable home we so desperately need.”

Asked about the importance of protecting that grant funding, Beck said that if the grant was reduced or removed it would have a “huge” impact. “It is there, specifically, to invest in services that prevent homelessness,” she said. “But if you don’t prevent homelessness you spend a lot more on temporary accommodation as well as putting people in unsuitable housing.”

The Gold Standard Challenge

  1. To adopt a corporate commitment to prevent homelessness which has buy-in across all local authority services
  2. To actively work in partnership with voluntary sector and other local partners to address support, education, employment and training needs
  3. To offer a Housing Options prevention service to all clients including written advice
  4. To adopt a No Second Night Out model or an effective local alternative
  5. To have housing pathways agreed or in development with each key partner and client group that include appropriate accommodation and support
  6. To develop a suitable private rented sector offer for all client groups, including advice and support to both client and landlord
  7. To actively engage in preventing mortgage repossessions including through the Mortgage Rescue Scheme
  8. To have a homelessness strategy which sets out a proactive approach to preventing homelessness, reviewed annually to be responsive to emerging needs
  9. To not place any young person aged 16 or 17 in B&B accommodation
  10. To not place any families in B&B accommodation unless in an emergency and for no longer than six weeks

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