A RECENT meeting of the Thurrock Council housing committee discussed what action had been taken to on a number of matters relating to homelessness.Here is an abridged version of the minutes.The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager presented the report which gave the Committee an update one year into the five year Homelessness Prevention Strategy adopted in October 2015.The report outlined plans to prevent homelessness and to secure accommodation for residents in need within 28 days as well as the action plan which had been devised. Members also heard that a Homelessness Forum had been established to drive this action plan forward.The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager highlighted that there had been an increase in homelessness both within the Borough and on a National scale, but there had been a shift in the major cause of homelessness within Thurrock due to the ending of assured short hold tenancies within privately rented properties.Many residents also faced difficulty as private rents had increased greatly whilst the Local Housing Allowance had remained at the same level, which presented monthly shortfalls for many tenants.The Chair asked, to offer some context, how many were currently on the Council’s waiting list for housing. The Committee was advised that, including transfers, there were currently around 7000 people on the waiting list.The Chair proceeded to seek clarification whether individuals in need were predominantly placed into properties within the Private Sector and Members heard that the majority of tenants were placed within social housing rather than privately rented accommodation.Councillor Pothecary asked the Officers for a response to reports within the Thurrock Gazette which accused Thurrock Council of “Gatekeeping and reports of a leaflet having been distributed which advised people how to survive on the streets.The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing & Health assured Members that these reports had been thoroughly investigated and there had been no leaflet published or distributed by Thurrock Council and the advice mentioned within the Gazette was not given by Council Staff.Councillor Pothecary continued to question whether the internal investigation was ongoing. The Corporate Director of Adults, Housing & Health insisted that he would use the word “review rather than “investigation , but there was a review underway which hoped to improve front door services.Councillor Pothecary asked whether it would be possible for a report to come to the Committee and it was agreed that a report would be brought back, however possibly not in time for the next meeting.The Housing Tenant Representative asked whether, in special circumstances, the Council would advance “key money for tenants being housed within privately rented properties.The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager confirmed that in some cases the Council would pay these advanced sums to private landlords and explained that it was part of the landlord incentive.The Housing Tenant Representative continued to highlight that people were generally unaware that this was an option. She admitted it may have been included on the Council’s website but the website itself was difficult to navigate and as such it might be helpful to make people aware.The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager reminded the Committee that this option was not offered in every case. Anyone who registered with the Housing Department as homeless would be assessed and it was only offered in certain cases as a result.Councillor Redsell referred to comments within the report around London Borough’s using properties within Thurrock and asked whether the Housing Strategy & Quality Manager could elaborate.The Committee heard that there had been instances of London Borough’s having contacted private landlords within Thurrock and to offer huge incentives of £3-4,000 if they were to house residents. The Housing Strategy & Quality Manager admitted that it was understood that London Boroughs were facing huge problems, but there were already problems within Thurrock and their actions merely pushed rent in Thurrock up.Thurrock Council had contacted these Boroughs to remind them that they had a legal duty to inform Thurrock Council of any individuals to be housed within Thurrock to highlight the issues. There was evidence that the numbers being placed within Thurrock from other Boroughs had begun to fall but the likelihood was it was as a result of rising rental rates within Thurrock, which meant there was no longer any saving to those Boroughs.Councillor Pothecary asked Officers to clarify that, whilst these Boroughs had a legal duty to inform the Council of anyone being housed within Thurrock, there was no mechanism which would allow Thurrock to say they could not do so. Members were advised that this was correct.
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