The Committee received a report presented by the Executive Board Member for Housing on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Housing services from a service user, staff and Council perspective whilst providing clear information on actions taken, informing the implications for future service delivery and any key lessons learnt. The report focussed on key delivery issues and future developments in the following service areas:
· Strategic Housing Delivery and Investment;
· Advice and Tenancy Support;
· Sheltered Housing and;
· Engagement and Partnerships
The following issues were raised on the report:-
· In response to a question it was confirmed no notification had been received from the the Welsh Government of any extension beyond March 2021 of its scheme to re-imburse local authorities increased costs incurred from meeting their legal obligations to house homeless persons. Whilst it was hoped the scheme would continue beyond that date, if it were to not continue, there would be financial implications for other service areas within Housing and Safer Communities.
· Reference was made to rent arrears having increased from £1.5m in October 2019 to £1.8m in October 2020 and to whether that was recoverable and, if not, what were the potential consequences.
The Executive Board member reminded the Committee that there would always be an element of rent arrears within the Council as tenants paid in arrears. This was the same with all local authorities and whilst Carmarthenshire was better placed than some other authorities careful management of arrears was key. Within Carmarthenshire, those measures included for example early intervention where the potential for arrears to accrue was identified, assisting new tenants in managing their budgets, identifying potential eligible benefits and the establishment of a prevention fund to encourage tenants to pay a little extra every month to reduce their arrears.
The Head of Homes and Safer Communities advised that the Authority had anticipated the pandemic could result in increased levels of arrears and would be re-assessing the bad debt and arrears provision within its Business Plan. However, early indications were that the Business Plan was not being affected. Additionally, by way of assisting tenants, the Authority had amended its enforcement procedures and was now providing 6 months’ notice thereof whereas previously enforcement had commenced after one month’s notice.
· Reference was made to the measures introduced during the first wave of the pandemic to address the increase in homelessness across the U.K. and to the current position where homelessness was now on the rise. Clarification was sought on what measures were being introduced to address the position within Carmarthenshire.
The Executive Board Member assured the Committee that the Council’s position had not changed since the pandemic’s onset in March and every effort was being made to address homelessness within the county in compliance with legal requirements. Currently, the authority was catering for 119 homeless persons, 18 of whom were within family groups and 101 were single persons. Of those, 30 were in bed and breakfast and 89 in temporary accommodation. The Authority was also examining its housing supply and as new schemes were developed, provision would have to made for single persons which, could include the creation of small blocks to accommodate for example up to four persons
The Head of Homes and Safer Communities confirmed that providing for the homelessness was a challenge for the authority and that its work over the next 6-12 months would be focussing on providing a range of accommodation to meet their needs.
UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED that the report be received.