The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has commended Oxford City Council’s homelessness service.
MHCLG’s Homelessness Advice and Support Team (HAST) visited the council’s Housing Needs team earlier this month and praised the service for an embedded ethos of providing support and preventing homelessness.
HAST is a team of expert homelessness advisers that offers advice and support to councils and challenges them to improve their performance where necessary. Its current focus is on how councils are implementing new duties in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 – which became law in April 2018 – to prevent and relieve homelessness.
HAST was impressed with the high proportion of people who were helped and with the council’s success in housing people in the private rented sector – a particular challenge in Oxford due to the high cost of renting privately.
In the first year of the new act the council successfully prevented or relieved homelessness for 458 of the 651 households it owed a duty to – more than 70 percent of households. This included 133 households who were helped into private rented accommodation though the council’s Home Choice scheme.
HAST also noted the following areas of good practice:
- embedding mental health workers in Housing Needs to upskill staff as well as providing residents with access to clinical and welfare services
- working with neighbouring districts to identify appropriate housing for high risk offenders
- updating the council’s allocations policy to support the Homelessness Reduction Act
- supporting prisoners and staff in the criminal justice system by providing a ‘navigator’ service to help prisoners before being released
- providing information on housing support for particularly vulnerable groups - these included offenders, victims of domestic abuse, care leavers and those leaving the armed forces
- supporting people experiencing homelessness to access housing and support services by co-locating staff in the multi-agency hub in Bonn Square.
“The Homelessness Reduction Act gave us extra responsibilities to prevent and relieve homelessness and the thumbs up from HAST shows we’ve certainly risen to the challenge.
“People sometimes assume that homelessness means people sleeping rough. That’s understandable as someone in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway is much more obvious than a family facing eviction because they can’t afford to put food on the table and pay the rent. But it’s very far from being the case.
“Austerity, welfare reform and not enough social housing hurts everyone, not just those who end up experiencing homelessness on the streets. I’m proud of the work we do to help prevent homelessness.
“This can include negotiating with landlords, providing budgeting support and coaching, helping people into work, apply for benefits or access other sources of temporary financial support. Homelessness prevention means so much more than providing temporary accommodation or emergency shelter, and Housing Needs are leading the way.”
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing
The council advises anyone who is homeless or worried about losing their home to get advice at the earliest opportunity.
Housing Needs appointments are available at St Aldate's Chambers from 9.30am until 4.30pm from Monday to Thursday, and until 3.30pm on Friday.
To book an appointment call 01865 249811 – selecting option 3 for housing and then option 4 for homelessness – or email firstname.lastname@example.org.