What Works Community: getting to know Southend-On-Sea
Southend-On-Sea is a densely populated seaside town on the Thames estuary. A popular seaside resort, it is home to the longest pleasure pier in the world and over 180,800 people. It boasts an airport, a hospital, medical technology sector, a University of Essex campus and adult education college. It has a vibrant arts and cultural scene with theatres, galleries and music festivals and is within commuting distance of London with excellent direct rail links to Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street Stations. It has all of these assets, but also has high levels of inequality and poverty.
There is a large disparity of wealth in Southend. Incomes in the borough reach well over £200k, with a notable proportion earning £100 – £120k. However, as can be seen from the graph below, a large proportion of Southend’s residents are on incomes far below the national average of £29,588 a year. 26% of its residents live in areas defined as the top 20% most deprived in England.
Southend-On-Sea Borough Council (SBC) has recently published its new Southend 2050 vision. It was developed following extensive conversations with those that live, work, visit, do business and study in Southend-on-Sea. One of the five key outcomes of that vision is “Safe and Well”, which includes the ambition of “ensuring that everyone has a home that meets their needs” and that the Council is; “effective at protecting and improving the quality of life for the most vulnerable in our community”.
There are multiple challenges that need to be addressed in order for Southend to achieve its goals, including the supply and demand for locally affordable housing. There is a small social and large Private Rented Sector (PRS). House prices have been rising in the Borough since 2009 and exceed pre-crash levels. In Southend a significant number of households do not have the resources to pay for market housing; affordability both of PRS properties and mortgages is challenging for many low income households.
Southend’s homelessness context
It is impossible to discuss homelessness in an English council without taking into consideration the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA). Launched in April 2018, it introduced new duties to intervene earlier when someone is at risk of homelessness, and to help to secure accommodation for all eligible households experiencing or at risk of homelessness), not just those in ‘priority need’. Under the Act, LA’s are required to assess the needs of, and create personalised housing plans for anyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness.
In its first year of introducing the Homelessness Reduction Act, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council supported 440 households that were homeless and 445 households that were at risk of homelessness. They found that the main household type approaching for homelessness relief support were single males without children, whereas the main group approaching under prevention were single mothers.
The most common reason for an approach is the loss of an assured shorthold (private sector) tenancy, whilst family/friend evictions remained a significant issue also. Whilst the council has a duty to put personalised housing plans in place for people, the practical housing options are very limited.
Figure 1: Snapshot number of households placed in Temporary Accommodation as at 31st March 2009 - 2019
As seen by the graph above, the number of households placed in temporary accommodation on any one night has risen sharply over the last 5 years. In line with legislative requirements, the council places certain homeless households in temporary accommodation (TA) until longer term, settled solutions can be found. However with a shortage of accessible, affordable accommodation in the private or social sector it has become increasingly difficult to swiftly move households on. This has led to council owned temporary accommodation stock becoming full, and the council spending significant amounts on privately owned bed and breakfast accommodation.
In addition to satisfying the statutory temporary accommodation duty, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council also works with a number of local partners, such as the Homeless Action Resource Project (HARP), Peabody and Love Southend/the faith sector to enable a supply of additional, temporary accommodation for those who may be seen by the law to be ‘non priority’ or ‘intentionally’ homeless. It also commissions a number of support based services including drug and alcohol treatment services, a complex needs hostel, supported housing and floating/tenancy sustainment support
In 2017 Southend had one of the highest levels of rough sleeping in England. Since this time the council have been successful in co-producing a large funding bid with central government to deliver additional interventions to tackle rough sleeping, such as:
- 6 new, multi-agency outreach workers
- a rough sleeper ‘sit up’ service to create additional emergency bed spaces,
- additional leased supported accommodation,
- personalized budgets (for help with things like transport to appointments, or cheap phones to help keep in communication ),
- budget for deposits on a new privately rented properties and additional and intensive floating support for those newly housed under the initiative.
- ‘Navigators’ to help facilitate the continued support people may need as they transition through services and different accommodation solutions.
Rough sleeping has significantly decreased since commencing these interventions, and an official count will be undertaken, with partners on the 22nd November.
The private rental sector
If handled well, due to its size, the PRS could deliver a real solution for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Southend. After social and affordable rent housing, the next most affordable tenure type in Southend is the lower quartile private rented stock. However there are challenges faced with accessing it to address homelessness. There are challenges with the quality of stock, the willingness of landlords and letting agencies to accept low income households without a guarantor, exacerbated by the fact that LHA rates are frozen.
On 15th Sept 2019 The Bureau of Investigative Journalism took a snapshot of two bed privately rented properties advertised online across the UK, finding on average only 6% fell within LHA rates. In Southend, that figure fell to 3%, with an additional £127 per month needed to cover the shortfall between LHA rates and the cheapest 30% of properties. This gap hampers SBC’s ability to place households threatened or experiencing homelessness into the PRS.
Yet there are some key opportunities in the borough. The council’s Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy outlines how the council will prioritise the supply of a range of safe, locally affordable, housing. SBC have also been issued government funds to deliver additional and intensive floating support to those with a history of rough sleeping for whom accommodation is found. In Southend 2050 it is made clear there is an opportunity to sustainably reduce street homelessness by increasing access to and sustainment of tenancies.
The main trigger for statutory homelessness in Southend is the ending of a private sector tenancy. This often results in the council placing these households in hostels or expensive bed and breakfast accommodation, while they struggle to find affordable, settled accommodation. However, since the Homelessness Reduction Act was introduced, households have been eligible for homelessness prevention support 56 days before becoming homeless. A key opportunity could be exploring how we might work with landlords and partners to reduce the number of AST terminations.
Another potential opportunity lies in Southend’s dormant properties. The borough has almost 600 long-term empty properties which could be better used to prevent homelessness. There’s work to be done both via SBC and the owners to bring them back into the market, but this is an area that could have a big impact.
These are just two of the areas SBC has identified so far that they might like to address at as part of the What Works Community pilot. We believe that by bringing in new methods of data collection and analysis, design and behavioural insights, we can find new ways to help improve how the private rental sector is used to help address homelessness in Southend. If you’d like to know more about the pilot and what we’ve got planned, please email firstname.lastname@example.org