Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai
Local Government and Housing Committee07/12/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Carolyn Thomas AS|
|Jayne Bryant AS|
|Joel James AS|
|John Griffiths AS||Cadeirydd|
|Mabon ap Gwynfor AS|
|Sam Rowlands AS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Amelia John||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Emma Williams||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Julie James AS||Gweinidog|
|Sarah Rhodes||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Catherine Hunt||Ail Glerc|
|Chloe Davies||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Gareth Howells||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:00.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:00.
Okay, welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. The first item on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. Let me say initially that this meeting is being held in hybrid format, but aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that hybrid way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No.
Then, we will move on to item 2, which is our fifth evidence session with regard to our work on homelessness. I'm very pleased to welcome the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, joining us remotely, as are her officials today: Amelia John, deputy director of the housing policy division; Sarah Rhodes, head of homelessness prevention; and Emma Williams, director of housing and regeneration. Welcome to you all. Thank you for joining committee this morning. Perhaps I might begin with some initial questions. Firstly, then, Minister, the sustainability of the 'no one left out' policy. Obviously, pressures are quite severe at the moment, and this is likely to grow over the winter with the cost-of-living pressures and other difficulties. So, how sustainable do you think that policy is and do you expect the increase in numbers in temporary accommodation to continue going up? Because we've seen quite a substantial increase and the line of the graph, I know, is still going up at the current time.
Thank you, Chair. Just to start by saying that the approach that we've taken since the pandemic has undoubtedly saved lives, and it's also lifted the lid on the true scale of homelessness in Wales and previously unmet support needs. So, just to be really clear, if we withdrew from the 'no one left out' approach, people would be forced to sleep rough in Wales, and that cannot be right in a civilised society. So, I'm really clear that there's no going back to the previous system.
When we consulted on the transitional legal measures, there was overwhelming support for this approach. We had 88 per cent support for that approach. The legal measures and the priority need regulations will ensure that we can maintain the 'no one left out' approach ahead of the wider scale legislative reform, which I'm sure the committee will be helping us with later on in this Senedd term. That will ensure that no-one is forced to sleep rough in Wales.
So, we have made an additional £10 million—. Excuse me, my voice has gone since yesterday, I'm afraid, so Emma may have to take over for a bit of this if my voice gives out altogether. Apologies, Chair. We've got a £197 million package of funding to prevent homelessness, and we've made an additional £10 million available to local authorities to support the provision of temporary accommodation. We absolutely do acknowledge, Chair, that the level of demand is putting considerable pressure on homelessness services, particularly in temporary accommodation, and the cost-of-living pressures will continue to put pressure on families right across Wales, and we'll continue, probably, to see the numbers rise.
So, the key response to that from us has been to focus on reducing the flow of people through prevention, listening and responding to pressures in the system, providing an additional £6 million to local authorities for the discretionary homelessness prevention fund and investing in a save-to-fund model. So, helping with rent arrears, rent guarantees and other household bills, for example, and also trying to prevent the flow in. So, we need to increase the move-on out of temporary accommodation.
Put very simply, Chair, the only real way out of this is to build our way out of it. We need to reverse the terrible policies that followed from, I'm afraid, the Thatcher years, a full 40 years of not building enough social housing. We are ramping that up as fast as we can go in the face of a perfect storm of rising inflationary pressures, falling incomes and so on. But, really, the only way out of this is to build. So, we also need to be flexible and creative in that building, and we've established the £65 million transitional accommodation capital programme to increase good-quality, longer term accommodation to support those in housing need. Now, this is not permanent accommodation; this is still temporary transitional accommodation, but it's much better quality than much of the accommodation that people have found themselves in, particularly those in bed-and-breakfast-type accommodation, and so on.
We've supported a wide range of initiatives from local authorities. Only this week I met with housing cabinet members from across Wales—my time sense is terrible, but I think it was Monday that I met them. We discussed with them the real on-the-ground pressures that they're seeing and how we can help them get people to move on. This is all about the flow, isn't it? It's about stopping the flow in the first place, and then helping those people who find themselves in the appalling—let's face it, appalling—situation of being homeless, and that they have the best and most rapid rehousing that we can imagine. Where we are now is not good enough. We need fundamental legislative reform. We need to build our way out of this crisis, and we need to do that as fast as possible.
Thank you for that, Minister. Just in terms of the pressures on temporary accommodation, would you expect the numbers to continue increasing—the numbers in temporary accommodation—through this winter?
Well, we are working on a range of prevention measures. The Minister for Social Justice and I have announced a series of funds and help for families. All of those measures are designed to help people have more affordable lives. More affordable lives means less pressure on the family, less likelihood of family breakdown and less likely that we will see people presenting as homeless. But I fear that there are some fundamental problems in the system that are not within our capability. The universal credit system is not fit for purpose. In particular, the local housing allowance freeze has been catastrophic—absolutely catastrophic—for people in the private rented sector to be able to afford their housing. How long has the committee got? We could discuss the current economic policies that are really, really putting pressure on ordinary families' incomes and their ability to withstand the current cost-of-living pressures. So, we need to see a range of measures. What we're doing here is doing our very best to address the problem as fast as we can with the levers we have available, but also putting as much pressure as possible on the UK Government to see sense over some of the, frankly, incomprehensible decisions they've made. The local housing allowance freeze is incomprehensible. It's really expensive if people lose their homes; it's much cheaper to keep them in them. I just do not understand that decision, and we make that point every single time we have the opportunity.
Okay. Minister, in terms of rough-sleeping, which is a very concerning extreme of the problems that we're discussing, really, in September, the estimate was 160, I think, people sleeping rough across Wales, which was the highest since this count was made in the way that it now is, since some two years ago. I notice in Newport as well that the figure was 46, which was just over double the next highest, which was Pembrokeshire, with Cardiff next after Pembrokeshire. In your meeting with local authorities, have you identified specific issues within particular local authorities, and what might be done about that situation?
Yes, Chair, we have dedicated officials who work with each local authority—'relationship managers', they're called—and each of them work in depth with the local authorities they're assigned to, to understand the specific issues in that local authority, to help secure additional temporary accommodation and to help understand what the policy problems in that area are.
We also still fund all the homelessness outreach workers, so we still get an outreach worker to every single person who's sleeping rough that we're aware of. Some people have incredibly complex problems. This isn't just about accommodation. This is about making sure that people have access to a range of services, including mental health support, family breakdown support, sometimes it's substance misuse support, or a range of all of those things in combination; trying to get that person to accept services, to get some trust in the system that has very frequently completely let them down for most of their lives, and then get them back into services. Those homelessness outreach workers, they should all have very many medals and honours. Those are the people that we very seriously rely on. We're doing a big drive to recruit more people into this area. I might ask Amelia to just talk a little bit about the recruitment drive that we're having in the new year, Chair.
But the big issue there is to make sure that people can receive the services and, frankly, to make sure that the temporary accommodation we're offering them is accommodation in which they would feel safe and secure. There’s no point in offering somewhere—. We’re often asked by local authorities if we can go back to the kind of floor-space model, but we know, for example, that women would not accept that model. They do not feel safe and it is not dignified. We need to treat people as human beings, not as some kind of weird herd arrangement. So, I’m very determined that we’re not going to relax our standards because it’s better to be under a roof than not, because for many people it wasn’t better to be under that roof. People chose not to go there because they did not feel safe. So, we must make sure that the system that we’re offering people is fit for purpose, that it’s welcoming, and it has the best possible chance of getting people into the services that they require in order to put their lives back on track and for them to become the best—. These are people who have really not had that opportunity many times in their lives.
So, I’ll just turn to Amelia to talk about the recruitment drive that we’re about to do, please.
Yes, thanks, Minister. We’ve co-produced with the sector a communications campaign to attract more people in to housing and homelessness work, really accentuating the positives about it and the huge difference they can make to people’s lives. So, that will be launched in January next year. Minister, I think it might also be just worth mentioning the adding of the eleventh priority need category; so, people who are rough-sleeping, or anyone who could be expected to be living with somebody who’s rough-sleeping, is in priority need. Those regulations were passed in October, so local authorities are therefore really clear about that.
Okay, thank you. I’m just going to bring Carolyn Thomas in at this stage. Carolyn.
Thank you. Good morning, Minister, sorry you’re not well. So, I heard you say that the way out of this is to build back, and I totally get that. I met with the chief executive of a housing association and she said that, in north-east Wales in particular, the phosphates issue is stopping the building of social housing, and she totally gets it and understands, but there’s an issue that needs unlocking where Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Water and planners are sort of locked in, sort of not progressing it or working out a time frame. They’ve got areas where they’re ready to build, but they can’t unlock that as an issue. I was wondering if that was something you could work on, as it comes under your remit as well, to bring NRW together with Welsh Water and local planning officers, in a way, to get them to work together, to work out a plan and a time frame of when areas might be sorted. If they need funding from developers, that’s fine. They've said that they will contribute if that will help unlock it, but they just need to know how much so that they can plan a way forward. I think, in Wrexham and Flintshire, it’s something like 2,500 properties, 500 social housing, being held up. So, I just wondered if you could help with something like that.
Yes, thanks, Carolyn. So, we have this problem right across Wales. It’s by no means unique to that area. Since the First Minister chaired the summit on this issue on phosphates in the summer in the Royal Welsh—it seems like a long time ago now, doesn’t it; it was 42 degrees in that tent—but anyway, we’ve had a whole series of actions that have gone ahead with that. So, we’ve established nutrient management boards on each of our special area of conservation rivers, the liaison that you’re talking about is going ahead, and we have a whole series of working groups looking at the different sectors.
The challenge the First Minister put out to each sector is still there, for each sector to come forward. We’re having another summit in February, by the way, and there’s been a whole series of interim measures in the meantime. So, each sector to come forward with what they think they can contribute to this, because what we were having before was each sector blaming the other—so, the farmers blame the water companies, and the water companies blame the developers, and it’s just, you know, this ridiculous nonsense of everyone blaming everyone else. So, the challenge was put out there: what can your sector do to improve its contribution to the phosphate issue? We’re hoping that, with the nutrient management boards now up and running, we will get an individualised solution for each river, because each river is different—there’s no point in a one-size-fits-all approach; it does not work—and that we will have plans from each sector to know what we can do.
In the meantime, we’re also working with central planning here in the Welsh Government to understand what else we can do to make sure that developments can go ahead, so, all kinds of innovative ideas, such as enclosed drainage systems, improved sustainable drainage system arrangements, and so on. I’m sure I have officials on the call who could talk about SuDS until the cows come home, Chair, if you want us to. But I assure you, Carolyn, we have got a whole range of people who are doing exactly as you suggest, coming together to try and understand what the solution is in each individual area.
But what we can’t do is just let our rivers die while we just carry on as normal. Clearly, that is not the solution. We have massive biodiversity problems, biodiversity loss and climate change happening, but the solution is not to just ignore it and carry on as usual, obviously, and I know that you weren't suggesting that. The solution is clearly to come up with the best possible way of diverting phosphates from our rivers whilst still building the houses that we need.
And then just to finish, Chair, by saying that not every local authority area in Wales has the phosphate issue, and so, some local authorities are able to just continue at pace, and we are very seriously encouraging them and funding them to do so.
Okay, thank you. Thanks, Carolyn. A couple more questions from me, Minister, before we move on to other committee members. We've taken evidence already, of course, with regard to this work, and we heard that one way, perhaps, of easing the pressure on temporary accommodation would be the adoption of a homeless-at-home policy. So, if people are sofa surfing, for example, relying on friends, relatives for a roof over their heads, that they might be considered homeless for the allocation of properties, rather than having to move into temporary accommodation. Is that sort of approach, or something similar, on your horizon at the moment, Minister?
Yes, it absolutely is, Chair. So, we've been having some initial discussions with Shelter Cymru regarding the potential of a homeless-at-home approach. It clearly should not be the default that everyone goes into temporary accommodation; that's not the most suitable place for everyone to be. There are lots of merits to the proposals and we're just working to explore how such an approach could be introduced to provide the flexibility to local authorities, and make sure that the local authority is still complying with its duty, and ensure that the rights of the individual are protected. So, it's an excellent idea. It needs some refining. It's quite clearly the case that somebody might prefer to stay on their grandmother's sofa, for example, than go into temporary accommodation, but, clearly, that's not a long-term solution for them, so they need to be on the housing list—that's the point.
So, yes, absolutely. We want to make sure, though, that the system put in place empowers the individual to make that decision, and it's not some default that, 'Oh well, you're all right, you're on a sofa', so we've got to make sure that there are checks and balances in the system to ensure that we've got the right approach to it. But, yes, in principle, we're very, very keen to explore that option. It does make a lot of sense to us.
Okay. Thank you, Minister. Waiting lists for temporary accommodation, Minister, this also featured in the evidence that the committee has heard. What is your view on local authorities operating those waiting lists for temporary accommodation?
So, just to be really clear, the use of waiting lists for people who are entitled to temporary accommodation, under either section 68 or 75 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, is unlawful. It's just straightforward. It's the duty of the local authority to secure accommodation for homeless applicants in priority need, and they must do that.
So, while we've become aware of the potential use of waiting lists, my officials have sought assurances from the local authorities concerned that they are operating within their statutory responsibilities, and reminded them of those responsibilities. There are some nuances here, though. We're aware that, where someone is threatened with homelessness, so, for example, a notice of possession has been served—the local authority might put the person on a 'waiting list' to be offered temporary accommodation once they are facing imminent eviction. That is fine, because the person is not currently homeless. It reflects the pressure on temporary accommodation. It's not ideal, it's not what we'd like to have happen, but we understand that, but that's not a waiting list once you are actually homeless. This is why the homeless-at-home approach has some merit, doesn't it? This is why we're interested in exploring it. We do have to, as I said, though, Chair, carefully consider and think out how the authority is discharging its duty if it allows that kind of approach.
Just to say, we have been providing additional funding because we know of the issues here. So, we've got unhypothecated local government settlement and grants, obviously, which the committee will be very well aware of. We've also provided an additional £10 million this year to assist with temporary accommodation costs, and an additional £6 million for the discretionary homelessness funding to try and increase the homelessness prevention measures. And also, we're investing the £65 million I've already mentioned through the traditional—transitional; sorry this cold is affecting my ability to speak properly—transitional accommodation capital programme. We hope that that will bring 1,000 homes into use, and assist with moving on those in current accommodation, and that's in the very short term—one of my officials will correct me here—so, 650 in this calendar year and then the rest before the end of the financial year. Is that right? Everybody's nodding—excellent. So, that is very quickly built housing, better than where people are, not long term though, but making sure that we have good move-on accommodation. And the real issue with move-on accommodation as well is to ensure that people not only have the roof and four walls, but that they have access to the services and the support necessary to help them maintain their tenancy when they do get the permanent accommodation. So, these are not just stepping stones, these are serious assistance to people, to make sure that they can recover their lives and go on to be self-sustaining individuals, and that's a very important point in looking at transitional accommodation as well.
Okay. Thank you, Minister. And Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. Diolch i'r Gweinidog am ddod yma, a'i swyddogion—dwi'n deall nad ydy'r iechyd y gorau yr amser yma o'r flwyddyn; dwi'n gwerthfawrogi eich amser chi. Mi ydych chi wedi sôn yn eich cyflwyniad yn barod am bwysigrwydd adeiladu. A gaf i ofyn i'r Cadeirydd, yn dilyn cwestiwn Carolyn ar ffosffad, hwyrach y cawn ni gyfle i godi rhai o'r cwestiynau pellach sydd angen eu codi yn ysgrifenedig yn dilyn y sesiwn yma, ynghylch y gallu i adeiladu tai. Dwi ddim yn mynd i'w codi nhw, rŵan, oherwydd ein bod ni'n benodol yn edrych ar lety dros dro, ond gobeithio y cawn ni yrru cwestiynau ysgrifenedig atoch chi wedyn.
Ond, yn edrych yn benodol ar lety dros dro, dŷn ni wedi derbyn lot o dystiolaeth wrth bobl a sefydliadau sy'n dweud nad ydy'r llety dros dro y mae pobl yn aros ynddo yn addas drwy'r amser. Mae yna anghysondeb yn y ddarpariaeth—mae rhai yn dda iawn, mae rhai yn wael iawn. Felly, sut ydych chi yn rheoleiddio'r safon yna, neu sut ydych chi'n cynnig y dylid rheoleiddio'r safon yna, a sut ydych chi'n defnyddio'r Gorchymyn addasrwydd llety i gymhwyso hyn ar hyn o bryd?
Thank you very much, Chair. I thank the Minister for coming here, with her officials—I understand that health is not the best at this time of year and I appreciate your time. You've mentioned in your presentation already the importance of construction. Could I ask the Chair, following Carolyn's question on phosphates, maybe we can have an opportunity to raise some of the further questions that need to be asked in writing, following this session, in terms of the ability to build homes. I'm not going to raise those questions now, because we're looking specifically at temporary accommodation, but I hope that we can send some written questions to you later.
But, looking specifically at temporary accommodation, we've received a lot of evidence from people and organisations who say that the temporary accommodation that people are staying in is not always suitable. There is inconsistency in the provision—some accommodation is very good, and some is very poor. So, how are you regulating that quality, or how do you propose that that quality should be regulated, and how are you using the suitability of accommodation Order to apply that at present?
Thank you, Mabon. Obviously, given the current pressures in the housing system and the demand for temporary accommodation, in the short term, we have needed to acknowledge that local authorities need to use a variety of options, including hotels and B&Bs, in order to ensure that no-one is forced to sleep rough. But our overall aim remains to reduce our dependency on temporary accommodation, and in particular to drive down dependency on hotels and bed and breakfasts. And we need to work with local authorities to drive down usage in that manageable way that we've discussed, that avoids the risks of the sudden removal of this type of provision, and allows for other accommodation solutions to come online. And that's why we're funding the transitional capital accommodation programme that I've already mentioned a few times, to make sure that we're building the right kind of temporary accommodation to be able to provide that.
The existing statutory guidance makes it clear that temporary accommodation should be suitable, and authorities should be aligning appropriate support to those in temporary accommodation, so that moving into settled long-term accommodation can be facilitated as quickly as possible. Local authorities also have a legal requirement to engage with landlords to determine that they're fit-and-proper persons to act in the capacity of landlord, and they must work with neighbouring authorities, where they have found accommodation out of county, so to speak, in the neighbouring authority areas, to ensure that all partners are aware of the placement of potentially highly vulnerable individuals from different authority areas.
There's a code of guidance, Mabon, I'm sure the committee has heard of from a number of its experts giving evidence, which specifies that local authorities must have regard to the individual circumstances of the applicant, and local authorities are encouraged to ensure that assessment of needs in the broader sense is implied when determining suitability. So, they have to meet their duties in terms of both the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
So, as part of the consultation on the traditional legal arrangements, we also consulted on the potential amendments to the suitability requirements in the legislation, in respect of hotel and B&B accommodation. The consultation responses highlighted the complexity of the issue, given the increasing pressures on local authorities, and we're going to undertake further work and engagement with partners to determine the most appropriate transitional measures in this area.
So, it's not been possible to physically inspect the actual accommodation provided in all cases, but, as outlined, our focus is very much on supporting local authorities to reduce our dependency on temporary accommodation in that manageable way. We need to make sure that we don't have a sudden removal of provision, so that we suddenly have a lot of people with pressure, hence the funding. So, there are a number of things in place. But I just want to say, just in a really practical sense, that we acknowledge that local authorities are under severe, severe pressure here, that the funding from the UK Government has been disappointing in this regard and that the local housing allowance is having a massive impact on our ability to get private sector landlords to come into the leasing scheme, for example, which is one of our main things.
We also, Chair, have a range of other options that there isn't time to talk about this morning, like bringing empty homes back into use—we have a big drive on that. We've a big drive in turnover of what are called 'voids'—I'm sure the committee has heard about that—and we're pressing both our local authority stockholders and our RSLs to turn over voids as fast as is humanly possible, to make sure that they're available for people. And we're now having a really good look at allocation policies, particularly for our RSLs, to make sure that people who are in the most need are getting the allocations that they deserve to have, and we'll be exploring further with our partners. So again, I've had a meeting with all chief executives of RSLs; we meet frequently with Community Housing Cymru and others to discuss the sectors, and so we are working with all partners.
But again, I want to just emphasise this all the time, Chair, in this conversation, how grateful we are to our local authority teams, both at the political level and those people on the front line who have worked absolutely tirelessly and of whom we are immensely proud, right through the pandemic. Because, although we are having real problems here in Wales, we are not having anything like the kind of issues that they're having across the border with people rough-sleeping in huge numbers, which is just a disgrace, really, in a civilised society.
Thank you very much, Minister. Mabon.
Diolch i'r Gweinidog am yr ateb, ac o ran y sylwadau olaf, yn sicr, dwi ddim yn anghytuno o gwbl efo hynny. Ond mae'r polisi 'neb yn cael eu gadael allan' yn un dwi'n meddwl roeddech chi wedi cyfeirio ato sydd wedi cael ei groesawu bron yn unffurf gan y rhan fwyaf o bobl; yn sicr y peth iawn i'w wneud. Ond mae'r polisi hwnnw yn rhoi pwysau, fel dŷch chi'n cydnabod, anferthol ar yr awdurdodau lleol. Rŵan, pan oedd COVID mewn lle, neu pan roeddem ni'n byw yng nghanol COVID, roedd yna grantiau ychwanegol yn cael eu rhoi gan y Llywodraeth er mwyn ymdopi â COVID. Mae'r grantiau COVID yna wedi cael eu tynnu yn ôl ond mae'r disgwyliadau yn parhau. Rŵan, dwi yn derbyn yr hyn dŷch chi wedi'i ddweud, bod yna £10 miliwn ychwanegol, bod yna £65 miliwn yn cael eu rhoi mewn. Dŷch chi wedi sôn am y rheini, ond mae'r wasgfa yna'n parhau ar awdurdodau lleol, a does ganddyn nhw ddim y stoc dai. Mae yna bolisi tymor canol gennych chi i ddod â voids nôl mewn ac i ddod â llety gwag nôl mewn i ddefnydd, ond mae'r wasgfa rŵan. Felly, beth ydych chi yn mynd i'w wneud i helpu awdurdodau lleol, rŵan hyn, sydd yn wynebu twll cyllidol anferthol o filiynau o bunnoedd yr un, heb y llety i roi pobl i mewn, a heb yr arian yna i'w roi mewn gwestai. Beth ydych chi'n mynd i wneud i'w helpu nhw rŵan hyn?
I thank the Minister for that answer, and in terms of the final comments, I certainly don't disagree with that. But on the policy of 'no-one left out', I think that you referred to the fact that it's been welcomed unanimously by most people and certainly is the right thing to do. But that policy does put great pressure, as you recognise, on local authorities. Now, when we were living with COVID, there were additional grants that were being distributed by the Government in order to cope with COVID. Those COVID grants have been withdrawn, but the expectations continue. Now, I do accept that you've said that there is £10 million in additional funds, and £65 million being put in. You've mentioned that, but that pressure continues on local authorities, and they don't have the housing stock. There is a mid-term policy to bring voids back in and to bring empty homes back into use, but the pressure is now. So, what are you going to do to help local authorities now, who face this huge fiscal gap of millions of pounds each, without the accommodation to provide for people and without the funding to invest in hotels and so forth? What are you going to do now?
So, just to be clear, Mabon, that's not quite right; we haven't withdrawn the COVID fund, we've actually assimilated it into the revenue support grant. And we've put the £10 million that was being paid for direct by the Government, into the local authorities. So, we haven't withdrawn it; we've changed the way that it's funded. We've also given them an additional £6 million in-year, so that's not quite right. However, I do acknowledge that they are under extreme pressure. You know, that doesn't take the pressure away, but it's not right that we've withdrawn the COVID funding; we've funded it properly by putting it, as they asked us to, actually, into their funding.
The reason we're funding the temporary accommodation programme upfront like this is because of the pressure in the system. We're also still funding the 20,000 low-carbon social homes, but as a number of Members have said, we've got some issues with phosphates in some parts of the country; we're not able to build those fast enough. The other thing is, it's a flat fact that we now have stagflation, and so, we've got a real problem with the fact that the moneys that we have in the programme—although they're at record levels—are not buying as much as they were when we put them there at the beginning of the year. So, we've had to have higher intervention rates for our social home building, for example. We've had to give more money out, because of the increased cost of materials and so on, and so we have a whole programme on that. I'm going to ask, Chair, if it's okay, for Emma to just explain, for a moment, what we've done in terms of the intervention rates for social homes. Because I think the committee does need to understand that, although we've got record investment in place, with inflation running at 11 per cent, with the best will in the world, that is not going to buy what it was going to buy when we started. So, if I go over to Emma to just—. We've had a series of complex interventions here, so I'll ask Emma to explain. Apologies, Emma, my cold is defeating me a bit this morning.
No problem, Minister. Morning, committee. So, yes, in light of the number of fixed-price contracts that are in the system often having been agreed long before the price inflation that we've seen, particularly in the last 12 months, what we've done is go back out to our social partners and ask them to work with their developers on the cost increases, establish what that cost increase is, and then we have a formula whereby we share the additional cost of those material cost increases—so, in terms of providing some additional grant, the registered social landlord or local authority social landlord sharing part of the additional cost, and the developer meeting a smaller element of the cost, but working to make sure that those contracts are sustainable and can continue to deliver the homes that we so desperately need.
Alongside that, we are also working with the sector in terms of a longer term solution, making sure that future contracting is done in a way that allows and facilitates adjustment where it's the right thing to do to reflect cost increases, so that we don't inadvertently see a huge amount of risk protection built into initial prices in contracts. So, I think we're in round 4 now of the cost-inflation packages, working with the sector, but starting now to see new contracts coming through with greater amounts of flexibility to ensure that we strike that right balance between getting the right value for the contracts and for public sector money with ensuring that the projects remain sustainable and deliverable.
Okay, thank you, Emma. Mabon.
Diolch am hynny. Ocê. Wel, cwestiwn olaf gen i, os caf i fynd ymlaen i un elfen ychydig yn wahanol. Mae gan nifer o bobl sy'n ffeindio eu hunain mewn sefyllfa anodd iawn ac mewn llety dros dro—mae ganddyn nhw anifeiliaid anwes. Ond, wrth gwrs, mae yna reolau mewn lle sy'n atal pobl rhag cael anifeiliaid anwes, naill ai mewn llety dros dro neu wrth iddyn nhw fynd ymlaen i lety mwy parhaol, sydd yn gwbl annheg arnyn nhw. Dwi'n gwybod bod Carolyn, Aelod yn y fan yma, wedi codi'r mater ar lawr y Senedd hefyd. Felly, pa gamau ydych chi'n eu cymryd er mwyn sicrhau bod gan bobl sydd efo anifeiliaid anwes yr hawl i'w cadw nhw? Ac, wrth gwrs, mae ganddyn nhw anghenion gwahanol—mae gan rai yr hawl oherwydd anghenion iechyd ac yn y blaen, felly pa gamau sy'n cael eu cymryd ar eu cyfer nhw, os gwelwch chi'n dda?
Thank you for that. Okay. One final question from me, if I could go on to another slightly different element. A number of people who find themselves in a very difficult situation and in temporary accommodation, they have pets. But there are rules in place that prevent people from having pets, either in temporary accommodation or as they go on to more permanent accommodation, which is very unfair. I know that a Member here, Carolyn, has raised this on the floor of the Senedd. So, what steps are you taking to ensure that people who have pets have the right to keep them? Of course, they have very different needs—some people have health needs and so forth, so what action is being taken on their behalf?
[Inaudible.]—doubt at all that a dog or other pets are a real source of companionship and support for people who are homeless, and owning one absolutely should not be a barrier to accessing temporary accommodation at all. And we are really pleased to say that the attitude to pets, and in particular dogs, in emergency accommodation in Wales has changed significantly over recent years, and, in particular, it changed during the pandemic. But we still have—we absolutely still have—a long way to go to ensure that we do not revert back to a position where many are excluded.
I'll just take the opportunity here, while talking about pets, just to talk in general about this. We have fundamentally changed our attitude to homelessness. I do think the committee needs to understand how fundamental the change in approach has been. We have very many people—well-intentioned, hard-working people—through the system who have worked in a different system for many, many years. Cultural change takes a while to come through—all the way through a whole system. So, for many, many years we've asked those people to be gatekeepers, to differentiate between people who get a service and who don't get a service. Now we're asking them to provide a service to everyone and to ascertain what that service needs to be in the best interests of that person. We absolutely stand firm behind that, and I am very proud of having managed to do that in such a short amount of time during the pandemic. But change in a short amount of time brings problems, because that cultural change needs to embed.
So, we do have a different attitude to pets, but what we need to do is be vigilant that that attitude continues to grow and be nurtured and does not revert back, in times of crisis and pressure, to a gatekeeping approach. So, we do a lot of work with our local authorities and our homelessness services through our relationship managers, and through myself and my political engagement with the local authorities, to ensure that that cultural change continues to be embedded. I just can't emphasise that enough, how important that is, and that is in no way a criticism of the people who are doing these jobs day in, day out. These are difficult, difficult jobs with people facing real trauma on a daily basis. But I do think the committee needs to understand how fast we changed the system and what some of the consequences of doing that are in terms of catch-up of the culture.
So, we expect local authorities to look closely at the range of provision within their area to make sure it's fit for purpose and able to meet the needs of everyone, and that includes people with pets who would otherwise be sleeping rough. It just doesn't mean in the context of dogs and other pets—it's a wider diversity need. So, the needs of women, the needs of couples, the needs of families, the needs of people with friendship groups, with mental health problems, with substance abuse issues—they need to be looked at in the round. And, of course, for many people, they will have multiple ones of those. It's not at all uncommon for somebody to have a pet who also has friendship issues, and what we've seen in the past is we've seen a person who is entitled to homelessness services who has a friendship with somebody who perhaps isn't entitled to that and who doesn't want to be separated from that person, quite understandably and rightly.
So, we have quite a big system change going here, and I think Members do need to understand how far we've come, but I absolutely acknowledge that we're still on that journey, and that's a journey that we will continue to be on. Transforming homelessness services in the pandemic in 12 weeks, that was amazing, but now we've got to embed and deepen and strengthen that change, and that is going to take many, many years.
Okay, thank you, Minister. Carolyn, are you content with that? No? Carolyn Thomas.
Okay. Minister, I hear what you say on that, and there are so many different needs and things, but I just want to get across again, at the cross-party group on animal welfare, we heard that there are 69 cats waiting to actually go into a homing centre—the cost-of-living crisis is impacting on so many people—and that one in 10 going into rescue centres are because of a change in tenancy. And Zoopla—this is the private rental sector I'm talking about, because I know most social landlords accept pets—has a tick box on it saying 'yes' or 'no' to pets, and only 7 per cent say 'yes', because it's easy, isn't it, so they just—. Only 7 per cent say 'yes'. So, I was just wondering if there's something that can still be done. I know England and Scotland are moving to curtail landlords' ability to withhold consent to pets. So, we're not saying just 'no'—a ban to saying 'no' to pets; it's just working with them to see what could be done, perhaps publishing guidance for landlords and tenants as to what constitutes reasonable or unreasonable withholding of consent for tenants.
I know, as the list for available private rental sector housing gets tighter and tighter, the list that landlords can ask for gets longer in a way. They can say, 'Can I have three months' rent upfront?', 'no' to pets, only certain—. It's getting really bad, but I just feel that it's something that really needs to be looked at as well and considered, if possible, going forward, please. Thank you.
Yes, absolutely, Carolyn, and I understand what you're saying. So, we do understand it, absolutely. And the current situation, with the renting homes Act now having been implemented, is that a landlord cannot unreasonably withhold a request to have a pet. And so people—. And also, remember that you can't have retaliatory eviction or anything else now in Wales as a result of the renting homes Act. So, we do want to encourage people. We will be putting out guidance. We will be talking, through Rent Smart Wales, with our landlords to make sure that people understand that. But you can't have just a blanket 'you must accept pets.'
No, that's why—. I wasn't asking that. I wasn't asking that.
I know you're not asking for that. But it is about having the right pet in the right circumstances, isn't it? We do have some ridiculous examples of people trying to keep some pretty unsuitable pets in highly unsuitable circumstances, but I absolutely accept that most people are trying to have a perfectly normal pet in a perfectly normal situation. So, as long as there are safeguards in place—. And I don't think, for example, it would be unreasonable for a landlord to expect the tenant to clean the premises once they vacate, for example, if they've had a dog or a cat there. But it is currently the law that you cannot withhold, unreasonably, consent for a pet. And we will be putting out the guidance, and I do, very frequently, speak with landlords and interact with them. We can renew our efforts to do so. But, yes, you're right. And it's not the only problem, as you rightly said, in the PRS; we have a whole series of other issues in the PRS, the biggest of which, actually, is still the local housing allowance, for instance.
Okay. Thanks very much. And Jayne Bryant.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da, Minister, and nice to see you this morning. You've mentioned initially some of the work that you've been doing with the Minister for Social Justice around the cost-of-living crisis that we're going through. Have you had any discussions, or has there been any consideration, around things like a temporary ban on evictions and support for mortgage rescue schemes over this winter period, as a way to just ease some of that pressure on the homelessness services?
Thank you, Jayne. Yes, absolutely; Jane Hutt and I have been working very closely on a number of measures to assist people through the very acute cost-of-living crisis. So, you know that, when we announced the social rent caps here in Wales at 6.5 per cent, that we did that in combination with having negotiated with all our social landlords a continuation of our no eviction into homelessness policy, which is essential here in Wales, and which I'm very proud of. They haven't managed to do that elsewhere. And also no eviction for financial hardship as long as the tenant is engaging with the landlord—so, that's to make sure that people aren't just wilfully not paying their rent.
A wider eviction ban is something we thought about, but we know from the pandemic that actually that just stores up real issues for people and it puts them into really bad debt situations, and then we have a tsunami of evictions as soon as you remove the ban, because remove it you have to at various points, and actually that puts even more pressure on our homelessness services, who have a sudden surge. So, we decided that that was just not going to work, and the other really big issue is we do have anecdotal, and growing anecdotal, evidence of landlords leaving the private rented sector, and so we didn't want, as they saw in Scotland, a real surge in evictions prior to the ban coming into force. So, these things have stings in the tail all the way through. They sound good, but they have real stings in the tail.
So, we've done a number of things with our landlords. We've worked very hard with our PRS to make sure that landlords understand that they can hand their houses over to us and we can help them bring them up to standard—you know, the right EPC ratings and all the rest of it—that we guarantee their income over a long period of time, that they don't have to worry about all the issues with letting and all the rest of it. That gives our tenants security of tenure. We've been very successful in pushing Leasing Scheme Wales right across our local authorities. I only spoke to the leaders last Thursday, I think it was—goodness me, my time sense is terrible—about extending that out to the last few local authorities that haven't joined, and we will be really pushing that. And then, as I say, we've got a big push on empty homes to bring them into social rent as well, Jayne.
So, we have really seriously looked at all of this. We've looked at the impact of this elsewhere and we've decided that, really, the downsides outweighed any upside that there would be.
Okay, thank you, Minister—
I should just say, also, Jayne, sorry, on mortgage rescue, we have a series of discussions under way as we speak, internal to the Welsh Government, with lenders and with local authorities to make sure that we have a range of measures in place for 'mortgage rescue'. It's more complicated now than it was the last time we had this kind of situation, back in the 1980s, because now we have financial services authorities and so on, so local authorities need to be registered, but we're having intense discussions with them about how we can assist local authorities to either buy out, rescue, or probably equity share with people who are in difficulty.
Just to be really clear with the committee, we are very clear that it is cheaper, both in human cost terms and in financial terms, to keep people in their home than it is to have them face the trauma of homelessness and the sheer expense to public services of homelessness. So, anything we can do to assist, we are looking at very seriously.
Absolutely, Minister. It's good to hear that and I'm sure we'll be following that work that you're doing in the coming weeks and months.
The committee has heard about the importance of the housing support grant in our evidence that we've taken, in terms of preventing homelessness. How does the Welsh Government ensure the commissioning process is delivering the services needed to prevent homelessness, and how are those services monitored and evaluated?
I think, Jayne, if you don't mind—my voice is giving out—I'm going to ask Amelia or Sarah to explain how that works for you. Apologies, I'm really struggling this morning.
I don't know which one of you wants to do it.
I'm happy to come in on that, Minister.
Thank you, Sarah.
Thanks, committee. So, in terms of the housing support grant, as the committee will know it's a really important funding stream for us, a really important prevention funding stream. And whilst the responsibility for commissioning HSG services' funding and that rests with the local authority, we publish practice guidance to support the delivery of the grant, and, within that guidance, in chapter 7, it sets out the legislative framework and the general principles of commissioning and procuring of the HSG services. We also—. Every year we require the local authorities to develop and submit to us delivery plans that set out what their proposed delivery through HSG is going to be through the year and send—[Inaudible.]—with that. We also require them to publish housing support programme strategies every four years—so, again, setting out their strategic direction and their objectives in delivering homelessness and housing-related support services. That allows us to oversee what is happening in each authority area in terms of that grant.
We've also been developing with local authorities this year a revised outcomes framework for HSG. We've been working with local authorities and service providers through Cymorth Cymru to look at how we can develop an outcomes framework for HSG—a revised outcomes framework that helps us to better reflect the core purposes of the grant and understand how it's delivering in practice. We've been piloting this year that new outcomes framework with a number of local authority areas. That's been really successful and has worked really well, and we'll be rolling out that revised and updated outcomes framework for the coming financial year.
Thank you. And just finally from me, we've heard that the housing first projects have a high level of tenancy sustainment, and I know from speaking to people who've gone through that process how invaluable it is and how they feel after going through that process. But how do you feel people with support needs are getting the support they need in temporary accommodation and the extent to which the housing first model is currently available to those who need it across Wales?
Thanks, Jane. We've once again provided £1.9 million this financial year to support the continued development of housing first in Wales. You're absolutely right, I've been really, really impressed by the people I've spoken to who have been through the housing first model, people who have told me that they thought there was no hope at all of them having what they described as a normal life and who are now happy, settled, productive members of society as a result of that. There's no doubt that it works for people in those circumstances.
The funding has supported the development and delivery of the housing first accreditation scheme, and I had the real privilege of giving out the awards for that to people who had worked their socks off to get people into the positions they were in. We've got three projects that have achieved accreditation, and therefore a high degree of fidelity to the principles of housing first, and they're a benchmark now in Wales for other projects to emulate. As you've rightly said, it really targets people with an extensive history of homelessness and chaotic lives and rough sleeping and people with complex problems. It has been very successful in Wales. The latest housing first data indicated an impressive 90 per cent sustainment rate, with 221 people maintaining tenancies across Wales, people who thought that they would have no hope of doing that. So, it really is a really, really good programme.
We've identified intensive housing-led approaches, which includes housing first as a default approach for those identified as having high needs, in the rapid rehousing transition plan guidance. Our next phase of that is to support local authorities to upscale their ongoing housing first projects to match the likely increased demand moving forward in this next transition phase. It sounds like a silver bullet, doesn't it: just do this for everyone. But it's not necessary for everyone, it doesn't work for everyone, and also it's actually hard to deliver. We do need to make sure that people understand what they're delivering and are doing it right. So, we are rolling it out. We're rolling it out in that phased way, in a transition phase. I'm very keen to make sure that we continue to do that, but we need to do it in a sustained way, true to its principles, and not water it down so that we can say we're doing it across the piece.
Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Jayne. Carolyn.
Thank you. Many people are seeking assistance for the first time now, so what data is being recorded about the people who are coming forward? For example, are they young people, or those from minority groups? And how is that being used to focus prevention work? I know you mentioned it earlier.
I'll ask one of the officials to answer that for you, Carolyn. Sorry, my voice is really croaky now.
Apologies. Amelia, is that you? I don't know.
I'm happy to come in, Minister. That's fine. And if Amelia wants to jump in at any point as well. Just to say to committee that I think we've really recognised through the pandemic previously the level of unmet support needs. It hasn't been simply about recognising the true scale of homelessness in Wales, but also the level of previously unmet support needs, and that's very much why the housing support grant was uplifted the year before last. It had a 30 per cent uplift with £40 million, which has been maintained this year and it's in our indicative budget for next year. As I said, that is a preventative grant, very much recognising that prevention is absolutely key. We wanted to make sure that part of that prevention is making sure that people have the support to live independently. Through that uplift, local authorities have been able to maintain some of the additional support that was put in place through the pandemic, such as additional support workers to help people to maintain their tenancies. We very much recognise that we've seen increased presentation but also increased complexity in those presentations in terms of the needs of individuals. The housing support grant is the key mechanism for making sure that local authorities have got the funding to be able to commission those specialist services and the support workers to help prevent homelessness.
Thank you. We heard earlier that staff working in the sector are under immense pressure. How is the action plan relating to the workforce being taken forward? What timescale has the Welsh Government set for this work? We heard from one officer giving evidence that the 'no person left out' policy is putting a lot of pressure just on the housing service area. She felt that other services should play their role too in prevention. How can we encourage that? The Minister, earlier, mentioned that she is working with Jane Hutt on the social healthcare side of things as well as part of prevention, but I think at local government level, this housing officer was really feeling the pressure in her service area.
Thanks, Carolyn. Again, at Welsh Government level, we work very closely across the piece, and there's absolutely no doubt at all that we couldn't have done what we did during the pandemic if we hadn't been working with mental health professionals and substance abuse professionals, as well as the health service more generally, and the blue light services actually, in order to do what we did. But I absolutely want to start by saying that we recognise the pressures on housing support and homelessness staff, who have been working in absolute crisis mode for nearly three years now. I want to take this opportunity to once more thank them for the work they do and to say that I am absolutely blown away by their dedication and the truly life-transforming work they do.
I just want to say as well, Chair, that necessarily the committee focuses on areas where you feel there are chinks in what we're doing or where we could improve our work, but I do think it is worth—. That's right and we're pleased for the committee to do that and, obviously, it's very important for us to understand what's going on, but I do really want to focus on what an incredibly good job we've actually done in Wales to transform the service in the way that we have. I absolutely acknowledge that people are under severe pressure, but I do want to put that in a wider context, please.
Amelia has already spoken about the recruitment campaign we'll be running in January for homelessness and housing sector support. We've got a workforce task and finish group to consider the factors that are required to attract and retain staff, because this is a highly challenging environment. These are people who need to have trauma-informed training, who need to be resilient in themselves, who are dealing every day with individuals who are very traumatised and can be very difficult to reach, who need to have skills in reaching out to people—would that I had such skills, to be able to get people to trust me when nobody else has ever managed to get them to come into services. These are people who are highly skilled and who are, often, not terribly well paid and are doing it because they are absolutely dedicated to the service that they provide. We do need to recognise that.
But, Carolyn, also at local authority level, one of the things I've been doing in talking to the Cabinet members and the leaders of local authorities is trying to make sure that local authorities, particularly non-stockholding local authorities, understand that homelessness services are not just isolated services—that they need in the local authority to be linked up with other services and that the trauma-centred approach needs to be taken across the local authority. I'm particularly keen to make sure that financial services in local authorities have a trauma-informed approach. There's no point in us trying to maintain people in their own homes and so on if you have a finance directorate that is sending out the most appalling letters, threatening eviction for non-payment of various things and so on. So, we have been working to make sure that the approach is right across the authority, and that the links with the local health boards and the public services boards are working together to make sure that these services come together in a support way. I'm very keen to make sure that that's happening, and we are talking to the local authorities a lot about how they can do that.
I'll just go back to what I did say in an earlier answer: we have transformed these services in a ridiculously short amount of time, and I'm very proud of what we've been able to do, but this will take a long time to embed as a different way of working across all areas. These are people who have learned to do their job in a particular way, and now need to learn to do it in a completely different way. That's not just the homelessness services; that's all the other services in the local authority, right across the piece: finance, environmental health, all the rest of it. And then the public services boards needs to play their part in bringing those services together. But it's a problem that in one of the biggest economies in the world we really ought to be able to solve.
Thank you again, Minister. Thank you, Carolyn. Sam Rowlands.
Thank you, Mr Chairman, and good morning, Minister. Sorry to hear you're not well. Congratulations on yesterday, getting your Bill through.
Just a couple of points. I heard your comments. I noted towards the start a comment blaming Margaret Thatcher for the lack of council houses. I think it's worth noting that from 1979 to 1990 there was an average of 41,000 council houses being built a year, whereas between 1997 and 2010, it was 562 being built a year, so there was quite a stark difference between council houses being built—
There was indeed, entirely down to the right-to-buy policy, I'm afraid, Sam.
—in the 1980s versus the noughties. But we can discuss that another time, perhaps.
Just in terms of those houses being built, one of the things we have discussed as a committee through our time together has been not just around affordability of housing, but the appropriateness of housing. One of the issues that's been raised with us is there's been a lack of one-bedroomed houses, apartments, or whatever it may be. I'm just interested to know, are there any particular work streams that you're working through to make sure that those one-bedroomed properties are being built or being made available at the right sort of rate to meet the needs of, in particular, those in temporary accommodation at the moment?
Yes, absolutely. I recognise there's a particular pressure in the need for single-person accommodation, especially for move-on. All properties funded through the social housing grant must meet the needs of the local authority and be supported by the local authority's prospectus document, which outlines their strategic housing priorities for development using the social housing grant. They're required to undertake a periodic review of housing need, which is discharged through—I'm sure that the committee has heard of this—the local housing market assessment process. It's in much discussion in local development plan processes and others. In March 2022, we published a new approach to assessing need, including a tool to support local authorities in developing their LHMAs, the guidance and training materials, and all local authorities have been offered one-to-one support in working their way through that new system.
We also want to provide both—as I've said many times in this session and elsewhere—good-quality transitional accommodation options to allow people to get on with their lives, and to support individuals and families to find permanent homes. We've discussed the transitional accommodation capital programme at some length; I won't go over it again, Chair, but that's a very good programme in terms of turnaround.
We also need to recognise, though, that not all single people want to or can afford to live alone, particularly the under 35s. I'm sorry, Sam; I'm not trying to make this very political, honestly, but the issue with universal credit for under 35-year-olds is a real problem; it does mean that you can't sustain single-person accommodation often. And so, therefore, we are increasingly looking to see what role houses in multiple occupation can have. We can use HMOs for transitional accommodation as long as the standards that are set out in the guidance are adhered to. We're also exploring how we can secure good-standard houses in multiple occupation as part of Leasing Scheme Wales.
And then, Chair, just to say that as part of my own work in my own constituency—which is one of the authorities most challenged with some of this, in Swansea—it is increasingly clear that people form friendship groups if they're in long-term temporary accommodation, particularly in the hotels and bed and breakfasts; for anybody who knows Swansea, along the seafront there, they have been used for homeless provision over the last couple of years. Those friendship groups often want to stay together for support, and ought to be allowed to do so. So, we're exploring ways of assisting with a co-operative or community approach to housing that would allow people in friendship groups to choose to live together in HMOs that, I have to say, meet the standard—so, en suite bedrooms and the right kinds of standards for people living in accommodation. But we need to be able to facilitate that. And there's one heck of a difference, isn't there—we can all know this from our experience as human beings—between sharing a house with people you are choosing to live with and being forced to share a house with people you don't know and don't choose to live with. So, we need to accommodate that as well in looking at creative solutions, going forward.
I had a very interesting and helpful conversation with a community housing group very recently about helping people have access to that kind of accommodation and then forming themselves into co-operative units that can take some control over the property that they're having. So, we're exploring, at some speed, other solutions other than just the traditional one-bedroomed house. But, having said that, in terms of the TACP that we've talked about already, the more than 1,000 additional homes, this does include 390 one-bedroomed properties, just to be clear. Obviously, there are people who do want to live in their own accommodation in that way, but just to say, Chair, that we're exploring a range of possibilities.
Thanks, Chair, and thanks, Minister, for that. Another point you raised earlier was with regard to the number of private sector landlords selling up properties, basically, and moving out of that service, and there's clearly an opportunity or role for social landlords to purchase, get hold of those properties, as well. So, I'm just interested to know what sort of levels of flexibility there might be in terms of the standards of those properties for social landlords to get hold of, whether to upgrade them or to keep them at the standard that they're at to make sure people are housed.
This is a really tricky and interesting discussion to have. So, we're very keen that people are kept in their own homes or that empty homes can be brought into use, but we're very, very clear that we're not rowing back on our standards. So, what we'll be doing is looking at a programme that allows houses of that sort to be brought to standard within a time period, which I think is 10 years but I'm going to look at my officials to see if they're all nodding at me. Yes, they're all nodding—that's always good. So, yes, it's within 10 years, so that we can accommodate people immediately, but we can be sure that the standards will be adhered to over a reasonable time period so that those properties can be brought to standard.
Absolutely, Sam, the question you're asking is: how can the local authority acquire those properties and then bring them to standard? And the answer is, yes, they absolutely can do that, as can other social landlords, and we're very keen for them to do so. We have a number of examples around Wales now of social landlords acquiring tenanted properties, where the tenant has been threatened with eviction and where they've been able to contact the landlord to find out why the landlord is trying to evict the tenant, and, on discovering it's because they want to sell the house, have been able to purchase the house to keep the tenant in situ. So, we've very keen to enable all creative solutions to this, because, as I emphasised elsewhere in this evidence session, keeping people in their own homes is by far the cheapest option from the point of view of the human cost to that family, the trauma and so on that that family will experience if they are evicted, and, indeed, the financial cost, because a homeless family is a very expensive, in financial terms, proposition as well as the human misery caused. The best solution all round is to keep people in their homes where at all possible.
Great, thank you. I may just carry on a little bit further, Chair, if that's okay.
Thanks. Again, thank you for that—it's good to hear that level of flexibility or time to allow those standards to be met. Just going back, though, to that issue of private landlords moving out of the sector, it seems to be that the overwhelming feedback, when we've asked local authorities as to why that's the case, they're getting is it's down to the implementation of the renting homes Act. I'm just wondering what your reflections are on that, and whether you think the way that Act has been brought in or is to be brought in could have been done differently or better.
We've got interestingly difficult figures on this, Sam. We haven't seen a decrease in registered landlords from Rent Smart Wales, and we've asked a number of searching questions about why that might be and there are a number of things coming forward, but the figures are relatively small in comparison to the number of registered properties. So, it doesn't indicate a mass exodus from the PRS. There is a decrease in properties in a number of local authorities, and a small decrease in properties in west and north Wales, but the figures are not showing that. But we too have heard the anecdotes.
There are a number of reasons given why landlords are leaving the market. We've asked local authorities to ask landlords that they become aware of through section 21 notices and all the rest of it why they're leaving, and there has been a range of reasons given: the final removal of tax relief; the high property prices over the last 12 months and people wanting to take advantage of that before the bubble bursts—everybody thinks the property bubble is about to or has now burst, so people are trying to take advantage of that; rising mortgage rates for buy-to-let properties; uncertainty of UK Government changes to the minimum energy efficiency standards for private rented landlords; and people deciding to do so before the implementation of the renting homes Act has certainly been quoted to us. So, there is a whole range of things.
I should say the renting homes Act is the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, so, that's quite a long time, isn't it, for people to have become used to the idea that that was going to happen? We didn't see a significant number of section 21 notices served back in April or May after the ending of the COVID restrictions, so it's not really clear to us why people are doing that. There are a number of myths around about the renting homes Act and what is means. I've heard a number of annoying myths about it, including that you can't have a fixed-term contract for students, for example, and a number of other things. So, we have been doing a bit of myth busting with people. I will say, though—that every single time we do anything in this space, we're told that the PRS will never recover, that people will leave it in droves. That's never been true in the past, and it will be interesting to see whether it does come to fruition this time. But, official numbers are not reflecting that at the moment.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you ever so much, Minister, for attending today's meeting. Just like you, I've got a bit of a cold, so it's all in the nose, I'm afraid.
We've heard a lot lately about the rapid transition action plans, especially from local authorities and other stakeholders, about the three to five-year timescale in which the Welsh Government is expecting these plans to be implemented. I just want to quickly ask how many the Welsh Government has received so far, because I know that you gave a deadline around September for local authorities to submit their plans to you. Of those that have submitted, does that timescale of three to five years look achievable?
Thanks, Joel, and I'm sorry you've got a cold as well. There seems to be a lot of it about.
Local authorities are submitting their rapid rehousing transition plans for feedback. They were due to be submitted at the end of October and, at the moment, we've only got six, so not a great hit rate so far. We do understand the enormous challenges faced by local authorities, but they also need to understand the benefit of developing a plan for their long-term planning and short-term activities addressing the current situation. It's all very well to fight the fires, but you do need to have a plan for what you're going to do longer term.
Officials on the call and others will shortly be issuing a reminder to each of the outstanding authorities to ask for clarification of what the problem is and what they think the timescale for submitting the plan is, and what we can do to help them. But, as I've said a number of times in this evidence session, it will take some time to adopt a truly rapid rehousing approach, and far longer than the five years we're asking them for this interim plan. But, the end goal remains the same, doesn't it—that eventually we want to get to the point where homelessness is rare, brief and rapidly resolved. That remains our focus.
I can't emphasise enough that a critical element of rapid rehousing is the focus on prevention. It's always better to prevent homelessness than it is to try and solve it afterwards. So, the transition plans help local authorities identify what is needed to fully transition to that approach, and it's centred on prevention and sustainable long-term housing solutions to allow them to recognise and implement the steps needed.
So, it's more important than ever, while you're fighting a fire, to make sure that you have a plan for getting away from the fire and making sure that it doesn't reoccur. We understand the pressures they're under, but we will be going back to them very shortly to understand, for those of them who haven't submitted them, what exactly is the problem and whether they're going to be able to do it.
Thank you for that response, Minister. It would be great to actually have sight of those responses as well, if that was possible, from those local authorities, as to what the issues are and why it's taken so long for them to submit their transition plans. With regard to existing action plans—sorry, existing actions, I should say—and any new actions that might be considered, I was just wondering if we can get some idea of this in terms of consideration for future actions plans, if that makes sense. There's a lot of action mentioned there, sorry.
Lots of action plans, yes. So, this is the homelessness action plan, which we will be reporting on early next year, and that will include updates on individual actions outlined in the plan, as well as any new or updated actions. Despite the increasingly challenging context that the committee's been hearing about, progress has been made in taking forward our long-term goal of ending homelessness in Wales. I know the committee's aware of this, but a key aspect of the plan is legislative reform, and the uptake will reflect the progress made in the legislative reform, including the amount of work undertaken by the homelessness action group, which is now called the expert panel, and the clear direction of travel in which we are going. We'll be going straight to a White Paper next year, and I'm sure the committee will take a very active interest in the White Paper once it's published. There will be a substantial and complex Bill reshaping the whole legislation and policy framework in Wales, and I'm absolutely committed to developing the legislation in collaboration with our stakeholders and service users. The expert review panel is currently in session and will make recommendations on the proposed legal changes to me next year. The panel is chaired by Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, who led similar work in Scotland, and I'm really pleased that we're able to learn from her experiences in the Welsh legislative context.
We're also running several engagement projects to ensure that the work of the panel and the subsequent White Paper are grounded in the lived experience of those who are homeless—who have been or are now homeless. The work includes huge-scale engagement with homeless people, direct engagement with children and young people, and a series of focus groups with asylum seekers, refugees, European Economic Area migrants, black and ethnic minority ethnic communities, Gypsy, Roma and Travellers, disabled people and older people. We've got a series of stakeholder events being run over the coming months on specific issues relevant to homelessness, including violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, health and social care and criminal justice. Officials are also in the process of setting up reference groups with local authority and housing association colleagues to ensure that we are testing our vision for legislative reform rigorously with our actual delivery partners on the ground, to strengthen the implementation and to iron out any obvious flaws or problems, because we need this legislation to, sorry for the pun, hit the ground running. We want to make sure that, in transforming this, we do it in a way that is deliverable and that really does transform our services. I can't thank the homelessness action group enough. The previous chair worked tirelessly with us, and the current chair is doing a splendid job. All of the stakeholders across Wales are actively engaged in this, and together we are all determined to transform the homelessness agenda in Wales so that a committee such as this is not meeting in 20 years' time to discuss the same problem.
Okay, Joel? Minister, just one final question from me. We've heard calls for a regulator of homelessness services, and the potential for that office holder, that office, to have oversight of temporary accommodation standards, as one example of the role that could be played. Is that something that you are considering?
It isn't at the moment. I do recognise the need to increase the level of consistency of homelessness services, particularly how they shape housing supply. But I think working in partnership with our local authorities and RSLs on a rapid rehousing approach to understand and ameliorate the pressures that they face is the key to improving services. I think setting up—I don't want to be mean, but, frankly—another stick to beat them with isn't really the way forward. It just increases the complexity of government and administration costs, and I don't really see how it would improve housing supply. It seems like another voice saying the same thing to me.
We know what the causal factors of homelessness are that are at the heart of the current crisis. No regulator is going to be able to do anything about that. But we're happy to look at it. We will be looking at the regulation of registered social landlords anew as well, and I know the committee's aware of that. So, we will look at it. But unless the committee comes up with some compelling reason why the regulator can do something that nobody else can do, I'm not minded to do that at the moment, John. It just does seem like another layer of governance to me, and I don't really understand at this point in time what that might add.
No, okay, Minister. Carolyn.
I think we'd heard that—. Some people are staying in temporary accommodation for quite a long time, and it's not regulated the same as normal rented accommodation, is it, up to a certain standard? So, I think that's just what we were hearing, really: making sure that temporary accommodation was a certain standard for people as well.
The point there is that there are standards for temporary accommodation, but what's happened is we're in a crisis where it's been really hard to maintain those standards. I've just talked at great length about what we're doing to increase the standards of temporary accommodation, and so I absolutely understand that, Carolyn, but I just simply do not see what a regulator telling people that they're not currently meeting the standards actually achieves, other than being another stick to beat them with. They don't need another stick to beat them with, they need help to get themselves into a position where they can provide the rapid rehousing approach that we actually need. So, I'm afraid I'm not really understanding quite what the regulator would add that we're not already doing.
Okay, thank you.
Okay, thanks, Carolyn. Minister, thank you very much, and thank you to your officials as well for giving evidence to committee today. You will, of course, be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy, as is the usual way of operation. I hope you're better soon, Minister. Thank you very much indeed. Diolch yn fawr.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Thank you very much for the opportunity, and I'm sorry about the cold.
None of us can help colds, unfortunately.
Bye now. Bye.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod ac o'r cyfarfod a gaiff ei gynnal ar 14 Rhagfyr 2022 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and from the meeting on 14 December 2022 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Okay, item 3 on our agenda today, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting and also from our next meeting on 14 December. Is committee content? I see that you are. We will, then, move to private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:17.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:17.