Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

24/11/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths
Mabon ap Gwynfor
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Allan Eveleigh Cymdeithas Tai Gogledd Cymru
North Wales Housing Association
Bonnie Williams Housing Justice Cymru
Housing Justice Cymru
Catherine Docherty Byddin yr Iachawdwriaeth, Cymru a De Orllewin Lloegr
Salvation Army, Wales and South West
Dr Steffan Evans Sefydliad Bevan
Bevan Foundation
Emma Shaw Byddin yr Iachawdwriaeth, Cymru a De Orllewin Lloegr
Salvation Army, Wales and South West
Jasmine Harris Crisis
Crisis
Jennie Bibbings Shelter Cymru
Shelter Cymru
Jessica Hymus-Gant Nacro
Nacro
Katie Dalton Cymorth Cymru
Cymorth Cymru
Matthew Dicks Cyfarwyddwr, Sefydliad Tai Siartredig Cymru
Director, Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
Shayne Hembrow Wales & West Housing
Wales & West Housing
Steven Bletsoe Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Landlordiaid Preswyl
National Residential Landlords Association
Thomas Hollick The Wallich
The Wallich

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Gareth Howells Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Jonathan Baxter Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk

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.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Okay, welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. May I say to begin with that this meeting is being held in a hybrid format? But aside from adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in hybrid format, 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. May I ask Members of the committee—are there any declarations of interest? No. Okay, thank you very much.

2. Digartrefedd - sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
2. Homelessness - evidence session 2

We will move on, then, to item 2, which is our second evidence session on the committee's current work on homelessness. I'm very pleased to welcome, first of all, joining us virtually, Allan Eveleigh, assistant director of communities for North Wales Housing Association; and here with us in person, Shayne Hembrow, group deputy chief executive for Wales and West Housing; Steve Bletsoe, operations manager for Wales for the National Residential Landlords Association; Matt Dicks, director of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru; and Steffan Evans, head of policy, also dealing with poverty, for the Bevan Foundation. Thank you very much.

Perhaps I might begin now with some initial questions regarding the supply of temporary accommodation. What we'd like initially is your views on the current demand for temporary accommodation across Wales and the response of local authorities in delivering the Welsh Government's 'no-one left out' policy. What do you think is the current picture? Who would like to begin? Matt.

Thanks, Chair, and bore da, pawb. So, it was reported yesterday at a conference, a senior civil servant told delegates that the number of people in temporary accommodation in Wales is now up to 14,000, and that's up from 8,000 in August. Now, that's down to a number of things, obviously. There's the Ukrainian refugee programme and other refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, but on top of that we're hearing much more evidence—and colleagues will probably have more granular detail on that—of private rented sector landlords pulling out in ever-increasing numbers. So, the strain on temporary accommodation and the demand for it, the supply versus demand, is starting to skew pretty badly. Just some evidence from some of our members: it means that there's now pretty much a waiting list for temporary accommodation, let alone move-on accommodation and permanent accommodation across most of Wales. We're hearing specific examples, in some local authorities, of rough-sleepers who've been waiting for two weeks or more to secure a place in temporary accommodation. It's meaning that local authority housing teams are having to do things like negotiate with families to stay in existing accommodation, families where there's conflict and impacts on mental health and well-being. So, we're kind of having—and people will talk to this more—a perfect storm in terms of the demand ever increasing for temporary accommodation, or people being made homeless and requiring temporary accommodation, and a decrease in supply at the same time. So, we're heading towards a pretty dire situation.

So, you would think that the local authorities are struggling, then, really, to meet the demands of that situation.

Yes, and this has existed for a while. Cost of living has imposed greater pressures on that, particularly with the increasing number of private rented landlords pulling out of the market. Anecdotally, I was told about two landlords in Neath Port Talbot, just a couple of weeks ago, with over 100 properties each putting all of their properties on the market. So, that's the sort of scale of private landlords starting to pull out of the market, and we'll come on to the reasons later. Also the pressure that that's putting on housing and homelessness teams in local authorities, which we'll come on to later, but if I could just read you this quick quote from a survey that we've been carrying out through the pandemic period. It's our 'Joining the Dots in local authorities housing departments' survey, and we've been surveying local authority staff. This is just one of the people who's responded, and they said, 'It's just wearing. There is ceaseless demand, not enough solutions. Even when we arrange move-on, it does not ease pressure, as demand is constant.' This is from survey data from July, so just imagine that tenfold with the increasing pressures of cost of living and the impact of PRS landlords moving out.

09:05

Okay. Thanks, Matt. Would any of our other witnesses like to add anything in terms of the demand situation at the moment, and the response of local authorities? Steffan.

Yes, just to echo what Matt said, obviously, the role of the local housing allowance is something that we've looked at as well, and we've heard that that is both driving people into the temporary accommodation system in the first place, because they can't find properties available to let at a rate covered by benefits, and also that's trapping people in temporary accommodation, because local authorities aren't able to find properties to move them on to because there's a shortage.

And just to add to Matt in terms of some of the other ways we've heard about how local authorities are trying to manage, we've heard anecdotally from some local authorities where they are now asking tenants who've been issued with an eviction notice to stay in the property until a court order is received. They will now pay for all the court procedures to cover that legal case, because they simply don't have a place for that person to move to. So, it's about finding them somewhere to stay until they absolutely have to. That, of course, creates a risk of a vicious circle, because on the one hand you've got one part of the local authority team trying to find landlords to work with, and to get them to take people out of temporary accommodation; on the other, they're being viewed as making like difficult for landlords, so that creates a trust issue as well if that's the kind of model that we want to be looking at as well.

Thank you. I think part of the situation we're in now is a reflection of the situation that's been growing over time. So, local authorities are dealing with—and I may have the numbers slightly wrong, but I think the proportions are right—something like 800 presentations a month, of which there are only available homes for around 500 of those. So, you end up with a situation with around 60 per cent to 65 per cent of people where we have a housing supply—local authority or registered social landlord properties—to meet that need, but you have a shortfall. And that shortfall then moves into temporary accommodation and takes up that temporary accommodation. The next month, you've got another cohort of another 800 or 900 people, and there's still no more available for the number of people that we couldn't house the first time.

So, we do have a growing number in temporary accommodation, and that has been exacerbated through COVID and everyone in, and the rise in section 21 notices that my colleagues have mentioned. So, we have a growing shortfall, which is why we have the scary numbers that Matt mentioned of potentially 14,000 people in temporary accommodation, made up of people in Wales as well as people that are coming to Wales because of the difficulties that they experience in other countries.

Yes. Okay. Thanks very much. So, in terms of the role that housing associations, and, indeed, the private rented sector might play and are playing in helping to provide that temporary accommodation, to what extent do you think housing associations and the private rented sector can provide a filling of the gap, as it were, in terms of the demand and the supply? Obviously, some local authorities have their own housing stock, others have transferred their housing stock to housing associations, and the picture will be different from one local authority to another. But I know, Matt, in your evidence you noted that there will be issues around the quality as well of the supply. So, could you help the committee understand just what housing associations and the private rented sector might be able to do? 

I think the first thing to say, Chair, is that collaboration between housing associations and local authorities has never been better, really. It's always been good, but it got to another level during the pandemic and has continued beyond that, and working together to house more people than ever before. And that continues. But one thing I didn't mention is that, ultimately, the problem here is the historic and systemic undersupply of social affordable housing. That's fundamentally it, because once people get into temporary accommodation, there's nowhere or very little supply to move them on to, particularly—we were talking about this earlier—one-bed accommodation. I think the vast majority of people in temporary accommodation are single people, and there's a severe lack of one-bed accommodation to move them on to. And that's around viability, but it's also around people not wanting to live in these big blocks of one-bed flats, et cetera. So, there's something around that systemic and strategic under-supply of social and affordable housing, which, to be fair, the Welsh Government gets and is addressing. But we're living in these times where the money being invested—what was it, almost £1 billion announced in the last budget round, over three years? Well, that's not worth £1 billion now, is it? So, there are pressures, pressures on the supply chain and skills in terms of actually using the money available to build. So, that's the underlying problem.

And in terms of the temporary accommodation that people are in, it's just not suitable in most cases. Families are sharing one-room bed-and-breakfast facilities, with no space for children to play or study; they share bathroom facilities; there's a lack of cooking facilities, so they rely on take-outs and take-aways, which, given the cost of living, is becoming more problematic, not least for the health of children, going to school on empty stomachs or poor food. And then there's the impact of increased transport costs, because much of this accommodation is away from schools or childcare, to help people work, and then isolation and mental health issues about being away from the communities that you live in. So, there are lots of concerns about not being able to move people on and the types of temporary accommodation. And then we have the issue with the PRS that I was alluding to before. So, it's about how can we support the PRS, in particular, at this stage to stay in the game and ensure that we have enough temporary accommodation to deal with what's coming down the track. I hope that's answered your question, Chair.

09:10

So, there's the quality issue, Matt, and then there's pace and scale as well, isn't there?

Yes. Yes, indeed. We need more temporary accommodation so that we don't have to discharge into bed and breakfast, but we're admitting defeat then, aren't we, really, because the real problem is moving people on into permanent and more stable accommodation. So, it's an odd debate to be having, because what we want is to find permanent homes for people and not have to rely on bed and breakfast. But the demand on that is becoming so acute that, as I was saying earlier, we have waiting lists for temporary accommodation.

Our stance at the NRLA is that it's a supply-and-demand issue. We commissioned a research document by Capital Economics, which showed that Wales needs to create 9,000 new private rented properties per year to meet the demand. And whilst ever those figures are missed and accumulate, then we're just pushing the problem further down the road and putting even more strain on the system. The PRS, ideally, should not be supporting the social housing industry, but it has to, and it needs to, because of where we are. And we have a situation in Wales at the moment where landlord confidence is the lowest it's ever been. Our quarter three stats showed that the results of the confidence of landlords in Wales is the worst that the UK has ever had—any region of England has never been as low in confidence as Wales is at this moment within the landlord community.

But there is a need for supply; supply will help to moderate rent increases. Because, again, going back to the quarter three research done by Zoopla, the rental demand compared to 2022 is up 142 per cent. That is creating, to an extent, the increases in rent that everybody's concerned about with the cost of living; there are other contributory factors, like additional costs to the landlord, but rent demand is a huge thing. And as far as the NRLA are concerned, we need to be building more of the right houses, in the right places, for the right market, to support the social housing market, which isn't able to cope at the moment.

What are the headlines, Steven, in terms of that level of dissatisfaction amongst private landlords in Wales?

I don't think it would surprise anybody. Eighty per cent of our consultees on that survey, 84 per cent cited the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 as the primary reason for selling their properties.

Okay. Would anybody else like to add anything on these matters before we move on? Allan.

09:15

If I could come in. I wholeheartedly agree on the supply issue being fundamental, but I just would encourage people not to look at it in isolation. I've worked in areas where I've had properties where I couldn't let them for love nor money, yet I've had homeless people on the streets around the corner. So, there's got to be some joining up as well, which I think is something to think about in terms of the public health issue, and support for some of the people who are experiencing more entrenched homelessness. So, just to add that into the mix, really.

Chair, can I come in? Our UK housing review showed that around 23 per cent of households in the private rented sector are living in fuel poverty, so if the PRS is going to be part of the medium and long-term strategy in terms of temporary accommodation, then we need to invest in decarbonising these homes, because it's pointless putting people in temporary accommodation that is fuel poor, particularly in the climate around fuel costs that we're having at the moment.

My question was also about the private rented sector. Do you want to elaborate further on why you think those properties are coming back on the market? Last week, we did hear evidence that, in Swansea, the price of private rented houses has gone up as well. It's £1,000 for a three-bedroomed house, and the LHA covered about £500 of it, so there's a huge gap there. But I was just wondering if there was anything else you'd like to add about why they're coming on the market that's not been covered already.

Building on the work we've done on LHA, we've done quite a bit of work over 2021, and we've done two updates looking at what's available on the market—on your Rightmoves, Zooplas et cetera. Our most recent data from August showed that on 1 August only 60 properties were available across the whole of Wales at the LHA rate. There were seven local authorities where there were zero properties available. That's obviously put a massive pressure on the system. I think we've already heard some of the reasons why rents have been increasing. I think Rightmove's most recent data from October suggests rents have gone up 15 per cent in Wales in the last 12 months, so that's a huge, huge increase. And obviously at the autumn statement last week there was no commitment to increase the LHA. We know that is going to cause big, big pressure; it's going to make a situation that's already challenging even more challenging.

Then, on top of that, the other factor that maybe we haven't touched on so far is the rise of short-term holiday lets. We've done some work looking at the Airbnb sector, and we found that in all Welsh local authorities bar one, you can make more money in 10 weeks by letting out your property on Airbnb than you can at the LHA rate. So there are now two really big drivers: the demand versus the supply in the private rental sector allows landlords to push prices up way beyond the LHA anyway, and in those areas where maybe the demand might not be there, they can go into the Airbnb industry, or other sites, and they can make large returns as well. So, that is putting pressure from two ways on rents, and that's really reducing the stock that's available for people on the lowest incomes.

You said in Wales there's the greatest fear. I read somewhere that, in England as well, there are lots of houses still being put back on the market, but I think—. So, you think that the legislation coming through in Wales is the biggest factor, as opposed to everything else—you know, rising inflation, the market and maybe moving the funding somewhere else.

Of course. We have two different stats: we have stats on what has gone before and we have stats on what is due to come. Our stats show that 2.5 times as many landlords have sold properties compared to buying them, so that's obviously a concern. That's small landlords. The majority of our members are small landlords—you know, your one, two, maybe four, five-property landlords. They are leaving the market. Our anecdotal evidence is that there are bigger landlords buying them. So, you're losing that relationship between a small landlord and a tenant—that personal relationship where landlords are more loath to put the rent up because they have that relationship with them. But, more worryingly, again, referring back to our quarter 3 confidence survey, we have—I'll just get the right figure—62 per cent of people looking to sell their properties. So, that's what's coming down the line. Eighty-four per cent of those said it was due to changes in legislation; 50 per cent said it was cost to upgrade the property; and 13 per cent said it was due to a change in their business strategy.

The other problem that we have on the horizon is spiralling interest rates. When we're talking about rent controls and making sure that rents don't go up, landlords are seeing their mortgages go up by huge amounts per month, and it's part of a mortgage condition that your rent has to be a certain percentage more than your mortgage payment. Landlords are having no choice but to put their rents up or to look to sell the properties because they physically can't afford their business strategy. That's obviously something outside the control of Welsh Government, that's Bank of England policy, but that's the reality of what's happening, and it's concentrating the mind of small business owners—landlords—who are looking at possibly costs now being higher than their income. 

09:20

I just wanted to jump back in there as well, building on what Steve was saying. Another big problem we've got in Wales is a lack of data to really work out what's going on here. Steve mentioned there those landlords that are selling. Are they selling to other landlords, albeit maybe bigger landlords? Are they selling it to owner occupiers? Are they selling it to people who want second homes or Airbnbs? The solution you want to that problem is different depending on where the properties are going. There is a lack of data. We've talked about knowing what's going on with rents as well, about can we use Rent Smart Wales more smartly, to be collecting that data so that then we've got more up-to-date data, more robust data that we can use to have discussions around what the level of the LHA should be. Also, when we're discussing the broader policies, whether that's something on rent controls on the one end or incentivising landlords on the other, it gives you a more core basis to be starting that discussion. I think there is a shortage of that data to allow us to have that discussion.

And there's a shortage of houses to buy as well, isn't there, and we've talked in the past about rents not being taken into consideration when applying for mortgages as well, so there's all that that's part of it. 

I'm now concerned that Steffan's read my briefing notes. Being the operations manager for Wales for the NRLA is a very privileged position, but a lot of what I have to do in my role is looking at the information that's available in England, in the English housing market, because there's a very comprehensive English housing survey. When we're looking at Welsh information, I've quoted Zoopla. I'm referring to a commercial entity to get information on property. We need to know what's happening with the housing market in Wales. We need to have very in-depth, detailed information on what is happening here, because, as people who work within the industry, we're going to commercial partners, we're looking at patterns from England. We need to know what's happening in Wales, because otherwise we're guessing. We certainly support what Steffan has just said in the NRLA. To know what's going on, to know how to address it, we need the information. Rent Smart Wales holds some of that information. We don't get it—we don't know it. They know which members have left the market completely. We're trying to work it out from surveys of percentages of people. There are better answers found with better information, and we need that information desperately. 

Like others have said, it's a perfect storm of lots of issues, isn't it, and some of it laid at the door of legislation. But I think it's important to say about the Renting Homes (Wales) Act that whilst there's always unintended consequences from legislation, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act is the right thing to do; it provides more security of tenure to tenants, it provides better standards, or will provide better standards, in the private rented sector and across tenures. So, it's absolutely the right thing to do. In terms of everything happening at once, that's not helped, but it would provide a six-month notice period, which would address and mitigate some of the problems that tenants are facing now after receiving section 21s. So, I think that's important to put on the record. 

I suppose the only thing that comes to mind is the transitional accommodation capital programme funding for RSLs purchasing some of those properties that are becoming available from the private rented sector. Obviously, we're a trusted pair of hands in terms of, potentially, managing some of that stock, but I think there are some challenges with regard to deadlines for actually completing purchases by the end of the financial year, which causes some challenges and some risk in taking up some of that funding. That was the only thing to add, really.

09:25

That's really important to know as well. We've discussing that as a solution. Thank you. And then my second question is about housing staff, the strain this is putting on housing staff. So, would you like to respond to that?

Yes, definitely. We're finding increasing challenges within our general needs housing stock. The direct lets to people facing homelessness, whilst I absolutely understand the reasons for it and agree with them, are putting challenges on some of our neighbourhoods and our communities, because the support and the background knowledge of those individuals is limited compared to some other support provision. We're finding that the number of anti-social behaviour cases, the number of hoarding cases, things like that, really take an awful lot of time for housing staff to manage, and resource as well. In one of our blocks, we've had to employ security guards to allow us to go about our business. A good chunk of that issue is relating to just one individual who was probably not suitable for that property, who was vulnerable, who ended up getting cuckooed and involved in county lines and things. A support setting would have been a better provision for that person, and he now wants to go into a support setting to get him out of this mess that he's found himself in. So, yes, we're absolutely finding challenges in terms of neighbourhood management.

It's the conditions of properties as well—the amount of money that we're having to spend on void properties when they come back to us because they haven't been as well looked after and things like that. We're finding that that's increasing. And, obviously, because there's, potentially, more vulnerable clientele coming in to some of our properties, we're having to spend more money in terms of protecting those people and setting them up on the right footing to make the tenancy sustainable, so the standards of painting and decoration and providing second-hand furniture and things like that to enable people to get off on the right foot. So, there's increasing cost, there's increasing resource input required, and I also think that we need to make sure we're considering—. I know we're going to be looking at rapid rehousing later, but it all meshes together. I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of supporting different supported options and looking to keep that toolkit as varied as it can be. So, there's definitely a resource issue for our colleagues and what they're dealing with.

So, we're hearing that support staff is really important. Thank you.

If I may just add a little bit to what Allan has said, where he's focused very much on moving people into your schemes and into your estates. If I can just make a little bit of a plea for those staff that work as support workers, particularly for people in temporary accommodation. That has got worse as people are spending increasingly longer time in temporary accommodation, then their stress and their anxiety increases and, therefore, the people supporting them becomes an even more challenging job. I know Allan certainly provides more support, but a number of housing providers across Wales provide a lot of supported accommodation. There's pressure on one finding, recruiting and retaining those support workers, because the operating environment that they're in has definitely diminished and got much, much harder over the last couple of years. 

Just to add to that some statistics from our 'Joining the Dots' survey, which we've been running since 2020 through the pandemic and beyond, surveying local authority housing and homelessness teams, and 75 per cent of them felt that their mental well-being had decreased since January 2020 because of the increased pressures the pandemic caused in terms of housing people. I thought this was interesting as well—it highlighted a decrease in their confidence in health and housing partnerships, so that lack of confidence in what health is bringing to the table in terms of providing those support services and helping housing organisations and housing professionals deliver those support services. That went down to 58 per cent from 67 per cent at the start of the process. That will tell you something about the pressures on other bodies as well that support the housing process. So, just a general pressure increasing exponentially. And I'll just quote that quote again, from a front-line housing professional in the local authority housing team:

'It's just wearing. There is ceaseless demand, not enough solutions. Even when we arrange move-on, it does not ease pressure, as demand is constant',

which, I think, tells us the whole picture. 

09:30

Okay. Thanks, Carolyn. We'll move on to Sam Rowlands, then, a committee member who's with us remotely. Sam. 

Good morning, all. Sorry I couldn't be with you in the room this morning. I really appreciate your time. Just going back—before I move on to some questions about housing supply—to the point made earlier about the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 being perhaps a right thing and a good thing. But I'm trying to then level that with the statistic we heard that 84 per cent of those leaving the private rented sector are doing so primarily because of the Act. So, what's the issue? If it's the right thing and a good thing, why are those who might consider themselves to be either experts or, certainly, in the industry, are wanting to get out of that because of the Act? Can someone help me understand that a bit better?

I feel that all eyes are on me to answer that one. I think there's a number of different reasons, and I don't think that you'd find good landlords in the industry disagreeing with the concept of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act. Despite popular opinion, landlords don't want to issue section 21 notices—they don't. They want a good relationship with a good tenant that gives them a long-standing, long-term, stable financial investment. That's what good landlords want. They want to provide good houses. They don't have problems with supplying properties that are fit for human habitation. Everything within the matters and consequences makes sense to good landlords. 

Match that with the fact that, at the very last second, a sunset clause was brought in, which hasn't even sat in front of the Chamber yet. The legislation is due to come in on Thursday—a week today—and we have legislation that has not been put in front of the Senedd for completion. That came to the industry extremely lately, and it's changing the way that landlords look at things. Landlords feel put upon. There are very few people who will feel sorry for residential landlords; the way they are painted by certain sections is that they all walk around with briefcases full of £50 notes. The majority of them aren't; the majority of them want to provide a service to an industry that needs it at the minute. We're discussing people living in temporary accommodation. The PRS wants to support those people. They want to provide good houses. They need them provided to them. But when you come in with that sunset clause change at the very last second, days before the implementation of the Act, it spooks the market. There is constant concern over the incoming rent controls. There are always problems around eviction bans. It is a multitude of things, and we at the NRLA don't stand against the Renting Homes (Wales) Act. We've embraced it, we've endorsed it, we've released our standard occupation contract in the last couple of days, and I hope that the periodical is available tomorrow, or today would be even better. But it spooks the market, and I would certainly point to this bringing in of the sunset clause as being very detrimental to the implementation of it. 

Yes, as Steven says, implementation hasn't been great, not least the sunset clause, but also getting the regs out and the contracts out has been delayed, which is why we had to delay it. So, that hasn't helped and has spooked the market probably more than it needed to be. But it's happening at a time when all these things are converging, and we're getting this perfect storm. So, maybe it would have been less impactful had we been doing this in a time when the sun was shining, possibly.

But, ultimately, it is the right thing to do. It provides more protection. It will provide better standards—standards in the private rented sector—which is what we need, particularly around fuel poverty and decarb, et cetera. But the issue isn't with the legislation. We all knew that there would be unintended consequences, and we all spoke about them. The issue is that the strategy and the systemic and historical supply of social and affordable housing to absorb the impact of the unintended consequences that legislation like this would have are simply not there. They are not there to absorb all that's happening at the moment, let alone the implementation of good legislation, which will protect tenants, and landlords to a certain extent as well. So, that's the problem. Ultimately, at the bottom of all of this is that historic and systemic undersupply of social and affordable housing.

09:35

Yes, I was going to say, in terms of the effect of the implementation as well, I think the difficult context means that we may miss some of the opportunities afforded by the Act as well. One of the opportunities in the context we've been talking about today is the six-month notice periods. So, in theory, you should be able to—. That gives local authorities longer to work with landlords to address issues. It gives local authorities longer to find alternative accommodation for someone. So, in theory, it should reduce pressure on temporary accommodation because you have more time to avoid that person ending up there. But what we've heard from quite a few local authorities—and COVID in a way acted as a bit of a pilot here, because we did have a six-month notice period through part of COVID—was that while some were able to take advantage of that, others were in full firefighting mode and were basically telling people, 'Thanks for letting us know; please come back in 52 or 54 days before eviction when our statutory duty kicks in.' That opportunity, then, that the Act afforded is potentially going to be lost unless we think about how we can—. Yes, they both need to be tackled at the same time, so there's the need to reduce that pressure on temporary accommodation, to actually further reduce it in the longer term by freeing up that staff resource to help people through some of the benefits that the Act will provide.

Yes. Thanks, Chair, and thanks for those responses. Just going back to the point, then, of housing supply, and not just within recent months or even recent years but looking back over perhaps the last 10 years, what have been those main barriers, do you think, to ensuring that social, affordable or market supply of housing, and do you think that there are steps being taken to remove those barriers, or do you think that those barriers still exist and, therefore, in 10 years' time we're going to have a similar or even worse conversation?

Coming from a PRS point of view, if you carry on the route that you've charted the last 10 years, you'll have the same problem in 10 years' time if not worse. There needs to be—and it's a phrase used—more of the right houses in the right places for the right people. Planning law and legislation needs to reflect that to bring it about, because the developers are not going to do it willingly. We had a discussion beforehand—we are not building the houses that are needed to solve this problem as of now, and there needs to be a complete change in direction to build those right houses to fix this problem, and that comes through legislation and making people do that, because it's not commercially viable to build them but it's necessary to build them, and there are, despite all of my doom and gloom around confidence, personal small landlords out there who will buy them and they will provide them to the service. They will always be there, because of where we are in the world of investment now. Bricks and mortar is still a viable investment, but they need to be built and they need to be available.

Yes, I partly agree with my colleague, because I think perhaps we have not made enough change over the last 10 years—or longer, to be honest, because I think it goes well beyond 10 years—to achieve a significantly different result. I think lots of things have been done, though, so there are positive benefits. The £1 billion that Matt mentioned and the commitment of the Welsh Government to supporting social housing development over those last 10 years has made an enormous difference and has mitigated, I think, quite significantly the scale of the problem that we would be facing if that had not been done, because lots of housing has been provided.

That said, I think that we do have a significant mismatch between the housing that we need to provide if we're going to address the number of people in temporary accommodation and the homes that are being built by the private sector or by the social sector. And if you look over the last 10 years, only about 10 per cent of the homes that have been built are one bedroom, and yet you've got 8,000 to 10,000 people needing one-bedroomed accommodation in temporary accommodation, that exist in temporary accommodation at the moment. We have that mismatch in planning terms, and we've had that for a very long time and the reluctance of lots of people concerned in the sector to build more one-bedroomed accommodation, and addressing that is a very brave move in policy terms and in planning terms, to stop the huge volume of three-bed homes that we also need built, and move to something that actually matches closer to the huge demand that we're facing. That we haven't done and we haven't addressed, but I think the commitment and the funding that has been put in, when you compare and contrast that to England, where you have very, very low numbers of social housing provided, we've had significant numbers—well over 3,000 in the last year—and that has made an enormous difference.

09:40

Could I just ask why you think there has been that reluctance, then, to provide those one-bedroomed properties?

Because, proportionately, you make a lot more profit out of building a three-bedroomed property if you're a house builder than you do building one-beds.

That's the fundamental at the core of that. There are challenges if you're going to build lots of one-beds in managing those properties, and what you want, ideally, is a nice blend of those things where you have a much greater proportion of one and two-bedroomed flatted and housing accommodation as part of an overall development, whereas what we have are lots and lots of three-beds.  

Yes, I guess there are two points I want to make, picking up what Shayne was saying there as well. I guess the first is that I don't know whether we really have a vision for what we want housing in Wales to be like. Building those one-beds is part of that longer term thinking, isn't it, and about what we want to achieve. And by that I mean that we talk a lot about unintended consequences, but actually what is the unintended consequence? Do we want, basically, the tenure mix to stay roughly what it is now but just have more housing? Do we want more social housing, fewer owner-occupiers? These are all questions that—. Actually, we talk about unintended consequences, but we need to know what vision we have for the sector to know whether it's a negative consequence if landlords are leaving the sector, or not. We're not having those conversations, maybe. 

Thinking of the more medium term, sorting this out is going to take time. You're not going to build tens of thousands of social housing properties in the next two to three years; it's going to take time. But the problem we've got is immediate, and it's obviously right that we take action in the immediate term to help people, but are the steps we could be taking that help people in the short term that help move us to where we want to be in the longer term. So, that's why some of the questions you've asked around purchasing properties, I think, are really important ones, because that's a way to increase supply now, find accommodation for someone now, and it actually moves us towards somewhere where we might want to be in the longer term, rather than maybe getting stuck in the trap of building more temporary accommodation, because we need that but actually that doesn't really resolve anything necessarily in the longer term because we're just moving the problem from waiting lists for temporary accommodation to having loads of people in temporary accommodation and nowhere to move them on. So, I think there is a need definitely to do the short-term stuff but thinking about how does that fit into where we want to be heading in the medium to longer term as well. 

Sorry, Sam, before you do, I think Allan wanted to come in. Sorry, Allan. 

Yes, I was just thinking, when people were talking about the one-beds and things, large swathes of one-bed properties are challenging to manage. That's an issue. But, thinking back to the bedroom tax and the ability to actually allocate some different sized properties to single people or couples, if the market wants to build two-bed properties but we can't allocate them to couples who might actually put roots down and have a family and actually want to stay in the property in the longer term, then we don't have the ability to do that because of things like the bedroom tax and affordability. So, just to flag that as another issue. It's a long-standing one now, but it's something else that has had some unintended consequences. 

Sorry, I shouldn't be pressing the 'mute' or 'unmute' button myself, it seems, so apologies for that.

Yes, and perhaps just a brief comment on the point around some of the schemes that Welsh Government have been introducing in terms of providing funding in particular to social landlords around remodelling existing accommodation and converting buildings. I just wonder if there are any comments on how effective that piece of work is and if there are actual real opportunities in repurposing social housing stock, or is housing stock already filled up and you can't really move things around too much?

Thank you. I think the funding for that and the programmes of work that are in place have really helped because I think there is some scope for repurposing or for remodelling existing accommodation, whether that's in the existing social housing stock or not. I think the truth is that it's only a relatively small number of homes that you're likely to provide through that, because the vast majority of social housing homes are let and people are happily living in them and there is not a need to repurpose them because they meet the needs that they're there for. There's a relatively small number that any of us would have at any time that you might call strategic voids, or for whatever reason, have been left empty. Some of the funding that Welsh Government has provided to help bring those that have a very high cost back into use has helped, but it was never going to deliver thousands of homes—at best, it was going to deliver a few hundred.

09:45

Okay. Thank you, Shayne. Thank you, Sam. Jayne Bryant.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, everyone. I think, Steffan, you mentioned that sorting this out is going to take time and that the problem is immediate. You also touched on the impact that the local housing allowance rates are having on access to the private rented sector. I don't know if you want to say, or anybody else wants to say, a little bit more about that. But are there options to address the shortfall in rents through using discretionary housing payments?

Yes, absolutely. So, we know that there's a serious problem around the LHA just not meeting market conditions and that's not Wales-unique; that's an issue across the UK. The Department for Work and Pensions's own data points to it being a problem; I think that there was data from last year that showed, by the DWP's own calculations, that for about 68 per cent of people, their housing allowance didn't actually cover their rent. So, this is known and it's a major problem. And from our work, we found that the effects of that are threefold. So, either it forces people directly into the homelessness system because they just can't find somewhere where their benefits would be enough to cover their rent. People, on the other hand, sometimes move into accommodation where the rent is bigger than what they get in benefits. That's challenging financially and that's become a lot worse as rents have gone up and as the cost-of-living crisis has bitten, because, obviously, the amount of cushion that people have financially, which wasn't really much anyway, has become even less, or people just move into not-very-good properties, because those are the properties that are actually available at LHA. So, there's a threefold impact from it, which is really putting pressure on the homelessness system and tenants themselves.

So, fundamentally, we need to reform LHA. I think that that is a starting point and I think that's something we'd probably all agree on there in terms of that support better aligning to what's needed in the market. I think discretionary housing payments are definitely a space where we could be doing potentially more in Wales to complement that slightly. I think the commitment that the Welsh Government has made in providing some extra money to local authorities to top up DHPs is really welcome. And we are seeing some positive signs from the data on DHP use—that local authorities in Wales are now actually doing way better than local authorities in England in terms of the amount of cash that is getting out to people. There are some local authorities, still, that are not spending 100 per cent of their DHP pot. There are not many, but there are one or two, and so, there's a need to look at that.

We're also going to be doing a short bit of work ourselves over the next couple of months to try and get an understanding of people's experiences of accessing that support as well—so, how similar are people's experiences in different parts of Wales? So, we know that money now does seem to be getting out of the door, but is that getting out of the door in a way that helps tenants themselves? And how easy that would be, and how different people's experiences are. So, that's obviously one way, but there are also other things that, maybe we could look at that are not directly financially related—that's kind of within the gift of Welsh Government, but we know that stuff like guarantee requirements, credit checks and that sort of stuff is really difficult for people on low incomes to satisfy, and that's putting on extra pressure. So, not only is your choice of properties massively limited because your benefits don't meet the cost of rent, but even within that pool of 60 properties that we found in August that were available with LHA, about 17 of those had some sort of requirement that would make it virtually impossible for someone on the lowest income to actually be able to rent them in the first place. So, that's another area where, maybe, that's not financial support, but that would make some difference to people in terms of increasing that available supply slightly if we were able to get rid of those really egregious examples of requirements that are placed on tenants.

Okay. Perhaps you could share your work with us, as well, on that, and your assessment. Sorry—Steven.

09:50

Yes, and again going back to surveys that we've carried out, the last information we have on this matter goes back to quarter 1 of 2022, so, well before the cost of living really bit, so this is a starting point. Just over 60 per cent of landlords stated that LHA hadn't caused any rent arrears. With a couple of 'don't knows', that means that, worryingly, 38.6 per cent of our survey, their tenants had fallen into arrears because of LHA, and that's before the cost of living hit. So, I don't want to know what that figure will be when we go back and we ask that same question again now, because since 2022, LHA hasn't gone up; rent has, fuel has, food has—everything has, and LHA freezing is a huge problem, and it's causing problems. Because whilst reference is always made to section 21 notices being issued, sometimes section 21 notices are issued to deal with rent arrears, because the process of eviction through rent arrears is so complex, complicated and drawn out, section 21 is used as the default to deal with the problem, and you write off the debt. So, this is the unseen side of section 21; it's the easier route to deal with rent arrears.

So, LHA and, potentially, discretionary housing payments supporting a system that needs to be reformed in the short term is the answer. And we joined with the Bevan Foundation to look at the COVID support grant that was underused, to be deferred across to DHP; that hasn't been able to be done, but DHP could resolve, in the very short term, the problem of arrears if it can be administered quickly, promptly and properly to the right people who need it.

Just a bit of a sideways look, all the things that my colleagues have described, you know, that spiral into debt and the impact that that has on family relationships, mental health and mental well-being, et cetera, are the kinds of things that consume people in this situation that, ultimately, result in tenancies ending. So, we did a piece of work with our Tyfu Tai Cymru project a couple of years back about supporting the PRS and tenants with mental health issues in the PRS, and the Government took that on board and it started working. But more generally, it's about providing support to PRS landlords to support their tenants. That's what it's ultimately about: investment in the PRS and supporting them to maintain tenancies and keep people in their homes.

Absolutely. I'm just wondering about the potential for the leasing scheme Wales to be scaled up to be made more attractive to private landlords. Any ideas about that?

I'm sure that Steve might have more direct comments on that, rather than myself. The feedback we've had so far has been 'mixed', maybe, is probably the word to use. I think we have heard of some positive examples, but I think that there's a concern about, realistically, how many landlords are we going to have on the scheme to make a difference at scale, necessarily. Is the support provided through it generous enough to really attract people, and again, there's a question then that, if you move the cash support to be generous enough, is that really the most effective use of that cash? Could you be using it to be doing something longer term, to sort out that problem around the supply side? So, I think there is a bit of a tension in terms of that, but I'm sure that Steve has more direct experience with working with his members.

I'm now absolutely convinced that you've seen my briefing notes [Laughter.] To say that there's a mixed message is an understatement. So, again, going back to our members, looking for positives, 88.6 per cent of landlords see that the guaranteed income is a positive and 73.9 per cent see that it's a hassle-free nature of letting a property. However, when looking at negatives, 88 per cent of landlords fear a loss of control over their property, and 78 per cent fear the risk of damage to their property. So, 'mixed message' is the ultimate way of describing that. There are benefits, there are drawbacks, and there is a way that that can help the system, but there are things that need to be addressed to make it less of a concern for landlords. 

Was this sent to you? [Laughter.]

I think one of the messages that we picked up as well from some of the work we've done with some of your members, actually, is about the fact that the LHA becomes a problem here again, because the level of the guarantee is set at LHA level. Well, if you can make significantly more by letting out your property at the higher rate than LHA, actually, running the risk of having no-one to pay your rent for three months is worth it, because you'll make more in the other nine months then you would by letting it out for guarantee. But the fundamental problem, I think, is that the LHA is intrinsically linked, because it's just so far below market rates now that any sort of guarantee at LHA is not that attractive to a huge number of landlords. So, that, I think, is a real major challenge, and it's about how devolved policy and UK policy sometimes work against each other, potentially.

I mean, I was speaking to one of our members yesterday who's a landlord with multiple properties in Cardiff, and he said that the leasing scheme isn't going to solve their problem; it's far too restricted, and most lenders won't lend on it, and the gap between what they are paying and what is available—the point Steffan was making—on the open market is just so far apart now that not even the socially minded landlords are considering it. So, that's where we're at, but the flipside of it, as I was alluding to earlier, is I think that 26 per cent of PRS properties are in fuel poverty, so if we are going to rely on PRS to plug this gap between temporary accommodation and longer term provision, then we have to ensure that they're to a similar or same standard as social housing, particularly around the fuel poverty issue, given the current energy costs. So, it's a double-edged sword and we need to address it.

09:55

Okay, thank you. Thanks, Jayne. And, Joel James—Joel.

Thank you, Chair, and I've got to apologise, I've got a bit of a cold, it's all in the nose, so I sound quite nasally. Thanks ever so much for coming today, it's been really interesting and informative, actually. I just wanted to ask one final question, really, on the rapid rehousing transition plans that the local authorities have been asked to do now. I was just wondering about how easy a process that was for local authorities to move to from their traditional rehousing plans that they've had. But then, also, how inclusive a process was it, do you know? So, when the local authorities were drafting these plans, was there involvement, do you think, from all sections of stakeholders, basically? And I know that the Welsh Government has predicted an estimated three to five years to get these up and running, and I was just wondering if you thought that that was achievable, really. Thank you.

I think it's a really difficult question, to be honest. The move to rapid rehousing is extremely difficult for all the reasons that we've discussed up to now in terms of if you look at the number of presentations from people who are homeless or rough sleeping and you just look at the volume of that against the supply of available accommodation, you're not going to house those people with the available supply. So, if I'm honest, I don't think a transition to three to five years is realistic at all; I think it's many multiples of that. You're looking at a decade or more, and only then if you address the supply issues.

If we look at the capability of the system, just in terms of how many people present and how many are available that would actually match what those people need, there is a mismatch, so those people will automatically go into temporary accommodation. I think rapid rehousing, though, is the solution to ending homelessness. We do need to ensure that homelessness is brief, it is rare and if you spend time in temporary accommodation, it's very short before you move into settled accommodation. But we will only address that if we do increase supply of the right homes in the right locations.

Wales and West work in 15 of the 22 local authority areas, and we've been involved in a number of the discussions. I think, for the local authorities in the year that they've had to date, it's been very difficult to prepare the transition plan for rapid rehousing on the back of homelessness plans and a number of other action plans, which is why a good number of the local authorities have been unable to complete a transition plan that is inclusive and has involved all partners, as they would have liked to, so, a number have been more interim transition plans, with more work to be done over the future. I think 15 of the 22 have been submitted, some of those have had lots and lots of involvement; I know that my organisation and others have been deeply involved, but in other areas, they've not been able to do that. So, I think it's been very difficult for them.

Thanks very much. I'd echo again what Shayne's experience has been. We've been involved pretty well with the local authorities where we work. So, again, it's a bit inconsistent—some more than others. I think, again, rapid rehousing within five years without supply is not going to be feasible in my view, the same as Shayne's.

Equally, as well, one of the things we've considered when we've been in conversation with the local authorities is that rapid rehousing is a solution, it's not the entire solution. It's a fantastic thing to aim towards, but it's not right for everybody, and I would encourage not reducing the options available to tackle a really complex issue. Some different types of support settings, whether they be temporary, whether they be self-contained, et cetera, or not, are solutions for some people at the right time, so I'm not sure why you would reduce the toolkit available to deal with such a complex problem. So, just to add that to the mix, really. I think local authorities have shared that view. They've looked at it and gone, 'Do you know what? We'd really like to keep this option available, but, under the rapid rehousing guidelines, that's not something we'd look to do.' And the experience of customers in some of those hostel settings and things, the evidence that they've provided around how that has contributed to their story in terms of where they're at, has been extremely positive. So, when we talk about temporary accommodation, perhaps we need to make sure that we've got some sort of differential between people staying in bed and breakfasts versus people staying in well-established support settings and things like that. So, that's just something to add, really.

10:00

Thanks, Allan, for that. Just to come back to you on that, then, you mentioned that it would still be good for local authorities to have a raft of policies that they can dip into to help the situation. What policies do you think would suffer as a result of this rapid rehousing action plan, then?

Well, for example, I know we've got hostel settings, we've got, I don't know, a 13-room supported housing hostel setting, and to convert that into self-contained units wouldn't be viable financially and also you'd be reducing the number of properties, when we've already said that actually we can't meet the supply needs already. So, local authorities are probably not keen to reduce the number of properties available to them to tackle some of these issues, but supported housing in the traditional sense is being considered as not the way forward. It isn't rapid rehousing—it's not—but it is a fantastic tool for some people at the right point in their journey. So, for me, it's about, well, just because one answer is right doesn't mean that other answers are not and that they can't contribute to a broad spectrum of tools that could be available to meet people's needs.

I gave the example earlier of the person who was housed directly from homelessness into a flat in general needs with support provided to him, which he rapidly disengaged from once he was through the door, kind of thing, who then found himself vulnerable, cuckooed, involved in county lines et cetera. He's now really keen to go back into, or to go into, a supported hostel setting, where he'll get that much more intensive support and have that available to him whenever he needs it and he won't be as vulnerable to some of the issues that he's facing currently. Similarly, at the same time, moving people directly into that general needs setting when they may actually need support actually blocks people who are in that support setting who are ready to move on into permanent accommodation.

So, when we think about some of the policies, it's about how we join those up. So, it's not about necessarily just the one let from this person to that property, it's thinking about the wider picture in terms of a chain of lets and how you can alleviate homelessness through considering maybe two or three lets that, actually, would ultimately result in one person's homelessness situation being resolved. And in doing so, I suppose, with rapid rehousing, if we're focusing primarily on those experiencing homelessness, and given the numbers that we've talked about, we will be doing, it will be to the detriment of people with other priority needs. My worry with that is, if we're not dealing with people who've got other priority needs, such as mobility or overcrowding and things like that, then they're the people who are going to add to that pile of people experiencing homelessness in the future. So, it's not joined up enough for me in terms of the allocations, and it's a bit one dimensional in terms of the support provision that's being considered. So, it's a complex picture, really.

Yes, just to reiterate that point about housing support and more flexibility in housing support, a lot of our members have been calling for that, because not all support is housing related, and the merger of all the support funding into that one supported housing grant has taken some of that flexibility away. That's what our members are telling us.

Back to the substantive point that was being made earlier about supply, it's funny, isn't it, we've been spending the last hour talking about what's causing the demand and the increased demand on temporary accommodation and increased homelessness figures, and it all comes down to supply, at the end of the day. So, to talk about rapid housing in that context, it's a bit like opening a sweet shop without having the sweets. So, the Welsh Government absolutely get that and are investing record amounts, £1 billion over three years, but the problem we're going to come down to—and Shayne will know more granular detail on this—is, in terms of moving forward, the cost-of-living crisis, the impact on supply chains, the lack of labour, the lack of skilled labour in the decarb agenda, are going to cause huge problems in building out and reaching that 20,000 target that's been set for this Senedd term. So, we're still not getting to the stage where we need to.

My overarching point, which I was going to leave to the end in summing up, but it seems like a sensible place to make it, is: despite that record investment, and despite the Government getting it, is that investment commensurate with the scale of the crisis we're facing, fundamentally? And that's why, along with our campaign partners, Shelter Cymru and Tai Pawb—and you'll know this, Chair—we've been really pushing for the incorporation of the right to adequate housing into Welsh law, which recent cost-benefit analysis has showed us will save the public purse in Wales £11.5 billion, which can be reinvested in housing and other areas, and that's across the public policy piece—creating more economic activity, health savings, well-being savings, local government savings. So, it makes economic sense to invest more in housing, because it's costing us a boatload of money that we can't afford and therefore can't reinvest in housing. So, that's my pitch today.

10:05

Well, thanks, Matt. And we will have to end on that note, because I'm afraid that's all we've got time for for this session. Thank you all very much for giving evidence to the committee this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr. 

Okay, committee will break briefly, then, until 10:15. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:07 a 10:14.

The meeting adjourned between 10:07 and 10:14.

10:10
3. Digartrefedd - sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
3. Homelessness - evidence session 3

Okay, committee will resume, then, with item 3 on our agenda today, which is our third evidence session regarding our work on homelessness in Wales and the current position. I'm very pleased to welcome Jasmine Harris, senior policy and public affairs officer for Crisis, who is joining us virtually, and here with us in the committee room, Jennie Bibbings, head of campaigns for Shelter, and Bonnie Williams, director of Housing Justice Cymru. Welcome to you all—bore da.

Perhaps I might begin, then, with some questions on the supply of temporary accommodation, and firstly your view on the current pressures local authority homelessness services are facing and the current picture with temporary accommodation and support services across Wales. Who would like to begin?

10:15

I'm happy to begin.

So, I can talk about our casework. We've seen a big increase in homelessness casework over the last year. It's gone up by 41 per cent between August last year and this year. In terms of temporary accommodation, the main issues that we've seen are around inability to access, so, it's the waiting lists, which I know we'll go on to talk more about. There's loads of stuff around suitability of temporary accommodation, and of course the evictions as well, for a whole host of reasons, sometimes due to unmet support needs, sometimes leading back into street homelessness.

I think it's really important just to say at the outset that Shelter Cymru casework—we totally recognise that it's not representative of local authority practice as a whole; it's representative of what happens when things go wrong, because, if people get good outcomes, they don't need to use our services. So, just to put that proviso in place. But I think it's really there as a barometer of progress, because if people's housing needs are being met then they don't need to use our services. 

Okay, Jennie. Yes, Bonnie, would you like to add? Yes. 

From our perspective, I think the concern and the focus for us is that we're all aware that supply is a real issue at the moment. Therefore, as Jennie's touched on, it's the quality of the available temporary accommodation and the support services to enable people to move from that accommodation into housing when that's available, and those are the real concerns for us at the moment, recognising that supply is a challenge.

Yes, okay. And the support services, is there anything in particular you—? Sorry, Jasmine, did you want to come in at that point?

Yes, thank you, Chair. Firstly, I'd just like to say that I think it's really positive that the Welsh Government are working towards solving these problems in the long term, but it's fair to say that, at the moment, we're not quite seeing the trends going in the direction that we would like to see them, and, yes, temporary accommodation is a really big issue. We are seeing more people entering into the homelessness system than we are seeing leaving the homelessness system, and there's really a bottleneck in temporary accommodation that is, as we've already just discussed, on a lot of occasions not suitable for the needs of the people that are within that temporary accommodation—people being offered out-of-area accommodation or just really poor quality temporary accommodation, which makes it difficult to leave their homelessness behind. Added to that is the lack of move-on options, so that people are stuck in temporary accommodation for a significant period of time, and I think the pressures on the services are created by those problems, and across local authority homelessness support teams and third sector support teams we've got a workforce that has been essentially firefighting for a long time now, dealing with crisis situations, and they just don't have the resources to deal with the amount of cases that are coming in, which is making it really difficult. So, it's a difficult job at any point in time, but at the moment the job is ever more difficult, because it's telling people that there just isn't enough accommodation or support to go round. 

Okay. Thank you very much, Jasmine. In terms of the 'no-one left out' policy, there are lots of pressures at the moment, including cost-of-living pressures that we're all very familiar with and will be with us for some time. Do you think that 'no-one left out' policy is realistic in terms of those pressures and what we're likely to see over the coming months?

Well, I think that the ambition is absolutely right, and I think that when we set out that ambition it was right, and I think Welsh Government—. I'm proud, as the director of a bi-national charity, to be representing Wales with those ambitions versus what we're seeing in England going into this winter and the number of people that will be rough-sleeping. However, what we have got is an implementation gap, and there are many reasons for that: partly, it's the establishment and implementation of a new approach, but also the incidents that we didn't know were going to come our way. COVID was one, but that came on top of Syria, Afghanistan and now the Ukraine situation as well. Admittedly, we've got 14,000 people at the moment in Wales in some form of temporary emergency accommodation, and that includes those being hosted through Homes for Ukraine, 2,500 of which of the 8,500 in temporary accommodation are children, and we know that that's not ideal. It's not the aspiration, but I do believe that the policy in itself is the right direction. So, again, from our perspective, it's about how we can at the moment, while there's this implementation gap, make sure that the offer of accommodation or shelter—I know that we'd like to afford everybody a home, but at the moment we are talking more about shelter—and the services that support people while they're in that shelter, and help them transition into home, are of the highest quality that they can be. And that's where we do see a disparity, and that's where I think there needs to be a focus.

10:20

Yes, I would say I think it's right to be asking whether or not it is realistic to implement the 'no-one left out' policy, but the fact that is that we've committed to implementing it in Wales, and it might be better to turn our conversations to how we can make it more realistic. There are a number of measures that we can put into place and take action on that will make it sustainable, rather than assessing whether or not it is sustainable. I think it's worth just starting to think about those actions, what they could be, and then begin to deliver them rather than deliberate over whether it's the right direction. We've committed to the direction, so we should start being more practical about making sure that it becomes a reality.

I completely agree with what's been said so far. The only thing that I would add is the recent priority need category for people who are street homeless. We've seen that have a positive effect for individuals. Previously, during the lockdown period when the 'everybody in' was guidance, we would try and represent individuals who weren't being given temporary accommodation, but we weren't able to do that in a judicial way. We tried to get a judicial review and it was thrown out by the court because it was only based on guidance, whereas now with the priority need category, we are able to seek judicial review if individuals who are street homeless aren't getting temporary accommodation.

So, that's good for individuals as long as they're accessing our service and they're getting that representation, but I think we're acutely aware that judicial reviews don't make accommodation, and you're essentially giving individuals higher priority, and there's still a lot of people out there who are street homeless and not getting the accommodation they need.  

Okay. Thanks very much, Jenny. Jenny, one further question from me before we move on. Oh, sorry, Mabon, yes. Mabon ap Gwynfor who is a committee member joining us remotely. Mabon. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. Diolch, bawb. Gobeithio bod pawb yn fy nghlywed i efo'r offer cyfieithu. Mynd at bwynt Jasmine yn fanna, diolch yn fawr iawn am y cyflwyniadau. Mae Jasmine cweit reit wedi rhoi her yn fanna, yn dweud bod yn iawn i ni ofyn y cwestiwn a ydy'r polisi yma yn realistig i ni i'w gyflwyno, ond yn hytrach na gofyn y cwestiwn yna, dylem ni fod yn gofyn sut mae cyflwyno'r polisi yn llwyddiannus. Iawn, felly, o gymryd ein bod ni'n mynd i ofyn y cwestiwn yna, oes gennych chi awgrymiadau o ba gamau sydd yn gallu cael eu cymryd er mwyn sicrhau ein bod ni'n medru cyflwyno'r polisi yna'n llwyddiannus? 

Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you, all. I hope everybody can hear me and the translation equipment is working. Just to go back to Jasmine's point there, thank you very much for your presentations. Jasmine quite rightly has provided a challenge there, that it's right to ask the question whether this policy is realistic for us to implement, but rather than ask that question, we should be asking how the policy should be implemented successfully. Right, in taking that we're going to ask that question, do you have suggestions of what steps can be taken in order to ensure that we can implement that policy successfully? 

Okay. Diolch, Mabon. Who would like to offer something?

Various suggestions, yes, and hopefully we'll get into some of those during the course of the evidence. There's a whole ream of work around prevention, and I know local authorities—we had a webinar yesterday with local authorities—are trying really hard to continue to do that preventative work, because I think a lot of them have recognised that they've been getting into crisis mode and just dealing with people coming through the door, and they do still need to do that early work. So, that's increasingly starting to happen.

I think that there are various things that we can do to prevent people having to go into temporary accommodation in the first place because it's a real trap, and I'm going to get into this a bit more as we go on, but when people go into temporary accommodation, a lot of it is unaffordable for people who are in work. Sometimes, people have to give up their jobs when they go into temporary accommodation. Sometimes, they make the mistake of getting a job while they're in temporary accommodation and they find they're hit with this enormous rent bill. So, avoiding people getting into that dependent passive position, as much as we can, has got to be a part of this. 

And on the supply side, which is completely vital, I know the Welsh Government has made some really encouraging first steps towards getting house building more aligned with housing need, locally, through the prospectuses. And we're in a very early position with those yet. I still pick up, and this is anecdotal, that there does seem to be a reluctance to build the types of homes that we know a certain cohort of homeless people need—people with the highest levels of unmet support need, the people who are going round the system at the moment, who can't sustain temporary accommodation, who get evicted into street homelessness and come around again. We know what they need; they need Housing First. We've got a really good model there, haven't we? Alternatively, it's about long-term, stable, supported accommodation that's purpose built, with the needs of that cohort in mind. But there is a reluctance among providers still to do that—it's a lot of work in terms of management and it doesn't stack up so well in terms of the rents. So, we need to make that a financially viable model for social landlords to step in and build that type of home.

10:25

Okay. Thank you very much, Jennie. Right. Let me just ask you one further question, Jennie, and then we'll move on to other committee members and their questions. In your evidence, you pointed to the existence of waiting lists for temporary accommodation in some local authorities, and I think that Welsh Government supplementary guidance has made it clear that this is unlawful and shouldn't be happening. Jennie, could you give us some idea of the extent of the problem, the extent to which it is happening at the moment?

Yes. We did a freedom of information request; it's a little out of date now because the figures are for the end of October 2021. We had 21 of the 22 authorities respond to us, and of that 21, 13 told us that they did have a waiting list at that point. The total number of people who were on all of those waiting lists was 335; the highest in a single local authority was 178. But, as I say, that was October 2021, so I would expect the picture to be different now. I don't know whether the Welsh Government is monitoring that themselves—possibly.

Okay, Jennie. Thank you very much. We'll move on then to Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, a diolch unwaith eto am eich presenoldeb chi. Ymddiheuriadau fy mod i'n hwyr i'r cyfarfod yma, am resymau personol. Mae yna achosion wedi bod yn fy swyddfa i, pobl leol yn dod ger fy mron yn gofyn am gymorth, yn dweud eu bod nhw mewn llety dros dro, a'u hanghenion nhw ddim yn cael eu cyfarch oherwydd bod ganddyn nhw deuluoedd, neu, os ydyn nhw mewn gwesty, does ganddyn nhw ddim oergell i gadw bwyd, dim popty i baratoi bwyd, ac yn y blaen. Pa mor addas fyddech chi'n ei ddweud ydy'r llety dros dro sy'n cael ei ddarparu yng Nghymru yn gyffredinol ar hyn o bryd, ac a oes yna enghreifftiau da y medrai awdurdodau eraill ddysgu oddi wrthynt?

Thank you very much, and thank you again for your attendance. Apologies that I was late to this meeting, for personal reasons. There have been cases in my office of local people coming before us and asking for support, saying that they're in temporary accommodation, and that their needs are not being met because they have families, or, if they're in a hotel, they don't have any fridges to keep food, no ovens to prepare food, and so on. How suitable would you say is the temporary accommodation that's being provided in Wales in general currently, and are there good examples that other local authorities could learn from?

Great. Thank you for the question, Mabon. I suppose we come back to the point of there being a real disparity—a disparity of how we're implementing the legislation that Jennie's touched on, but also then the services that we're providing and the quality. And I think one of the things that we come across again and again is that, when it comes to schools, and the quality of schools, we have an independent body in Estyn that comes in and inspects them on behalf of local authorities and Government. But what we're seeing, I think, across the board here is a real lack of quality standard assurance. So, we don't know what the level of quality and the difference is between one provision and another, between one local authority and another. And at first-hand I've been taken around some of the most appalling B&B accommodation, but, similarly, I've seen some absolutely fantastic accommodation, and that costs the same to the individuals living in that accommodation, despite the difference in service there, and similarly in support.

So, what we know is that really, really crucial is the rapid rehousing—moving people from that bottleneck, through from accommodation into housing. But we know, again, that rapid rehousing and Housing First is a well-regarded model, but it has to be implemented well. And in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and wider generic studies, we've seen up to 57 per cent of people failing to maintain their tenancy after six months. And it is quite commonly understood that, within two years, 50 per cent of people in a lot of models again are experiencing homelessness. So, making sure that that support is right and it works is absolutely vital, and that's why the focus of our written evidence was on a volunteer version of this that we run in Swansea.

We run alongside a number of other services, and our tenancy sustainment rates for six months are 100 per cent, and for over 12 months are above 90 per cent. We also have very different engagement rates. So, traditionally, we know that roughly 36 per cent of people in the rapid rehousing programmes don't engage, and again we have over 90 per cent engagement with our model. My challenge and my worry are that I can't promote that model because I can't compare those statistics to any other service in Wales, and on asking, I'm told that it wouldn't be appropriate to receive those, even if they're sanitised, so I've got to do a freedom of information request.

But it brings me back to wondering how we're assessing which services we're commissioning, how we're looking at what types of temporary accommodation we're putting people in, because, Mabon, as you said, there is a real disparity in the provision of the accommodation and the services. Supply is a massive, massive issue that we can't solve tomorrow. However, what we can do is make sure the people experiencing temporary accommodation, and support services to get them into accommodation, is the highest standard it could be, and that is within our gift.

10:30

Diolch. Cyn ein bod ni'n cael y ddwy arall i gyfrannu, tybed, Gadeirydd—. Mae Bonnie wedi codi pwyntiau pwysig yn fanna o ran diffyg gwybodaeth er mwyn mesur llwyddiant un rhaglen yn erbyn y llall. Tybed, Gadeirydd, ydy e'n bosib inni ofyn y cwestiynau yna, trwy'r pwyllgor i'r Llywodraeth, er mwyn inni fedru cael y wybodaeth yna er mwyn pwyso a mesur llwyddiant y rhaglenni a'r modeli yma. Ydy hynna'n rhywbeth y gallem ni ei wneud, Gadeirydd?

Thank you. Before we have contributions from the other two, I wonder, Chair—. Bonnie has raised important points there regarding a lack of information to measure the success of one programme against another. I wonder, Chair, whether it's possible for us to ask those questions, through the committee to the Government, so that we can have that information to look at the success or not of these programmes. Is that something we can do, Chair?

Yes. I'm sure we could, Mabon, and we can discuss that as a committee later. Yes.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Diolch, Bonnie, am yr ateb hwnnw. Mae'n codi andros o lot o gwestiynau yn fwy na'u hateb, mewn gwirionedd. Jennie, oes gan Shelter farn ar hyn?

Thank you very much. Thank you, Bonnie, for that answer. It raises quite a lot of questions rather than answers, really. I wonder, Jennie, whether Shelter has a view on this.

Yes. As Bonnie says, there's such a range, and some temporary accommodation is of a very good standard, and some of the support is excellent. Perhaps we tend to see the extreme examples at Shelter Cymru, but, back in May, I was sent some photos of some local authority-managed temporary accommodation, and we were quite shocked at the photos. The accommodation was really dirty, it clearly hadn't been cleaned for a long time, there was damp, the mattresses were dirty—and I'm sorry, it's a bit of a disgusting detail—but someone had been sick in one of the communal sinks and it had been left there for a long time and not cleaned up, and the smell was apparently overpowering. And, for us, we were asking the question about environmental health and, unfortunately, the client didn't pursue, they were moved to different accommodation, which is often the trouble with suitability challenges, is that the local authority doesn't want a suitability challenge, so they'll find alternative accommodation for the individual. So, that means that we don't get any case law around suitability; we don't get to push it in a judicial sense. But I think there's a really important point there about how we—. There's not an inspection regime for temporary accommodation. We need to get in front of this in terms of assuring those standards, because relying on individuals to challenge it through suitability isn't sufficient, for a whole host of reasons.

Diolch, Jennie. Ac yn yr un modd, Jasmine, oes gennych chi farn ar addasrwydd llety dros dro?

Thank you, Jennie. And, Jasmine, do you have any views on the suitability of temporary accommodation?

Yes. I'd completely echo what both Jennie and Bonnie have said. I'd say that we do see some decent temporary accommodation through our services, but the majority is unsuitable and of a low standard. So, we have reports of emergency accommodation that's infested with rats, fleas and scabies. We have instances where the hot water is controlled centrally, so every time someone wants to have a shower, they have to phone and ask for the hot water to be turned on, which really just strips people of their autonomy and humanity, really. So, it's a really unsavoury place to live in these poor accommodation services.

We held a stakeholder event last week, as part of the expert review panel for legislation reform, and the main theme coming out was that people have a lot of support needs going into temporary accommodation, but what's happening at the moment is they're coming out of temporary accommodation with more support needs than they went in with, because of the chaotic nature of the environments in this temporary accommodation. It's quite common for people experiencing homelessness to have had experience of trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and to have mental illnesses, and these are just really unsuitable environments for people who have that background. It can lead to retraumatisation and, as I said, increasing support needs. So, I think there are many different types of temporary accommodation that we need to provide, but they're not being matched to the right people at the moment, and there's perhaps a particular lack of temporary accommodation for people with complex support needs, so the higher levels of support and the more specialist support. Particularly in B&Bs that were never designed to be temporary accommodation for homelessness services, the managers of the B&Bs do not have the experience to support these people, and often, I think, people feel very isolated in these temporary accommodation settings, where they're not really receiving the support they need and they just feel abandoned and hopeless in their bids to end their homelessness, because they just don't see how they're going to get out of the temporary accommodation system. These environments are extremely chaotic and have a really serious impact on people's mental health.

10:35

Gaf i, felly, ddilyn i fyny ar hynny—diolch, Jasmine—os caf i, Gadeirydd? Mae'r tair ohonoch chi wedi sôn fod yna enghreifftiau da ac enghreifftiau gwael. Ydyn ni'n sôn fan yma am rai awdurdodau sy'n dda ac awdurdodau sy'n wael, neu ydyn ni'n gweld y gwahaniaeth yna o fewn awdurdodau?

May I, therefore, follow up on that—thank you, Jasmine—if I may, Chair? The three of you have spoken about the fact that there are good examples and bad examples. Are we talking here about some authorities that are good and some authorities that are bad, or are we seeing that difference within authorities?

Our experience is that there is a difference within authorities. For example, the accommodation that I mentioned, that's known locally as a place of last resort; it's the place where you put people who are coming out of prison, people who have been around the system a lot, and, in itself, it's a kind of gate-keeping mechanism because it's got a certain notoriety—you don't want to go in there. So, I think there's a lot of variation within authorities as well as between.

I would agree with that, I think. Our services that work directly with people experiencing homelessness are in Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot, and we see a variation across. It's really the luck of the draw of where you get placed, and some unsuitable accommodation for one person might be perfectly suitable for someone else, but I think, because of the nature of the pressure that the workforce is under, there's not necessarily time to do a full and thorough assessment of somebody's needs and put them in the most suitable accommodation available. So, yes, we do see a mixture. It's not a case of some local authorities doing it well and others doing it not so well; it is really varied across local authorities and within local authorities. 

I would say, Chair, that, I suppose, on the point that Jennie made previously about the unlawful waiting lists and the specific pressures that apply to some local authorities, for example Newport—so, once the bridge toll was removed, we know that we've seen a huge movement of people across the border and we've seen a greater housing price increase there, and the rental market is pretty much non-existent—we know that the pressures, for example, on some are different to others, but we've also seen a willingness to implement the legislation more proactively and preventatively in some places than we have others, hence the resultant unlawful waiting lists.

Gaf i ddod nôl mewn munud, os gwelwch yn dda, os awn ni ymlaen i'r nesaf? 

May I come back in a minute, if we go on to the next set of questions? 

Okay. Just before we do, I just wanted to ask one further question, which is around the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation—your views, really, on whether that's necessary at the current time, what the issues around it are and is it realistic to expect the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation to cease at the current time.

I think that there's a risk here around demonising B&B at the expense of other forms of temporary accommodation. So, going back a few years now, when the suitability of accommodation order was newer, some Welsh local authorities stepped right away from providing B&B, and were quite proud of that, but what crept in in its place was, I think, an even worse model, which is the floor space model, which a number of Welsh local authorities operate today. That's a really unsafe, frightening environment, where you haven't even got your own space or, if you do, it's like a cubicle, a 'pod' as they call it. So, there's a risk that we end up, unwittingly, contributing to the rise of even worse forms of accommodation.

But there was just one other point that I wanted to make here around alternatives to temporary accommodation, which we think is worthy of further exploration. We've had some positive conversations with the Welsh Government about the idea of being homeless at home. So, some English authorities have done this in the past where they've created a policy where someone can be homeless and be deemed to be homeless by the local authority, but not having to go into to temporary accommodation. So, I think, for myself, if I lost my home tomorrow, I'd much rather stay with my mother-in-law than go into a B&B with my kids. But, if I did that, I'd be risking a 'not homeless' decision. So, how do we create an environment where it's safer for people to choose to stay somewhere that's not going into a horrible B&B? And I think the benefits of that, apart from reducing pressure on B&B and other forms of TA, is that you're not having to pay those high rents. So, it's easier for you to maintain or get a job, and I think, increasingly, as the cost-of-living crisis bites, we're going to see more and more people who are in work experiencing homelessness, and I think it's a real fallacy that we've fallen into this trap of thinking everyone who goes into temporary accommodation is incapable of work. It's not true. We don't actually know, because no-one's really counting, how many people could, potentially, get back on their on their own feet financially. So, I'm quite keen on this idea. We're creating dependency in this system. So, in thinking creatively around alternatives, in a person-centred way because it's completely consent first and foremost, there is potential there.  

10:40

Just on that, very often people are told that, to get on the housing list, they've got to become homeless. So, following on from what you're saying, it's ridiculous. They might be in private rented accommodation and they can't afford the rent or they're being evicted because that's going on the market. But then they're being told they've got to go into a homeless shelter or be made homeless before they can go on the housing list. So, is that the policy you think we should look at?

We definitely do need to look at allocation policies.

Homeless has that higher priority, doesn't it, I guess, on housing lists.

And that is a difficult call. How do you prioritise access to this scarce resource? Is it about how serious people's situation is? Or is it about how long they've been without a stable home? And, in reality, we have to take all of these factors into account, don't we? But there is a sense at the moment that it would be a risk. If you went to stay on your nan's settee instead of going into a B&B, you might lose your priority on the waiting list. There's also a load of other barriers around the waiting list to do with arrears, which I think is something that is underappreciated, and I'm keen that we do some work to get into temporary accommodation and talk to people. We're going to, hopefully, do a bit of a case file review in Shelter Cymru to look at how many people can't get into social housing because they're indebted, either because of old arrears going way back or, sometimes, because of the TA itself. There's a shortfall with the rent sometimes. The service charges can be really high, and that isn't covered by housing benefit, so people get into debt while they're in temporary accommodation and that can bar people from social housing. There are big questions around allocations and none of them are easy to answer because it can't just be about seriousness and it can't just about time served; it has to be a balance in between. So, it's not an easy one to bottom out, that one.

Sorry. So, what other main reasons, do you think, people are seeking homelessness-related advice for? What is the effectiveness of interventions, and may additional interventions be needed this coming winter—I'm really worried about that—such as the suspension of evictions or a mortgage rescue scheme?

The suspension of evictions was something that we were really hoping to see, because it really did help during the pandemic. I know it's a very difficult time to make policy affecting the private rented sector at the moment, because there are so many section 21s happening, so I do recognise that the Government's got difficult decisions to make around whether to suspend evictions. But it's not unprecedented. We've done it before, and it happens in France every winter. So, that was something that we were hoping to see something from the Government on.

Mortgage rescue as well is another area where we know Government is looking at this. We are starting to see mortgage repossessions increase in Wales, so, if we get in at an early stage, we can prevent some of that getting out of hand. I was talking to a woman last week. She's a social tenant and she went through a mortgage rescue back in 2009, and she's still there now as a social tenant. And she was so happy that she kept her home and she sustained it all those years, and we helped her through that at the time. And it just brought it home to me again what a powerful intervention that can be. So, yes, mortgage rescue, and rent rescue as well, where you buy the homes where landlords are selling. There is some good work going on and the potential for that to be scaled up. 

10:45

Jasmine wanted to come in, I think, Carolyn. Jasmine. 

Yes. So, with regard to the reasons that people are presenting as homeless, I think one of the main reasons is relationship breakdown. And we can term that as both violent and non-violent. So, there is a big link at the moment with the rise in domestic violence and the rise in presentations of homelessness. We know that, during the pandemic, domestic abuse and violence was on the rise. I think it continues to rise. And affecting both homelessness and the rates of domestic violence is the cost of living. So, obviously, it has financial pressures, but it also puts pressures on relationships. And I know that the cost of living has a disproportionate effect on women, and particularly because of perpetrators of domestic abuse attributing their abuse to pressures related to the cost of living. So, I think there's an important link there to explore

Also, I think, when it comes to an eviction moratorium, Crisis has been quite vocal on this idea in the past months, and what we're wary about is that there might be some unintended consequences of a ban on evictions. So, it might be more of a delay of someone's homelessness rather than really preventing homelessness altogether. So, if you ban evictions, then there's increased risk of rent arrears, which would then become a barrier for some people accessing their tenancy in the future. So, rather than actually preventing that homelessness, it's really just pushing it further down the line. It's not that we're saying it's completely the wrong idea, but an unintended consequence of that would need to be mitigated.

Just to follow up on that, there's the increase of different demographics of people now experiencing homelessness and, with the cost of living, that's going to continue. As we've just head, the relationship breakdown means that, again, we need to be looking really closely at the suitability of accommodation, as Jenny's highlighted, because if people are experiencing homelessness for the first time and we put them into the wrong accommodation with no support, actually they can start to experience trauma that will mean that they may not get straight back into mainstream housing and a job. So, for example, one gentleman that we support had a relationship breakdown. His wife and children remained in the property. He will say that she is the perpetrator of domestic abuse. So, he fled the property and went into emergency accommodation. We tried to get him into accommodation as soon as possible because it was vital to him to be working and for his kids to be able to visit him. Now, his kids couldn't visit him in a large-scale temporary accommodation place; it just wasn't suitable. So, it meant he suddenly lost all contact and relationship, really, with his children, as well as his job, because he couldn't hold onto it during that move and that transition. So, we got him into accommodation as soon as we could. There were no carpets in the property, and he was afforded one single bed and one single armchair. So, again, his kids still couldn't come and visit him. And, so, thankfully, through donations—which is just not where you'd hope us to be at this point in Wales—we managed to help him to choose a sofa bed so that the children—. He had a sofa, he'd had extra beds, and we carpeted the place. But we're a third sector charity, and it was unfortunate that, while we were really pleased to be able to support and help him, that that was his only option, otherwise his children wouldn't be able to visit, he wouldn't be able to get back into a job, and it would really be a situation that would have impacted on his mental health. He's now working, has set up that tenancy into a home, and has sustained that for over a year and a half, and we see the future to be very strong for him. 

But it really is luck of the draw, I think, as to where you end up and the suitability of that accommodation, and, again, the quality of it. So, in terms of the B&B question, if the quality is there, it's absolutely fine, but we're also, in some areas now, talking about night shelters again, which is a place that we hoped we'd never go back to in Wales. We're also still seeing mixed-sex dormitory accommodation, including for, in some circumstances, Muslim women, who feel they can't remove their hijab at night because it's a mixed-sex dormitory. These are not where we hoped to be at this time, and it's the opposite direction of the policy. So, my real ask today is for us to consider some way of ensuring the quality of what we're providing, because as we move forwards to delivering the policy of affording everybody the opportunity to have a house, we know that we can't be there yet. It is the right policy direction, but for circumstances beyond our control in Wales, we are where we are and we can't get to that yet, so we must ensure that people can at least experience decent accommodation and support in the meantime, and the disparity out there is just too vast.

10:50

Okay. The ability of people living in temporary accommodation to access support and whether some groups are facing specific challenges, for example, young people or people with complex needs—just your advice on that, please. Thank you.

So, from my point of view, there are lots and lots of different support services across Wales, but what we're not clear on is whether there is any assessment made of which service would support which person best, what the differences are between the services, what the most effective models are, and what people really need. So, do we have those specialist services? We know, in some of the work that's been done around rehousing people from temporary accommodation, which is vital for us to concentrate on in Wales given the bottleneck situation that we've got, that 36 per cent of people can't engage with generic services. And we know, from the Shelter report, 'Trapped on the Streets' that people, particularly when they're suffering trauma, which any of us would be if we were experiencing homelessness, really, can't navigate the different systems: 'Go to this appointment on a Tuesday over here', or 'Go to this appointment over here.' It's really, really challenging. So, making sure that people have got the right support, as you say—specialist services to meet specialist needs—and that it is available as and when they need, but again, like the B&Bs and the accommodation, that it is of a good quality. And what we cannot get our hands on at the moment is the different between one service and another, and why some local authorities have been recommissioning the same service, year on year for the last eight years, without potentially looking at benchmarking or evidence basing what is working.

Okay, thank you. And I think, Jasmine, did you want to come in?

Yes, I would just say about the support that people are receiving, some people are receiving good support, and Bonnie mentioned that there are a lot of different support services available, but others aren't aware of the support that's available and aren't receiving that support, so it's leading to something I think Jennie mentioned earlier, which is being put in temporary accommodation and falling into arrears, and then it's more difficult for them to find move-on accommodation. And more generally, just having that support to find settled accommodation—that's not necessarily there at the moment, so that's another contributor to the bottleneck.

And, as so many of these people are in unsuitable accommodation, I think it would be wise to look at the providers of this accommodation. If we are to continue with B&B accommodation, what training could be delivered to these providers to better equip them to deliver that support as well? That's not to say that we want B&B accommodation to be something that we use as a long-term solution; it's very clear that B&Bs aren't a home and aren't an end to anyone's homelessness. But, if we are to continue, then it's even more important that we look at the support that's provided to people. Young people, particularly, were mentioned, and it's just well known that young people struggle more in these situations, because it's just a case of being that bit younger and it being that bit more difficult to come to terms with the conditions in these environments.

Thanks, Carolyn. I'm just going to ask a quick question before we move on to Jayne Bryant, and that's about the private rented sector and the specific challenges of maintaining tenancies there, perhaps considering the rates of local housing allowance as part of that picture.

Yes, I'm happy to take that. Section 21s are a quarter of our entire casework at the moment. They've exploded, and there are various reasons behind that, aren't there? It's a bit of Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 avoidance, a bit of interest rate rises, and, I think, now being a good time to cash in on your investment, in looking at what's going to happen with the housing market.

I think there is more potential to work with private landlords in Wales, and there is willingness for landlords to do more. We did a survey of private landlords, which we published earlier this year, and about half of that sample said that they didn't want to let to people who had come through homelessness, and there were concerns about support needs not being met. That was the big one. And some bad experiences, some good experiences came through. But, when we were asking landlords what would make it more likely for them to let to people who are in receipt of benefits particularly, direct costs—so, the housing cost being paid direct to the landlord—that was a big one; benefits being paid in advance; and, of course, the point about local housing allowance being closer to market rents.

We've just run a 'write to your MP' campaign to try to influence the budget around unfreezing local housing allowance. And we had—I don't think there was a very strong reaction from MPs across any of the parties, to be honest. Some of them were supportive, some of them were not supportive, but even the ones who supported it, it felt as if they were saying that this is a losing battle and there's no point championing this. That's the impression; that was the sub-text that came across to us in the replies that we had. 

10:55

Okay, Jennie. Thanks very much. Very interesting. Jasmine. 

I think Crisis is very clear that investment in local housing allowance is vital at the moment, particularly because, in Wales, I think recent research shows that less than 4 per cent of private rental properties are accessible to people who are on LHA. And investment in LHA will solve the problem in two ways, in that it makes current tenancies more sustainable, but it also gives people in temporary accommodation more options for settled accommodation that they can access with local housing allowance. But, we would also ask that any investment into local housing allowance is coupled with rent stabilisation, because it will only be useful to people to have that extra money if rents stay at that affordable rate. So, we've assessed how affordable the rents are and, as I said, under 4 per cent are affordable to people on local housing allowance. But, that's only if those rents stay at that affordable level. That's not a call for hard rent controls or a complete rent freeze, but potentially tying rents to an inflationary measure, and we would be open to discussing what that could possibly look like. There's potentially scope, we think, at Crisis, to look at whether it could be tied to wage growth, and it's definitely something that we feel needs to be explored in Wales to address these issues around the genuine affordability of the private rented sector. Because there's no doubt that the private rented sector needs to play a big role in ending homelessness and in this housing emergency, but at the moment, it's not really able to do that because of the LHA rates.

And as much as we need to work with tenants, we also need to work together with landlords so that landlords feel that they are in a place where they can provide sustainable tenancies, and one of those beyond-rent-level questions is around other restrictions that are placed on tenancies, such as requests for excessive deposits or a guarantor. One of our Crisis members I was speaking to last week was telling me that, to access one private rented property, they were asked for a month's rent upfront and two months' worth of rent as a deposit, which is just completely excessive and not a doable thing for a lot of people, but particularly for people who are experiencing homelessness. So, I think, beyond rent levels and beyond LHA, we need to look at those factors and work with landlords to understand why they're asking for those really tall orders of requirements in order for people to access these tenancies. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'll just take you back a bit, following on from Carolyn's question, really, and the example you gave, Jennie, about that accommodation that was so horrendous, and just the voice of people who are in this accommodation feels so weak and unheard, in some ways, doesn't it? I think, because somebody would be going back into that accommodation, wouldn't they, if they moved them out, somebody else is going back into that. And the people whose voices aren't strong are living in these conditions. So, I'm just wondering how you feel the voices of those people who are in that accommodation can be strengthened.

11:00

It's so important, isn't it, because we're talking about a cohort of people who aren't able to represent themselves, aren't we? There are some great projects out there. So, Cymorth has got an Experts by Experience project and I was reading a report from them last week, which was people talking about what it was like in temporary accommodation and this theme came through so strongly—that it's like being in prison, but you don't know how long you're going to be there. And lots of people said that and one young person said that the thought occurred to them, 'Well, if I can hack this, I can hack prison. So, I may as well commit a crime.' That was another theme that came through as well.

For me, what the problem here is is that we need to get ahead of it. So, as Bonnie's been talking about, a role for an independent regulator, someone who could engage directly with people with lived experienced or people who are there now. But we shouldn't be having to wait for individuals to assert their rights in order for this stuff to get dealt with; it should be happening as part of the regulatory regime so that people don't have to—. Because it is so difficult to assert your rights. As an individual who's stuck in temporary accommodation, you don't want to rock the boat; you've got a lot of stuff going on in your life as well. And we encourage people to undertake reviews and things like that, but you can't—. Sometimes, it's just too much for people to do. So, yes, there's a call there for a homelessness regulator, isn't there, which we have talked about before.

Brilliant. Thank you. I think Jasmine wants to come in.

Yes, I was just going to acknowledge that the voices of people with these lived experiences are really crucial to getting things right. And I think, as part of the ending homelessness national advisory board and the expert review panel for reviewing the homelessness legislation, it's going to be a key part of that work—to have people's voices with this lived experience involved.

And what is also important, as part of that work, is to make sure that people are remunerated for their time because they are, as Jennie mentioned, the Experts by Experience panel that Cymorth run—they are experts, so, they should be afforded the appreciation for their input and it can be quite traumatising to speak about issues that are really difficult times for people. And it's really valuable to our work, so, we need to recognise that and pay them back for giving us their time and their expertise.

You mentioned that people come out with more support needs than when they went into temporary accommodation, which is really worrying and sad to hear, but can you perhaps all tell us a little bit about some case studies of some of the individuals that you've heard about on that, who have been touched by these issues from being in temporary accommodation?

I think worse than that, we support people to find and sustain housing; we also support asylum seekers and refugees across Wales, and, as you know, refugees are entitled to benefits and housing. And in some local authority areas, they are being told that they need to sleep in a tent on the streets for a number of nights in order to be classified as homeless—bringing us back to that point before—otherwise they won't have the right to have housing. So, it's even more basic than understanding how we can help people prosper and move one.

At the moment, there's just this real concern of the implementation gap and the lack of, again, as Jennie said, regulation of how we implement legislation. So, for me, there is just a really wide gap between the aspirations of the legislation and where we hope to be and how we're operating on the ground, and no mechanism in between to provide us with any assurance that people are receiving what they're entitled to, supported appropriately and in a fair system really, where what you can receive in one local authority area is the same as another. Because that is not where we thought we'd be in 2022, with tents being offered on the streets.

11:05

Absolutely not. Does anybody else have anything to add? Jasmine. 

I think one really difficult situation is people who have experience of substance misuse. They're often placed in temporary accommodation where they're surrounded by the drugs that they are trying to escape from. It's really difficult to rehabilitate in that setting. I spoke with one of our Crisis members last week who was visiting a friend and they said they just throw all substance misusers or ex-substance misusers into the same house. She said she was visiting her friend and there was a knock at the door, and it was someone who just asked, 'Does anyone want any coke?' In that situation where her friend is trying to make a positive change in their life, we're kind of just setting them up to fail by placing them in these settings, where there are other people there that aren't on that stage in their recovery and their substance misuse journey. It's just a really difficult place to be, and for someone who hoped to end their journey with substance misuse and fully recover and rehabilitate, that's just not possible.

We have another member who has ADHD and lives in temporary accommodation, and the overstimulation of the chaotic environment is just so difficult to deal with, and it is leading to a deterioration in their general mental health. Those specific issues come from—[Inaudible.]—but in the right accommodation, they wouldn't need to become such big issues. It's perfectly normal, and it should be perfectly normal, to be able to live with ADHD in an environment that supports people to live a normal and good quality life, but in such settings that the temporary accommodation is offering it's particularly difficult for people with neurodivergence and with mental health issues.

Thanks, Chair. Good morning, all. I appreciate your time again this morning. I just wanted to move on to talk about some of the supply issues or challenges, whatever sort of word you'd like to use. I appreciate that your three organisations are generally looking at the sort of crisis end of things, but I wonder if you'd be able to briefly outline how the supply of housing more broadly is having that knock-on effect towards the crisis end that, often, you're having to support with.

I think it brings us back to that trauma issue and making things worse for people unnecessarily. A refugee that works, that has to sleep in a tent because there is no accommodation, he doesn't drink, he doesn't do any drugs; to sleep in a tent in the night-time economy—he was sleeping in the city centre—is really worrying for the potential deterioration of his mental health and physical health. As Jasmine's described, and Jennie, what we're seeing is people being forced into situations that are taking them backwards rather than forwards because of the supply issue. And it is unfortunate, because of the renting homes Act situation, the private rented sector, the affordability issues, benefits—there are so many issues that are coming together at the moment, but the quality and availability of housing is having a massive impact on the number of people that are having to experience homelessness for far longer than they should in poorer conditions than they should. And the worry for us as organisations is the trauma that that puts on people and then the ability that they will then have to sustain tenancies and thrive.

I'd agree with that, but also, I think, it's one thing talking about the supply, but supply in general won't solve the problem. It needs to be affordable supply. I think building more social homes is definitely one solution to that, but I also appreciate there are many barriers to building social homes, including the planning system, which is a whole other kettle of fish. But one thing that might be good to look at, and I know the committee have looked at this before, is empty homes and the amount of empty homes we have in Wales that we could bring back into the supply. They're already there; there are, I think, over 25,000 empty homes in Wales at the moment, and it just seems like a no-brainer to convert existing supply as well as look at bringing new supply in, looking at whether there can be greater incentives for landlords to bring those empty homes back into use, whether or not that can be linked to the Welsh Government leasing scheme. It's just definitely something to explore, and thinking about whether people are aware of the incentives to bring empty homes back into use, particularly whether people are aware that these empty homes are contributing to the housing crisis and to homelessness. I'm not sure it's quite clear to people the effect that keeping these homes empty for a prolonged period of time has on the wider community. So, I think it's really important that the committee considers looking into how that could boost supply, the conversion of existing supply, rather than creating new supply.

11:10

That point about empty homes is a really important one, isn't it, because the lack of affordable supply is at the fundament of all of this. But with the challenges that we're facing in building, we need to be looking at acquiring and bringing houses back into use. The mortgage rescue and the rent rescue models are definitely worth further exploration. But it does come back to this point about what's being built meeting what we need in Wales, and we've still got a lot to do in that space. One in three Welsh households are single-person households now, but we're not really building at scale homes to meet that need. We're still building mostly large family homes. On the one level, we've got families, particularly black and minority ethnic families with large families, that are struggling to get their housing needs met, and then, at the other end of the scale, we've got all these single people, and a large majority of people in TA are single people. So, it's about building the right types of homes, as well, that actually meet need. That's not easy to do, certainly in a market context, because they're not the ones that generate the most revenue.

And particularly, then, it's where we build those homes. We know from the future generations legislation, from 'Planning Policy Wales', from our building standards, our aspirations for active communities, active travel, 15-minute towns, that where we want to be building, particularly affordable housing, is where people are close to transport links and amenities. When you overlay all of that data, it shows quite clearly where we should be building—in close groups close to amenities. There's data called BIMBY—build in my back yard—that outlines where these zones would be. Actually, when you overlay that on where we are building, we're building all along the M4 corridor or out in greenfield sites without putting in the transport links first. In European countries, when they build new housing estates—because we do have to have some of the larger ones to make the numbers that we need—they put in the public transport links first, so people aren't dependent on cars. They put in the schools first, so people don't have to commute and get used to that way of living. We're not doing any of that. We know that evidence base is out there. We know it's in the future generations report that was laid before the Senedd, and we're still not doing that.

In town and city centres, there are massive opportunities for regeneration, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis. We know that we've got churches, church halls, working men's clubs, Salvation Army properties, local authority properties all situated in town and village centres, close to all the things where people need to be, particularly if you're in poverty, and that's where we really need to focus. We also know that the most carbon-efficient building is the one that's already been built, so repurposing, regenerating our towns and allowing people who can pay affordable rents to live in those places is a vital part of the picture. I don't feel that there's enough focus on that at the moment. We are acquiring land in the easiest places to build the largest number of homes that aren't the right type of homes. I think land acquisition needs to be far more thought through to meet our policy aspirations in Wales, which are tenfold, to build in and around village and town centres.

Thanks for that. There were some really helpful ideas there for us as a committee, certainly, to keep in mind. Perhaps just a last question from my side is in relation to the existing social housing stock. I'm just wondering what opportunities you think there might be to ensure that, within the existing social housing stock, those people in temporary accommodation have access to that housing stock. What opportunities are there to change, whether it be policy or the make-up of those buildings themselves?

11:15

I'm happy to take that. We've touched on allocations already and some of the potential for change there. I'm so conscious that a lot of local authorities, when they're moving people on from temporary accommodation, quite often go around the allocations policy, or else they're having to build additional flexibility in there because the allocations policy hasn't been written with the needs of the people who are most vulnerable in mind. So, there's lots that can be done in that space.

The other point to raise here is about the potential for shared accommodation. I know there are very good examples and there are very bad examples, and it's not for everybody, but we had a workshop at our conference last year and there was a project by a social housing provider where young people were matched, two people to a two-bed accommodation. They were able to work because the rent was social work, the support was floating, with really good tenancy sustainment rates. We had Douglas Haig from the NRLA sharing his insights on how to make shared accommodation work for the PRS. There's loads of learning there, but there's a reluctance to enter into shared because it's seen as high management. Yes, there is a lot of management involved, but it can be very successful, as Douglas and PRS have shown us for years. So, strictly on a consent, fully informed basis, is there more we can do there? Particularly where you've got two-bed flats, for example, that are low demand, not really suitable for families, should we be putting more high quality well-supported shared arrangements in place?

Can I answer by asking Jennie to expand on the work that they've done around increasing housing allowance with the discretionary housing payments to allow people to afford more than—

Thank you, yes. So, as part of our solutions brainstorming around rapid rehousing, one of the points that we've been exploring is whether we should be using discretionary housing payments to top up people's benefits to cancel out the bedroom tax for specific cases. So, in that scenario where you've got lower-demand two-bed flats, could you have a single person under-occupying if it meant that they were coming out of temporary accommodation? The top up isn't actually that huge when you look at the average social rent. What that would mean—. Certainly, it's hugely cheaper than putting someone into temporary accommodation. I think the type of person that would really benefit from that would be separated fathers, for example. As Bonnie outlined, there's no consideration in terms of children's access, and I think that's so damaging for the well-being of children, isn't it, as well as for the father. So, specific cases of topping up discretionary housing payment. I know DHP is often seen as a sticking plaster, and it is a stickling plaster, but you can make long-term awards. There is provision in the regulations. You can make awards in perpetuity if you choose to as a local authority. Whether you do is another question.

Because it builds on the fact that the 8,500 people that we've got within the 14,000 wider cohort are predominantly single people, and we don't have single-bed accommodation. So, from my point of view and ours organisationally, that would be a massive help in hand-holding people into properties that are available.

Okay, thank you for that. Thank you, Sam. Joel James.

Thank you, Chair, and thanks ever so much for coming today. I've got to apologise I've got a bit of a cold, and it's all in my nose so I sound quite nasal. You touched upon there about the rapid rehousing transition plans. I just wanted to pick your brains a bit more about that in the sense of how smooth a process do you think it's been to move to them and do you think it's been inclusive in the sense of, when you've been asked to design these plans, local authorities as well when they've been asked to design these plans, everyone's been involved and everyone's had an equal say as stakeholders. Also, do you think there's a lack of flexibility there? In one of the evidence sessions we heard earlier there was concern that, by moving to these rapid rehousing plans, there might be better support that would lose out because everyone's moved to these plans instead of what might already be available. And I know—a final question, sorry Chair—that the Welsh Government has set a timeline of between three and five years for these to be fully operational, and I was just wondering if you thought that was a realistic target, because we've heard from previous evidence sessions that they don't think that is anywhere near a realistic target.

So, from our perspective, I think three to five years is going to be a challenge. I think it might have been achievable without all of the other issues that have come our way affecting housing in Wales, which have stretched our resources incredibly thin across the sector and within Welsh Government itself. I think that the process hasn't been as inclusive as I'd hoped, but, again, we do know that the challenges on local authorities, stakeholders and Welsh Government are extremely high pressured at the moment, and we do recognise that. However, we are also aware that there was an ask of local authorities to consider third sector and volunteers, and we don't feel that that has been really taken into account particularly, but partly maybe because, again, we're missing an evidence base of what works. So, again, people are scrabbling around within their local authority to see what they can do in their own rapid rehousing, without actually an evidence base of what services across Wales are actually succeeding. Because supply is such a challenge for us at the moment, we must make sure people don't re-enter homelessness, and we must make sure that, when they finally get through that bottleneck into accommodation, they can sustain it. So, again, the evidence base on the quality of provision out there is absolutely vital, and I'm nervous that the rapid rehousing transition plans we've seen haven't looked more broadly around what there is available in Wales, and taken really into consideration some of the asks around volunteering and the benefits of using your community. 

11:20

I think I would say that this journey that we're on is absolutely the right journey and, as an organisation that's been involved in campaigning to end homelessness, it's so refreshing to have a Government that has that goal in their sights and is making it a priority. And we have surfaced a lot of problems in the system. These problems were already there; it's just now we're looking at them, because we want to solve these issues, in a more fundamental way than we ever have before. So, I think that's really important to say.

We are very much at the beginning of this process. There was a certain amount of the transition plans being done at pace, which local authorities, I know, really struggled with. And I haven't done that look—. We haven't done look yet across the plans to see how they are in terms of consistency and that kind of quality control and adherence to the model—all of that stuff remains to be seen. I know that local authorities aren't feeling that it's something that they can, by and large, make huge progress on at the moment. I mean, different ones are in different places. But it is absolutely the right thing to do. Five years was set in a different context, and, in a different context now, perhaps we do need to look at that, because it is going to take longer to fix some of these issues that we've surfaced than perhaps we thought at the time. So, whether the Government looks again at that, I don't know.

I think this point about whether some people would be worse off under a rapid rehousing system is a really interesting one. I would say, 'Not if it's done properly', because people thrive in stability. This is all about getting people into stable homes and spending a minimum amount of time in those insecure situations, because so much can go wrong in those insecure situations, and the longer people are kept in that situation, the more damaging it is for them overall. So, the principle should be better for everybody, but there is still going to be a role for supported accommodation. What that looks like I think we're still working through—not as much as it is now, but, for some people, that kind of environment, if they choose it, could be better for them.

I think the first part of that question to address would be the final part, which was, 'Is it realistic to deliver these rapid rehousing transition plans?' Again, I'd refer back towards the beginning of this session, when I talked about potentially not using our time to assess how realistic things are, and turning to thinking about how we can make them realistic. And we've discussed a number of solutions to homelessness today that will contribute to making the transition to rapid rehousing more realistic. We know that rapid rehousing is a proven solution to homelessness, so there's really not that much point and merit in arguing that point at this moment. Many local authorities have completed their rapid rehousing transition plans. They're not yet all publicly available, so it's difficult to comment more broadly on them, but I think it's fair to say that it's the right direction and that there's definitely some sense of flexibility. Because, from the rapid rehousing transition plans that I have seen, what I would say is that quite a lot of them are quite high level with not loads of detail in them. So, there's certainly room for flexibility within that detail that we would potentially like to see. We do think that there should be a review of the rapid rehousing plans, in general, across Wales, and that will, then, enable different authorities to learn from each other, to see other plans, to see where best practice is, and then to move everyone forward in that manner. At the moment, obviously, as I said, we haven't seen all of the rapid rehousing transition plans, so it's difficult to give a broad all-Wales conclusion on it. But it's definitely the right direction to be moving in, and we need to think about how we can best support local authorities to make them a reality. 

Okay, Jasmine. Thank you very much. Carolyn, I'm afraid we're extremely pressed for time.  

11:25