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Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

08/02/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Bethan Jenkins AM
Gareth Bennett AM
Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Jenny Rathbone AM
John Griffiths AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mick Antoniw AM
Rhianon Passmore AM
Sian Gwenllian AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Antony Kendall Cyfarwyddwr Gweithrediadau, The Wallich
Director of Operations, The Wallich
Beth Thomas Rheolwr Gwerthiannau Rhanbarthol, Cymru a De-orllewin Lloegr, y Big Issue
Regional Sales Manager, Wales and South West, The Big Issue
Diana Binding Uwch-reolwr Arweiniol ar Lety, Cwmni Adsefydlu Cymunedol Cymru
Lead Senior Manager on Accommodation, Wales Community Rehabilitation Company
Dr Peter Mackie Uwch-ddarlithydd, Ysgol Daearyddiaeth a Chynllunio, Prifysgol Caerdydd
Senior Lecturer, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University
Dusty Kennedy Cyfarwyddwr, Bwrdd Cyfiawnder Ieuenctid Cymru
Director, Youth Justice Board Cymru
Frances Beecher Prif Weithredwr, Llamau
Chief Executive, Llamau
Ian Barrow Cyfarwyddwr y Gwasanaeth Prawf Cenedlaethol yng Nghymru, Gwasanaeth Carchardai a Phrawf Ei Mawrhydi yng Nghymru
Director for the National Probation Service in Wales, Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service in Wales
Jane Thomas Cyfarwyddwr Cynorthwyol, Tai a Chymunedau, Cyngor Caerdydd
Assistant Director, Housing and Communities, Cardiff Council
Jennie Bibbings Rheolwr Ymgyrchoedd, Shelter Cymru
Campaigns Manager, Shelter Cymru
Jeremy Vaughan Y Prif Gwnstabl Cynorthwyol, Heddlu De Cymru
Assistant Chief Constable, South Wales Police
Jon Sparkes Prif Weithredwr, Crisis
Chief Executive, Crisis
Julie Francis Rheolwr y Gwasanaeth—Tai, Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Wrecsam
Service Manager—Housing, Wrexham County Borough Council
Katie Dalton Cyfarwyddwr, Cymorth Cymru
Director, Cymorth Cymru
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick Cyfarwyddwr, Y Sefydliad Ymchwil Polisi Cymdeithasol, Tai a Chydraddoldeb, Prifysgol Heriot-Watt
Director, Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research, Heriot-Watt University
Rebecca Jackson Swyddog Polisi ac Ymchwil, Shelter Cymru
Policy and Research Officer, Shelter Cymru
Richard Edwards Prif Weithredwr, Canolfan Huggard
Chief Executive, The Huggard Centre
Simon Inkson Pennaeth Tai, Cyngor Sir Powys
Head of Housing, Powys County Council
Stephen Jones Prif Uwcharolygydd, Heddlu De Cymru
Chief Superintendent, South Wales Police
Tracy Hague Arweinydd Opsiynau Tai Cyfamser, Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Wrecsam
Temporary Housing Options Lead, Wrexham County Borough Council
Yvonne Connolly Rheolwr Rhanbarthol Cymru a'r De-orllewin, Byddin yr Iachawdwriaeth
Regional Manager for Wales and the South West, The Salvation Army

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Megan Jones Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

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.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:16.

The meeting began at 09:16.

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Welcome to today's meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. We will begin our evidence taking on our inquiry into rough-sleeping in Wales, but the first item on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We haven't received any apologies. Are there any declarations of interest? No. 

2. Ymchwiliad i Gysgu ar y Stryd yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 1
2. Inquiry into Rough-sleeping in Wales: Evidence Session 1

We will move on to item 2, which is our first evidence session on our inquiry into rough-sleeping in Wales. I'm very pleased to welcome Dr Peter Mackie, senior lecturer, school of geography and planning at Cardiff University, and Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, director of the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research at Heriot-Watt University. Thank you both very much for coming in to give evidence today. Perhaps I might begin with some questions on the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and, firstly, what impact that legislation has had in your opinion on preventing and alleviating rough-sleeping in Wales.

Good morning. Shall I kick us off? I think the important context is that it's had a very positive impact on prevention and alleviation with the broader homeless population. That's leading to quite a lot of international interest in the legislation; that's what led to England essentially copying the legislation. The Canadians are looking at it. It's been positive in that regard. But, actually, with rough-sleepers, arguably the most vulnerable group of homeless people, it's not been overly effective, in my view. The change in legislation required local authorities to take reasonable steps to basically try and resolve homelessness for everyone, whereas in the past you just worked with folk who were in priority need—a particular group of people that generally excluded single people. So, it was seen as a positive step but, actually, with rough-sleepers they're unlikely to come and approach the local authority for help, and what the legislation requires is that you help people who come and seek assistance. Rough-sleepers aren't coming and necessarily seeking assistance, so there's a problem there in terms of getting people into the system.

There have been some developments of some authorities doing more outreach work to try and get people into the system, but then there's a second problem, which is that when people do then access help, the reasonable steps that local authorities ought to have in place that they ought to take aren't particularly well suited to this group of people who are very vulnerable and in need of a very particular type of assistance. When we were developing the legislation, or informing the development of the legislation, we made quite a strong case to have, for instance, housing first as an intervention, which basically says, 'I'm going to work with an individual. I'm going to get them almost immediate access to settled accommodation and have wraparound support.' We made quite a strong case to have that as a required intervention, a required step, and that didn't take place. That wasn't set out in the legislation on the face of the legislation—it wasn't even in the statutory guidance as an intervention that we ought to have. 

So, the legislation has been positive for the broader population, but for rough-sleepers it's not assertive enough to go and find people, and the sorts of interventions, the sorts of things that local authorities are required to do aren't good enough to meet the needs of this particular group. So, that's my overarching reflection on the legislation.

09:20

Thanks for that, Peter. That's quite clear and useful. Suzanne, would you agree with that, or would you want to add anything?

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:20:15

I'd very much agree with what Pete said. I think the legislation as a whole is a really remarkable success in Wales in terms of offering much more effective, earlier intervention and much more effective support to the homeless population or people at risk of homelessness as a whole. I and colleagues in I-SPHERE write 'The Homelessness Monitor' series for Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. I think we've done 11 homelessness monitors now for the different parts of the UK, and the one that we completed on Wales towards the end of last year was by far the most positive one we've been able to write so far, and that was largely because of the great success of the 2014 Act.

So, I'm very much in favour of the model as a whole. But, as Pete says, of all of the homeless groups, the one it's done least for—. Certainly, what our key informants—who we interviewed during the process of putting the monitor together—told us is the group it's done least for is rough-sleepers, for the reasons Pete says. But also, what I would add is that the priority need criterion is of course still part of the legislation, and it is the case that certainly at least some, if not most, rough-sleepers are not necessarily found to be in priority need, which means that, even if they do apply as homeless, if efforts to relieve their homelessness aren't successful, they may still find themselves at the end of the process without a solution.

So, what our key informants told us and certainly what we picked up from our analysis is that the legislation as a whole has been very successful but rough-sleepers are probably the one group that have benefited less from that new legislative framework.

Okay, thanks for that, Suzanne. Again, that's quite clear. Jenny, did you want to come in?

I just wanted to pick up on what Dr Mackie said, because local authorities can't do everything—they have to work in partnership with other organisations. Certainly in Cardiff and Newport, and I'm sure other cities, we have several voluntary organisations doing what's called the breakfast run, and that is pretty effective outreach and is a way of signposting people to services on offer, if people don't know about it. So, I wondered if you could just convince me that we aren't doing the outreach—

That's a really good question. So, there are two main types of outreach. One is the sort of outreach you're describing there that serves the population where they are—it serves people in situ. So, you're meeting their needs on the street, and that's what breakfast runs tend to do. But assertive outreach is something quite different. Assertive outreach—the bit that defines assertive outreach is your sole goal is to get somebody off the street, not to serve them on the street. It's a real fundamental difference. We don't have many services that are going out there saying, 'Tonight, my job is to try and get you off the street. I'm going to get you into permanent, settled accommodation. It'll be tonight or tomorrow. It's going to be quick. It's going to be swift.' We have very, very few services that do that.

Okay. Well, obviously there are huge resource implications to that.

I guess the other point to make is there are some wonderful examples in Cardiff and Newport—particularly in Cardiff there are some really good examples of things that are working—but they're not a requirement. Until we require these things, until we require those types of intervention, then they won't be across the board and there won't be equal access to this sort of assistance that's required, I think.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:24:01

I'd like to respond to that as well, if I may. I don't actually think the resource implications of assertive outreach are very great at all, in fact—certainly not in the context of somewhere like Wales where you don't have huge numbers of rough-sleepers. It's more a question of culture and orientation of the outreach services, rather than a lot of additional resources. This is a conversation we're having in Scotland at the moment as well, in the context of a homelessness and rough-sleeping action group that the First Minister has set up, and trying to move from, if you like, more passive kind of outreach services towards a more assertive approach. That is about, as Pete says, trying to make sure that the orientation of those outreach services is to bring people indoors, to give them the appropriate accommodation and support options, and to be persistent and directive about that, rather than simply try to sustain them on the streets. I think there's some work to do on that in Scotland, and it sounds like there's some work to do on that in Wales. It's not really so much a resources issue, it's more a service culture issue.

09:25

Okay. Peter, when you mention good practice that is effective, if you haven't already done so, perhaps you could provide the committee with a note of those examples, following today. I mean, we will be hearing from local authorities, including Cardiff, later, but nonetheless it would be good to get a view from you.

Of course I can.

Actually, on the same thread, in terms of international research of more assertive intervention from public agencies, that would be a very great note to us. And it is understood that rough-sleepers are that very hard-to-reach group. They have, in a sense, been left out of that circle because of the very nature of how difficult it is to sustain tenancies around alcohol and drug abuse issues as well. So, because of the fact that we know from research that even when we've got tenancies for some of those that are hard to reach, they haven't managed to be maintained. What is the optimum model out there in terms of support for that? I think the committee would be very interested in understanding that.

We'll probably both agree on this. Housing first, which there is an awful lot of discussion around at the moment, and in my written evidence I talk about—. It's not the sole solution, please don't get me wrong, but the evidence tells us housing first works very well with this particular population group, this sub-population of the homeless population, with substance misuse issues, mental health—

The key thing with housing first that I don't think necessarily gets through to Government officials is that when a tenancy fails, and they do fail, that's not the end of housing first—you're into another tenancy. That's the key thing: that we don't give up. You're not intentionally homeless because you haven't paid your bills, or you've behaved in a particular way that led you to lose the tenancy. It's almost accepted that that will happen, or expected that that could happen, and then there's another tenancy set up, and we get very good retention rates, averaging at around 80 per cent, which is very good.

Okay. We will be developing these matters later on in this session. Suzanne.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:27:11

If I can just add to that, I think that there's a continuity between the questions on assertive outreach and housing first here. I think what the evidence that Pete's recently reviewed in a big study for Crisis, and certainly the international evidence as a whole, tell you is that it's those persistent, sticky kinds of services that work. So, it's not giving up on people, and that's an important part of the culture of housing first as well. As Pete says, sometimes these tenancies will break down, and one of the things that housing providers sometimes get anxious about with housing first is the notion you can't evict people. Yes, you can evict people on the same grounds you would evict anyone else, but if you have got a housing first programme set up, you stay with that person and you find them other accommodation, and you stay with them in and out of prison as well, if that's necessary.

So, I think, again, it's about that culture shift in services—that people don't fail and then you give up on them. It's about staying with them, and I think just yesterday we were sent some materials from the Welsh Government, which talked about moving to—. I think there are some guidance notes on housing first and on the rough-sleeper strategy. I haven't had a chance to examine them in detail because I only received them yesterday, but I did notice—. I was very pleased to see a heavy emphasis on both housing first and on more assertive outreach models. So, I think, to some extent at least, that message seems to have gotten through.

Can I just say on that that, obviously, yes, this week, we had that guidance on housing first and also the action plan from Welsh Government? We will be writing to witnesses giving evidence today after their evidence giving, inviting them to submit further views on those two particular pieces of Welsh Government policy. So, we'd be very grateful if, when you've had an opportunity to perhaps consider them at greater length, you would respond in that way.

Okay, thanks for that. The Welsh Local Government Association have said that many rough-sleepers will be classed as priority need and offered interim accommodation. From what you've both already said, I take it that you wouldn't be in agreement with that view.

There will be people who are offered interim accommodation and may be considered priority need—there will. Some single people, some rough-sleepers, will absolutely be offered that assistance, but there are also lots and lots of people who are not accessing that assistance. And I think we've also got to recognise—and I think the WLGA and Cardiff's submission certainly does recognise this—that if you are in priority need, it entitles you to interim accommodation, and too often the accommodation that rough-sleepers will enter initially is pretty poor-standard temporary accommodation or temporary accommodation that those individuals will time and time again tell you isn't fit for purpose. They don't want to stay there. In fact, they will choose to sleep on the streets as opposed to going into that accommodation. You can stop anyone on the streets in Cardiff and they'll tell you that. I have that conversation many, many a night. And there's evidence; we've done the research with this group of people, and they'll tell you. So, having a duty that puts people in pretty substandard temporary accommodation, and then you wait for far too long a time to find settled accommodation, isn't good enough.

Actually, the international evidence review that Suzanne talked about that I've just done tells us, 'Actually that system is the one that's failing so many rough-sleepers.' If we put people in temporary accommodation, wait for an overly long period of time in a search for more settled, permanent accommodation, just too many people fall out of that system. Cardiff's data that they submitted for the group that end up sleeping on the floor, on floor space, in Cardiff, I think the fall-out rate was about 38 per cent who then don't go on through the system. We need to get access to permanent accommodation much quicker, and this is a comment I'll probably make later on about what priority need actually entitles you to, and that's if you can get into priority need.

09:30
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:31:25

For me, in a way, the most pertinent question is: should they be given priority need? I think that, certainly for the longer term more entrenched rough-sleepers—and I should think that a high proportion of the people sleeping rough in Wales will be of that kind—they almost certainly should be getting priority need because they've got complex support needs. But I think it's quite clear that although, as Pete says, some people will be awarded priority need, clearly there is a significant number of single homeless people who are not awarded priority need, and some of those will either be rough-sleepers or will go on to sleep rough. So, clearly it's not the case that all will, but I don't think either of us would want to argue that no rough-sleepers should get priority need. I'm sure that's not the case.

Maybe this is something that will come up later, but I did read the Welsh Local Government Association's submission to the committee, and I was slightly concerned by some of the, if you like, tone of that submission in terms of it being almost the rough-sleeper's own fault if they chose not to avail themselves of the opportunity to stay in the temporary accommodation. I can understand why, coming from local government's perspective, that it can be frustrating, but I think you have to take account of the points that Pete's just made about the conditions. And this isn't just about Wales. You would have the same conversation in Scotland and in England. It's about the nature of that kind of provision. I would suggest that many of us would choose to sleep rough rather than stay in it. As I say, that's not a specific comment about Wales; that's a general comment about that kind of emergency accommodation for rough-sleepers.

Is there anything you'd like to add in terms of priority need and why ending priority need would be beneficial?

Yes, I'll add something on that one. Under the old system, we had a system that meant that, if you made it into priority need, you got settled accommodation, essentially for life, or you got nothing. That was the old system, and we did fix that system in that, now, everybody should have some reasonable steps. That's why England have copied it and others are looking. But also what it means in the current system is that, if I come into it and I get help, I've got a trained professional, a full-time paid professional, whose sole job it is to try and help me find solutions in our Welsh housing market. And at the end of that process of either trying to prevent and then trying to relieve or just trying to relieve homelessness, they've failed to help me access the market, and they've got at their disposal rent in advance, a bond, or whatever is needed to grease the wheels of the landlords that we're trying to access accommodation from, and we've failed. And then, at the end of that system, we say, 'Cheerio.' Under the old system, we could say, 'Don't worry. I can go back to my bed and I can sleep at night because you're non-priority need, but we haven't really tried to help so you'll be all right, you'll find somewhere in the market.' We can't do that now. We've tried to help with trained professionals and we couldn't find anywhere and we had all this money at our disposal, and then we're shutting the doors and saying, 'Off you go.' So, that's why we've got to get rid of priority need. You can't have that system as far as I'm concerned.

The other thing is: what does priority need entitle you to? As I said before, at the moment, once you get through the system, priority need entitles you to temporary accommodation, or interim accommodation until we can find settled accommodation. For me, what priority need should entitle you to is something much swifter, and much swifter access to permanent accommodation. That's the kind of interesting set of discussions that we need to have, re-framing what priority need entitles you to. It would actually mean aligning it with what prevention and relief entitles you to, which is something more individualised. And also, there's this point about priority need or the duties on local authorities to actually go out and seek to support people rather than waiting for people to come into the system.

09:35
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:35:44

I think, if I may sort of draw a sort of slightly wider context here, in Scotland we abolished priority need. Well, we started to extend it to the point of abolishing it between 2003 and 2012. I know that caused some alarm in Wales when we first started working on the review that provided the backcloth for the change in the legislation, about whether we might recommend to Wales that they follow the Scottish model, because temporary accommodation did treble in use after priority need was abolished in Scotland, and I think that I would make two key points about that. One is that, even though that clearly is problematic—and that's something that Scotland is working on at the moment: how to re-frame how we use temporary accommodation—people in Scotland from across the sectors would still see it—the abolition of priority need—as the right thing to do, because it changed the culture of local authority services in such a way that single people got a much better deal than they did when priority need was still in place. So, despite the problems associated with temporary accommodation, there remains a strong consensus in Scotland that it was still the right thing to do.

The second point I would make is that the trick that Scotland missed, which Wales could get right here, is to have that combination of the strong preventative model and the abolition of priority need. In Scotland, what we did was we abolished priority need without putting in place the stronger prevention model. So, we didn't have that filter to reduce the number of people who needed to avail themselves of the main duty. I think what you have an opportunity to do in Wales is to kind of square that circle and get the best of all worlds, really, by having a very strong, very robust preventative model that enables you to abolish priority need because the number of people then, who get to that point of being owed the main duty, should be that much smaller. So, I think you can have a better experience of it than we had in Scotland.

I'm just concerned that you're looking at this through a prism rather than the overall housing crisis. We've got, in Cardiff, 8,000 families on the housing waiting list for council accommodation, most of whom will wait for years and years. We've got no rent controls on the private sector. The officers who have tried to put people into the private rented sector have failed because there simply isn't any accommodation out there that can be covered by housing benefit, because most homeless people are also without work. So, in an ideal world you'd be right, but in the world that we're currently living in, and local authorities are living in, I don't see how it's possible to implement the system that you are describing.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:38:46

Could I respond to that? Certainly, you'd have no argument from me or from Peter about the damaging effects of welfare reform and the restrictions that that's placing on local authorities' room for manoeuvre. Again, if I can speak from a slightly wider frame, the problems you have with that in Wales are nowhere near as bad as they are in the south of England and in London. Actually, in Scotland, our problems are nowhere near as bad either, except in Edinburgh. So, Cardiff and Edinburgh have greater problems than other parts of those countries. That said, I completely accept the general point that you're making.

But how I would sort of counter it, I think, is by saying, what we've been asked to speak about today is rough-sleepers specifically, and there are two points about rough-sleepers. One is: there are actually not that many of them. You're talking about in the hundreds across Wales. So, I think you're not talking about a massive displacement in terms of other groups. The second thing I would say is that, if you're talking about people who are literally sleeping rough, then it's difficult to envisage a more intense level of housing need than that. So, even if there's a question of allocation policies and so on, I think there's a very strong argument for saying that certainly people who are verified rough-sleepers, who are sleeping rough for long periods of time, should have a very high degree of priority. I'm not saying absolute overriding priority over everyone else, but I think they should have a very high level of priority.

09:40

As we've said, we both agree on the impacts of welfare reform. It does hamper the solutions available. Have local authorities, housing associations and others been innovative enough in their response to welfare reform? We could all probably have done better in coming up with solutions that made shared accommodation, for instance, available to so-called young people, under 35s—I just missed that category.

There's more we could've done to innovate; there's more we can do to innovate, but I also think it can be lazy for us to say, 'There's not enough accommodation there'. I think it can be, and I've seen it in authorities who've said that exact phrasing, and then you've had a pilot project come in, delivered by a non-housing organisation that has built relationships with landlords who had never engaged with the local authority or any of their key housing partners, and go from a success rate—a housing retention rate—of around 50 per cent up to a success rate of around 85 per cent in terms of securing a solution.

Cardiff is slightly an outlier in this, and perhaps it needs greater thought, but across the rest of Wales, I think that, actually, there are solutions out there, we just need to work a little bit harder to find them and to support people.

Yes. Again, if you haven't already, Peter, it would be useful to have some information, perhaps, on that. We do need to move on, I'm conscious of the time, but quickly, Janet.

Yes. You mentioned that there is some good practice out there and, indeed, we've seen, as a committee, when we went along to the Salvation Army locally, that they work on some fantastic models, like the Bridge programme. Rhianon, you quite rightly mentioned that, sometimes, providing the housing need isn't the only solution because of some of the lifestyles that they've had to—. We're talking about some very vulnerable people. Why is that good practice not being shared, do you think? And, where there is a good model that's working, how do we roll that out across Wales? Is there a reluctance, and are there barriers within local authorities that actually say, 'No, that's not how we want to work'?

There's a really complex answer to that. I don't think I've got the full answer. There are commissioning frameworks that don't always encourage that sort of behaviour. When a third sector organisation develops something that works really effectively, when they're then having to compete with others to win that small amount of Supporting People money, are they likely to want to share their methodologies, their ideas? Probably not. So, I think we could look at the way commissioning frameworks are set up.

There's also the sheer resource issue—Supporting People being a key part of that resource. If you've got no long-term commitment to a Supporting People budget, then how can you plan those sorts of intensive services for long periods of time? And they do take time to develop, to get the right skill sets in, to make sure you've got the right staff. The caveat to the Supporting People comment is at least we have, to some extent, a Supporting People budget and Suzanne—. When you step outside of Wales, they envy us for having that budget in any form—in any form, because I know it's now going into a super grant. At least we have something there; let's try and protect it.

So, there's 'Is there the money?' and there are the commissioning frameworks, but there's also—and this is the point that we made in our report when we recommended the legislative changes ahead of the 2014 Act—the fact that we don't have a regulator in Wales. We were learning from experiences in Scotland, where the regulator played a really key role in the shift towards abolishing priority need and the sorts of services that developed, and it did more than just hold people to account, or hold local authorities to account for their success rate: it was a really important part of sharing good practice. It was both holding people to account and then moving on to an authority that wasn't doing so well and saying, 'Look, here are the lessons.'

And then the other point I would make is that, from experience beyond Wales, where it's not a duty and it's something that's optional, and where local authorities' money is being reduced, the things that aren't required of you are the ones that go. It takes a very strong politician, leader, to say 'I'm going to protect this budget for these activities because I believe in them, even though I haven't got to do them.' So, it might be that, actually, we need to raise the expectation of the duties, and I talk about that later in terms of a support duty, which we don't currently have, to enable those things to happen.

09:45

Okay. And then, finally, on the priority need, I know my own authority was very instrumental in—. And I was here in the Chamber when quite interesting debates would go ahead about whether priority need was an effective lever there, because I know, in my own authority, we would have families promised accommodation and, the day before they were due to go into that accommodation, up would pop a priority need, and then they were pushed right back down again, and so—. I know in my own authority it was a problem, and so I think there was almost a cheer when priority need status went into this legislation. Do you see an appetite from the Welsh Government to abolish priority need?

Yes. So, to make it clear, abolishing priority need is, essentially, like giving everybody who is homeless priority need. It's not saying—. To be absolutely clear, that's what we mean by abolishing priority need. It means, when you come and you're homeless, we will guarantee you your right to housing; we'll get you settled accommodation. That's what abolishing priority need means when we talk about it—unlike the abolition of priority need for prison leavers, which went through on a legislation change, which is removing their access or their right to settled accommodation.

Yes, it's only a couple of very short questions. You mentioned earlier that we're not talking about enormous numbers, and Welsh Government figures—300 or 400 or whatever. How accurate is our assessment for understanding the scale of rough-sleeping and, I suppose, even the definition of it?

Do you want to comment on that?

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:46:50

Yes. Again, I tend to be looking at Wales from a wider perspective. I think the figures aren't bad, to be honest. They're better than you have anywhere else in the UK, apart from London, because you've got the combined homelessness and information network system in London, which I think Pete mentions in his submission and is certainly worth your looking at in Wales. I know there's a project under way that the Wallich is leading on, which is looking at continuous—. I don't know the details of the Wallich project, but I understand that it's looking at continuous recording of data from services that are interacting with rough-sleepers, and I think that is a better model for having in-depth, real-time data, and also a more granular understanding of the ebb and flow of rough-sleeping.

But if you're going to do a street count, which is what happens in England—. We don't have street counts at all in Scotland, but we record rough-sleeping through the statutory homelessness system; we've abolished priority need and, therefore, most single homeless people do go through the statutory homelessness system in Scotland. So, you've got a street count, but you've also got the two-week service statutory and voluntary sector collaboration. I think the combination, the triangulation, between those isn't bad. Is it the best it could be? No—something like the CHAIN system would be better. I think that it—. My sense of it, without having been directly involved in it, is that it does give you a reasonable sense of the overall scale, of the kind of—the order of magnitude, I think, is relatively well captured. What I would never do with a street count, or any kind of short-term thing, is take too literally the absolute number that's generated from it, because, clearly, people will sleep rough in places where they're not visible to those counting them, and they might not be in touch with services.

I think as long as it's done on a relatively consistent basis you can read something meaningful into the trend, but not necessarily the absolute number. But I wouldn't want to criticise the Welsh Government too much on this one. I think, as compared with elsewhere, they've done quite a good job.

So, it could be done better, but you're reasonably happy that this is a fairly fair representation of the scale of rough-sleeping.

Yes. I think it gives us a good indication, as Suzanne says. It gives an indication of ups and downs—well, of ups, unfortunately. But the move towards—. Because we're just doing it on one night, with the two-week observations as well, but the move towards—and this is what the Wallich project is doing—daily data being collected by the outreach teams is a wonderfully positive step. And the knowledge that that will give us to then inform services is really quite something, and would mark us out as a country. I don't know of a country that does that. Across Europe, it's single-night counts—that's what happens. London does this continuous monitoring, and it's really informed the way services are commissioned.

09:50

A lot of the data we have is obviously focused on where the highest concentrations are, as best we know, but, of course, in terms of the all-Wales position—I represent Pontypridd; there's obviously an issue there, and there's a lot of movement backwards and forwards and so on. Is the importance, in terms of the data, where there are large numbers, or how important is it to have that understanding around the other parts of Wales, the other cities and towns?

It would be a real shame if we weren't collecting this data Wales-wide, and the continuous monitoring data system actually ties in with services as well. So, it's the outreach teams, it's the people that are out looking to support and identify homeless people that do the counting and, actually, if, in line with what I'd said earlier about needing to be more assertive and to get out into outreach, and that's across Wales, then the two coalesce quite nicely—that, actually, we should be doing this across Wales. We should be reaching out across Wales, and, when we're doing that, let's collect the data.

Would you be reasonably confident that the figures we have across Wales, then—I understand that there's no perfect system there, but that they're reasonably accurate in terms of the distribution around Wales, as to where the concentrations are, but also where there are other problems? It seems to me one of the questions—you know, why is it so important to try and have accurate figures? It's to be able to identify changes. The fact that you mentioned growth—you know, why are there increasing numbers, and so on? But, in terms of the scale around Wales, do you think we have a reasonable picture as to what is going on, or do you think there are things we could be doing more in other parts of Wales?

I think it's the best we can ask for the moment. On a one-night count, they've worked very hard—local authorities have worked very hard together—to be consistent in their methodology and their approaches. They have shared learning on how they're going to collect the data, so they've worked hard on that. So, I think we can be as confident as you can be on a single-night count.

Troi at yr hyn sy'n achosi cysgu ar y stryd yng Nghymru, mae yna gynnydd wedi bod yn ôl pob golwg. Beth ydy'r rhesymau penodol am y cynnydd diweddar?

Turning to the causes of rough-sleeping in Wales, there has been an apparent increase. What are the specific reasons for this recent increase?

I think I'll pass on to Suzanne to give the monitor reply.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 09:52:33

As part of the 'The Homelessness Monitor' report that we did in Wales last year—so, the field work, the main part of the work, was done over the summer of last year—it was one of the key things that we asked people working across Wales that we were speaking to. We also do a survey of all the local authorities in Wales, quite a detailed survey, which gives the local authorities plenty of space to give us a narrative account of what they think's happening, and the rise in rough-sleeping was already apparent. We didn't have the data then, but there was a lot of concern about rises in rough-sleeping at that point. So, we did speak to people about it quite a lot.

To be honest, I don't know that we're entirely sure, or no-one seemed to be entirely sure, exactly what the causes of the increase were. I think there's a number of factors that are likely in play, rather than it being any one factor. I think, certainly, welfare reform is driving up homelessness across the UK, or certainly across Great Britain. I think it's undoubtedly the case that that is playing a role; the extent to which that accounts for the rise is another matter. I think the other issue that people raised was European Economic Area migrants, to some extent—people were seeing more people who were non-UK nationals on the streets—but that doesn't entirely tie in with what we can see happening more broadly, because, actually the numbers of people from the European Union sleeping rough in London are actually going down now, because the overall migration is going down. So, that's a bit trickier to see why the pattern would be going up.

I think the other, more specific thing that's happened in Wales, of course, is the removal of priority need for people leaving prison. There is undoubtedly, and this is true across the UK and, indeed, further afield, a very strong overlap between particularly people who sleep rough on a longer term basis and those that have had some engagement with the criminal justice system. So, you'd expect that there might be a connection there between increased rough-sleeping and the weakening of housing duties towards prisoners. I'm not saying that that necessarily accounts for the increase, and I'm not saying it was the wrong thing to do to remove priority need from prisoners—I happen to support that move—but I do think it might be something that contributed to it.

The other things that people mentioned were things that happen all the time—relationship breakdown, domestic violence and tenancy breakdown. There wasn't really a pattern of what's new in terms of pushing it up, other than the prisoners issue and the ongoing impact of welfare reform.

09:55

And I think that, Dr Mackie, you've—

—rydych chi wedi sôn bod eisiau mwy o ymchwil, ymchwil mwy soffistigedig, yn enwedig, efallai, i'r cysylltiad efo pobl yn gadael carchar, y sector gofal ac ysbytai, ac yn y blaen. Pam fod angen mwy o ymchwil? Nid ydym ni yn gwybod beth sy'n digwydd, mewn ffordd, rydym ni'n gwybod, ac eisiau—. A ddylai'r pwyslais fod ar ffeindio'r ateb yn hytrach na fwy o ymchwil?

—mentioned that there is a need for additional research, more sophisticated research, particularly perhaps on the relationship between homelessness and people leaving prison and the care sector, hospitals and so on. Why is there a need for more research? We don't know what's happening, really, we know, and want—. Should the emphasis be, therefore, on finding a solution rather than research?

You can't ask that question to an academic. [Laughter.] You ask an academic for advice, they're going to say you need more research. That's the way we work.

Let me just firstly put on record: Suzanne and I don't often disagree, but we disagree on the prison leaver point. Just so that's there.

It's just that I believe that prison leavers should have priority need. I think everybody should have priority need. But the point about the data is we abolished—. And it comes from the fact that we removed priority need for prison leavers, and we did it on the basis of ignorance, because we didn't have the data. Everyone, when you spoke to local authorities, said, 'Well, we have prison leavers coming in, and they disappear out of the system, and we put them in temporary accommodation for 28 days, and then they disappear'. What would have happened otherwise? We don't have the counter-factual. Maybe we're realising the counter-factual now, that they'll end up on the streets.

We didn't have the data, and that's what I'm arguing for. Let's look at the relationship between these institutions that we know have a strong relationship with homelessness. There aren't many places—in the US you can go and they've got these wonderful bits of work on this; we've got good colleagues out there doing it, but we don't have it in the UK. So, looking at the relationship between these institutions that we think, and actually we do know, can cause homelessness. So, a spell in prison can cause homelessness—you lose your tenancy—but it also works in reverse. So, for instance, if we leave it three weeks before we get a Supporting People intervention with somebody, is that more likely to lead to them reoffending? If we leave it one week, does that reduce reoffending rates by 20 per cent amongst that population? We don't know the answers to those questions, and they are questions, if we can just—. All they need is the data. I'll find you the researchers. In fact I've got one. But if we could just get hold of the data, and we can start asking those questions of the data, we can start to answer some of those questions that might then change our services, that say, 'Hang on, giving a prison leaver priority need status and putting them in temporary accommodation for 28 days isn't the solution', but, actually, giving them priority need and saying, 'You have to have found settled accommodation within a week or else the consequence is—'. Wouldn't it be really powerful in terms of us then developing our services? That's really where that comes from, that recommendation.

Just having been involved in shaping the legislation—I think I'm the only person who was—and having had this debate with Carl Sargeant, how much do you think the fact that the ex-prisoners are falling between the cracks is to do with the privatised probation services? Because Carl Sargeant's argument was that practically every prisoner would meet the priority need category, but what we have happening is that the probation service is simply not ensuring that they get the public service they're entitled to.

My comment would be that, for a while, when we had the priority need status, I absolutely agree, I think prisons felt, 'It's not our duty to deal with the accommodation needs of this group of the population. That's dealt with by the local authority'. And that was the case made by local authorities, and I agree that we need probation services doing more, and prison services doing more, to address housing needs. But we, essentially, devolved responsibility, and we've gone the other way from housing to offending services, probation. I think we have questions around it later on, but the protocol that was set up to spell out exactly how local authorities, the prison service and probation—

The pathway, how they would work with each other, from my view, hasn't yet embedded effectively. I don't think the roles are clear. I don't think the duties and responsibilities are clear. It probably comes back to my point that if there's an absolute duty that you can be challenged on for not doing then it's more likely to get done. But I totally agree that it cannot be the sole responsibility of housing services to address this particular issue.  

10:00

The next questions are a bit general. Have we covered them already? Do you want me to keep going?

Okay. How effective are services for rough-sleepers in Wales, and how could they be improved? Do you want to go first, Peter, and then Suzanne?  

I can go first, if you like. 

As you say, we have covered some of it, Gareth, so it's if there's anything further you'd like to add, really. 

Okay, great. Sorry—apologies if we do repeat. I think the starting point is there is a lot of very good practice there, and we absolutely can't deny that there's a lot of money that goes into it. We've got front-line workers going beyond their pay grades to do an awful lot of positive stuff, and that's both in local authorities and third sector. That's my context. But we can always do better and, actually, we should and must do better. It's why this inquiry exists.

Hostels as a mainstay of intervention aren't effective. Large-scale hostels with lots of beds in them, which were perhaps intended to be temporary but end up playing a more permanent role, are not part of or are not the solution. If we have hostels, they should be small and they should play a very, very temporary role in the solution—very temporary—weeks, not more. 

Support is perhaps the additional bit. So, we need housing first as a solution with rough-sleepers, we need personalised budgets, but the bit that I think is crucial here is support. Unlike many of the other homeless families—where, actually, the issue is a housing issue and maybe it's a housing affordability issue and it's the insecurity of our private rented sector, et cetera—with this group of people, a lot more is to do with the nature of the support that comes along.

We have no duty to provide support for these individuals. We don't have that duty. We've got a duty, if they make it into priority need, to accommodate, and we've got a duty to try and find accommodation, but there's no duty to put this wraparound support in place. And that's not to deny that it exists and there are some really good examples of it working well, but there's no requirement to do that support. So, that's the bit that I think is the least effective bit.

The bit where we've got most opportunity to improve is to shift towards earlier housing, permanent housing through housing first, and a duty to provide wraparound support. If we're worrying about budgets, that may well not come from a housing budget, that might come from a health budget, from criminal justice, or wherever else, because it has knock-on effects on those service areas.   

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:03:10

Yes. I would definitely reinforce those points about health and criminal justice having a role to play here. This shouldn't just be left to the housing budget and local authorities, because, when you're talking about this group, often what you're talking about is actually a social care issue, or certainly a set of social support issues that people have, which shouldn't come from the housing budget. 

If I may, just a couple of things I want to add that I think are related to this: I did look briefly at the housing first guidance that was issued as well—the guidelines from the Welsh Government—and I thought largely they were really good. But the one thing that really concerned me in it was the comment about congregate or communal housing first—this notion that you can turn hostels into something that you call housing first by giving people a permanent tenancy of their hostel room. There is a debate within the homelessness world on this, but certainly I would want on the record that my view would be that that is not housing first. It may be a better hostel environment, because people have got more security and more control, but it is still a hostel.

So, I thought most of what the Welsh Government had to say on housing first was good. I think perhaps they've been overly influenced by the Finnish model, which, to my mind, is not the best model of housing first out there. I think, if you're talking about housing first, what you should be talking about is people being re-housed and dispersed in housing first. In other words, they're re-housed in ordinary housing in ordinary communities, because we know that's where people do best. 

The other thing that links with that for me is one of the comments the Welsh Local Government Association said in its submission to the committee was, 'Well, we offer people bed and breakfast or a hostel place'. Well, that's kind of what the problem is, because neither a bed and breakfast nor a hostel place—for most people, certainly for rough-sleepers with complex needs—is going to meet their needs. So, this kind of model of more assertive outreach, more rapid rehousing, with that wraparound support that people need to sustain that accommodation, I think is where—not just Wales, this is also true in England and Scotland—policy and practice ought to be going. 

10:05

Thank you. You mentioned the Finnish model, and also other areas that you think are better, and this issue around permanent accommodation in terms of hostels being potentially a permanent home. Now, this really exemplifies to me the difference between where we could be and the realities, which have been touched upon earlier, in terms of how local government is currently managing in terms of austerity—whether you lay off a social worker or not.

So, how do you, as academics, then, state your case to a country like Wales, which is suffering from year-on-year cuts from Westminster, facing the issues around welfare reform, where increasingly people are being asked for a guarantor to pick up tenancies, and whereby we know that we have to produce more housing nationally across Wales?

What is your response to the reality on the ground in terms of the fact that what we're talking about really is people-heavy, people-heavy support for those that are most in need, and that's nothing to do with the ideological argument that we should be doing that? How would you place your argument?

It's a good one. It would be nice if I had the data and I could really make the case. 

But, in the absence of the data, just trust me on it. You're working—. It's the easiest group to make the case for, because rough-sleepers are the most expensive group for us as a society. If we just want to make the financial case—and let me caveat it; we brought in the legislation in Wales not on a financial case. I go internationally talking about this, and it's wonderful to be able to say that we did it on a moral basis and on a just basis. That's how we got it through. That's not how things went through in England. I had to do a whole load of cost calculations for them in England to make the case.

So, we can change things on a just basis, but there's a financial case too. This group costs the criminal justice sector, the health sector, and an awful number of other sectors, huge amounts of money. And then you've got implications perhaps for the next generations as well, of having parents who've been homeless and have hit the streets, et cetera. So, the costs, if we actually sat down and costed it, are immense. The cost of a support worker is minimal. It's miniscule, relative to the wider societal cost.

The problem—and this is one that, as academics, we can't solve for you—is how do you guys get one department cross-funding with another, to actually realise those funds, because you've got to realise it. You've got to take it from the health service. You've got to take it from criminal justice. And that's a big challenge. 

Okay, thanks for that, Peter. I know these are potentially big questions and we've got very limited time, and I think Suzanne wanted to add. 

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:08:14

Yes. I think the other point I would make in terms of the political argument is that my colleague, Steve Wilcox, who works with us on 'The Homelessness Monitor', would say, 'Yes, of course, there's pressure on the Welsh Government budget, there's certainly pressure on local authorities throughout the UK. But, Wales, until recently, did not prioritise, within that shrinking budget, housing.' Housing was relatively deprioritised as compared with, for example, the proportion of the budget that went on housing in Scotland. So, some of these things are about political choices, and those political choices are not for academics to make. We make the case for what we—. We're asked the question, 'What would work for this group?', and we tell you what the evidence tells us, and then it's for the politicians to make the political case. But housing has not been given the priority that it ought to be. 

And one specific sector I think you might want to look at is the housing association sector in Wales, because the proportion of housing association lets that are given to homeless people is not only a lot lower than it used to be, it's actually lower than it is in England, which is quite something given that it's really plummeted in England. I think it has jumped up a little bit just over the last year, but, for some reason, the proportion of Welsh social landlord lets that go to homeless people is lower than anywhere else in the UK. When we were doing 'The Homelessness Monitor', we couldn't really get an answer as to why that was the case, but I think it might be something that you'd want to look at. 

Thanks for that, Suzanne. That's very useful. We do have to move on. Gareth. 

Again, we might have covered a lot of this, but, if there's anything you want to add, how do services in Wales compare to those in Scotland and England?

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:09:52

For rough-sleepers, specifically?

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:09:55

Well, perhaps I'll focus on Scotland, in a way, because it's more comparable in terms of size and in a number of other ways. I do think that we have some of the same challenges in Scotland and in Wales, in the sense that we haven’t developed a set of outreach services to the extent that they have in London, particularly. So, I think that both countries have something to learn from London.

I think that the housing-first model has really taken off in both Wales and in Scotland, at least in terms of people’s thinking, in tandem. I think there's an awful lot that Wales and Scotland could learn from each other right now, because we’re both developing. We're both, at national level—because this is happening in Scotland as well—talking about moving from bed and breakfast and hostels and those kinds of provisions to a much more housing-first-orientated model. We're doing it at the same time, so we should be talking to each other about how we can—. Because, in England, although there are some very interesting developments in housing first, there isn't a national push towards it in the way that you have, in different ways, in Scotland and Wales. I don't have time to go into the details, but I do think there's something really interesting happening there. There is a big national programme in housing first being part funded, actually, by some very large-scale charitable fundraising in Scotland, and I think that it would be very useful and interesting for colleagues in Wales perhaps to have some engagement with that.

I think that the abolition of priority need in Scotland does make the context really quite different. It means that we've had—. Because it was gradually expanded before it was abolished, it means that—. Well, basically, most single homeless people in Scotland have been entitled to re-housing for quite a long time now, and I think that there are both pros and cons in that that we should learn from each other on.

But one point—I want to just make this point about priority need, going forward—is that, yes, Pete and I might not agree on the prisoners point, but my position, to be clear, is that, if possible, you should abolish priority need for all single people—not just prisoners, but all single people. That was my concern about it, but I think it has to be allied with this very strong emphasis on prevention, which you already have in Wales. I think that's what would work.

The final point I would make on priority need is to say that you abolish priority need is not the same as saying that you give that group absolute priority over everyone else in housing need—so, families being pushed down because the priority person pops up. To abolish priority need is not the same as saying that the allocation policy of all social landlords has to be that rough-sleepers get absolute priority over everyone else. That isn't what it says. So, let's just be clear that you can recommend the abolition of priority need without saying that they always get absolute priority.

10:10

Yes, thanks. Local connection criteria—to what extent do you think that local connection criteria and reconnection policies are impacting on rough-sleeping?

This is a contentious one, I think, and one where there may be some disagreement between the folk giving evidence. The main place where this is an issue is in Cardiff, where they have a much higher proportion of folk who come from other local authorities and from outside of Wales. I think the figure was about 25 per cent of rough-sleepers—

From Cardiff?

Okay, I would check that.

It's in the submission. My memory is not very good. I read it just before I came in here. I thought it was the other way around. But, anyway, relative to the other local authorities, it has a higher proportion of folk coming from outside of the area. But we were really clear, when the law was being developed, that prevention and relief duties are blind to your connection to another authority. 'It doesn’t matter whether you're from around here, we have to assist you and we have to take reasonable steps to find a solution for you at both prevention and relief stages.' The only caveat to that is that, at the relief stage, i.e. if you are already homeless, which is our rough-sleeper population, if you are found to be in priority need, then we can refer you to another authority—but that's not the process that's happening.

The process that's happening is that folk are getting a single offer: 'If you're not from around these parts, then we'll reconnect you.' Some of those reconnections are done in a really supportive way—they've learnt a lot from some of the reconnection work in London—but the law says quite clearly, 'We should be working with you on an individual basis to look at solutions.' That should absolutely include the solutions—or that should be about the Cardiff housing market. 'Can I get you into a private rented flat in Cardiff?' should be one of those options. That's what the law tells us, and that's not entirely what's happening. What's happening is we're exploring how we can reconnect you back. Now, if Welsh Government or the National Assembly wishes to have a different approach, that we should be reconnecting people back, then the law needs to be changed for the practices that are going on, particularly in Cardiff, to be legitimised. There are issues. The reason it's happening, partly, is because of funding. If we're a net recipient, will I need to be funded to provide the services? Do I have the housing for those individuals? All those questions have to be squared off. So, the practices are understandable, but the law says something quite different.

I did do a small piece of work that looked internationally at other examples. There are lots of other funding models. You can have the home authority funding services if they access them elsewhere. There are other options. You can have centrally held resources that you can tap into for folk that don't have a local connection. But, in the small bit of work that I did, when you ask—. Because the assumption is, 'Oh, they're coming to our authority because we've got the resources and the services', but when you ask those people—and we only managed to speak to about 25 folk—very few were attracted by the services; they were attracted by a multitude of other far less significant but apparently meaningful reasons. The same sorts of reasons that folk move—work and other things.

So, there is an issue with local connection. The international review we've just done picks up a lot on reconnection. This isn't specific to Wales. It's a much greater problem, as you might imagine, in London. Again, they've copied our legislation; it has the same rules around local connection. The problem is, when you reconnect and it's a single offer and you're not looking at whether you're really connecting people to positive social networks and whether there's a choice, what may well be happening is people are choosing not to return—'If that's my only option, I'll stay here on the streets.' So, it's a problem and it's not one that we have yet the solution to.

10:15

Okay. Time is rapidly defeating us. Suzanne, would you—?

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:17:07

I don't disagree with anything Pete's just said on that. One thing I would say: if it is the case that Cardiff has got two thirds of people applying as homeless in Cardiff who are not from Cardiff, that really surprises me, because I've never come across a proportion like that anywhere else in the UK. So, it's very surprising. Something odd is happening in Cardiff if—

It's 72 per cent that are from Cardiff.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:17:33

Oh, it's the other way around. That sounds more like it, yes. I agree very much, actually, with what Pete's saying. I think, particularly for the rough-sleeping group, and particularly because they're a relatively small group and a very vulnerable group, reconnection with consent can work but I think forced reconnection is something that should be avoided. I think there are better ways of doing it. 

Okay. We've got two minutes left, I'm afraid. Bethan Jenkins.

I know a lot of the housing first issues have been raised. I just wanted to understand—I think it was you, Peter; I don't want to put words in your mouth—you said that wasn't a panacea. Obviously, there are pilots at the moment, so I'm just wanting to understand, should it be the go-to policy on this, if it comes to it that the pilots are successful? And if it's not the Finnish model, what is the best model that's working at the moment, so that we can look to it? And, my third question: I know you'll be asked by the Chair in writing with regard to the statement this week, but I wanted to just see if I could get on the record whether you thought that—. I know you're academics, so I caveat it now, but do you think, though, that there needs to be more research before removing the priority need? Because the Minister said, 'I'm not going to do anything until 2020, potentially, because I need to review the research.' I don't personally agree with that. I think there's enough out there on this issue, be it not on other issues. So, I just wanted to get your view on that.

If you could answer all those questions in one minute, we'd be very grateful.

On housing first, we have an approach that says, 'Individualise the response'. Housing first should be one of the key things on your shopping list to work with rough-sleepers. It should be offered as a solution. So, in essence, yes, it's your go-to. 

On the Finnish model versus anything else, the debate is really about scatter site versus congregate site. Scatter site should be the preferred option. They have similar housing retention outcomes, but in terms of impact on crime and other things, scattered site works better, and homeless people prefer scatter site—

That means that they're not all together in one hostel.

Yes. Then, on research before ending priority need, we've gone through the process of learning about our new system, we know how many people aren't in priority need, so we know the number of people that we've then got to additionally house. I don't think we need new research to make that leap, no.

10:20
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:20:07

Going backwards on that, I don't think you need any more research, but I do think you need an impact investigation on what the impact would be in different local authorities and how they would respond to that, and possibly thinking about a staged approach like Scotland did. I mean, maybe not as long; a 10-year programme is not as long as you need, but you might want to do it in a staged way.

I think, on housing first, as Pete says, the key debate is whether it's scattered site or congregate, and I think, if you're looking for international examples, Denmark is a better example than Finland—I keep making this point, and no-one's listened to me in England either. Because in Denmark, they started off having congregate and dispersed and they moved heavily towards dispersed because it worked better, for the reasons Pete said, and also tenancy retention was better. In fact, the Finns have also moved towards a dispersed model, as they've also found that that works better. So, I don't really know why the Welsh Government has got this communal, congregate housing first element in their guidelines. I think that's a mistake. I think the rest of the guidelines are good.

The final point on housing first is I think, absolutely, it's not a panacea, but it should be the default. So, instead of saying what I'm afraid the Welsh Government guidelines do say—'Well, housing first is for people that hostels don't work for'—it should be the other way around. Hostels, or some kind of congregate supported accommodation, should only be used for people for whom housing-first-type models don't work or aren't wanted. So, it's about switching the default.

Okay. Thank you both very much for your evidence this morning. It's been very, very useful, and we will write further to you. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in due course. Thank you very much.

Thank you.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick 10:21:51

Thank you.

The committee will break, very briefly, for a three-minute comfort break.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:21 a 10:27.

The meeting adjourned between 10:21 and 10:27.

10:25
3. Ymchwiliad i Gysgu ar y Stryd yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 2
3. Inquiry into Rough-sleeping in Wales: Evidence Session 2

Let me welcome everyone back to item 3 on our agenda today, our second evidence session with regard to our inquiry into rough-sleeping in Wales. I'm very pleased to welcome Jane Thomas, assistant director for housing and communities at Cardiff council, Simon Inkson, head of housing at Powys County Council, Julie Francis, service manager for housing at Wrexham Council, and her colleague Tracy Hague, housing options lead at Wrexham Council. Welcome to you all. If it's okay, we'll move straight into questioning. Perhaps I might begin with the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and what effect that legislation has had on local authorities' approach to tackling rough-sleeping, in your experience.

In Cardiff, we've always had a commitment to try and house single homeless people even though they were not in priority need. So, we have got quite a wide range of services available to single homeless people. The Act obviously focused the mind on prevention, which is hugely important—trying to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. So, there's much more effort going into prevention than there was previously. But when it comes to the duty to help to secure, I think that that was fairly clearly in place before. We've always had bonds arrangements in place for single homeless people; we've got a single homeless gateway for single people. What changed, I think, after the Act was we took more ownership of that as a council. So, the accommodation gateway for single people now operates through the council, so people come through the council to get into single person homeless accommodation, whereas before it was very much run by the partners, by the third sector. We take far more interest in how many people are coming through, whether we are actually achieving housing for everybody, and that's been, I think, for Cardiff, the main difference from the Act—both the prevention and our ownership of the trying to secure accommodation for single people.

So, would you say then, Jane, that while it's had a marked beneficial effect in terms of preventing homelessness, as you mentioned, in terms of rough-sleeping perhaps it's been more limited?

10:30

I think the Act has not had implications for rough-sleeping. However, as a council, we've taken a lot more action on rough-sleeping. I can't really tie that back to the Act, specifically. It's more because of the pressures that rough-sleeping is presenting on the streets, and that's why we've put our new strategy in place and we are funding a lot more services now than previously. When I reflect on that, I couldn't really tie that back to the Act; it's many things happening at the same time.

I would concur with what Jane said. Obviously, the range of services provided in an authority like Powys is very different to the services provided in either Cardiff or Wrexham, but I would say that my colleagues who deal with homeless people and rough-sleepers are probably far more proactive than they previously would've been before the introduction of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

I see one other beneficial impact, and that being the requirement for local authorities to undertake homelessness reviews and produce homelessness strategies, in that it is requiring us to actually think, at this current time, about how we deal with the very small numbers of rough-sleepers we have in Powys, compared to Cardiff and to Wrexham, and look at a more holistic package of support. Because my view is that rough-sleeping isn't just a housing problem; it is quite often the end result of a number of personal circumstances and issues, rather than just purely being a loss of accommodation or an absence of accommodation. Quite often, we will accommodate people who will then subsequently go on to lose that for a number of different reasons.

Yes, for Wrexham, it's very similar to what our colleagues have said, really. Our housing options have worked very hard on the preventative side, so that has had a definite effect on homelessness, and has had some effect on our rough-sleepers, but not really our entrenched rough-sleeping. I wouldn't say that the Act has had a major impact on that, really. It has allowed us to intervene a lot earlier and prevent crisis situations, so I suppose, in that, yes it has had an effect on rough-sleeping, but mainly, we've seen the differences in terms of prevention of homelessness and the prevention work that we've done with that, really.

Okay. And, in terms of the homelessness strategies and to what extent there's a local authority focus now on tackling rough-sleeping and a strategic approach to that, could you give the committee a flavour of what will be developing and rolled out?

In Cardiff, we developed the rough-sleeping strategy ahead of the requirement to develop a homeless strategy, simply because of the huge pressures that we were facing. I think we did supply a copy of the strategy to you, and that is quite comprehensive: it does look at the whole range of services to rough-sleepers, dealing with all the complex needs and so on. I think, as a council, that has got huge buy-in from our cabinet, who're all very much behind it, and monthly reviews are provided for our cabinet member in detail on all the programmes that are going on to address rough-sleeping.

In Powys, our numbers of rough-sleepers are very small, compared to both Cardiff and Wrexham, but the individuals themselves who we come into contact with who're sleeping rough, present us with a whole range of problems, and provision of accommodation, quite often, doesn't last for a multitude of reasons. And, as a result of that, we're looking at a more holistic approach to try and prevent homelessness, but also provide them with support. So, looking at initiatives such as assertive outreach work, but actually trying to fit that in within a locality model of support that we're trying to develop in Powys, which is based around the main towns.

We're currently looking at our strategy on a regional basis with the other local authorities in north Wales. Each local authority is undertaking a review of services and we're hoping to find some common themes, of which, one, I've no doubt, will be rough-sleeping, and then we'll develop our strategies, both regionally and locally, as a result of that.

10:35

Thank you. I know that you'll be coming to this a little bit later on in the questions in a different way, but in regard to some of the evidence—I don't know whether you've had the chance to look at it yet—previously, we were talking about a housing first assertive interventionist model. How much of an ask is that of local government at this moment in time, in terms of your current modus operandi and in terms of that gap in between the potentiality for need for that type of service in Wales?

So, assertive outreach and housing first—

Together. Okay. So, there are quite a lot of services that we have that give out assertive outreach, i.e. they take the services out to individuals and they're quite persistent in addressing their need. So, we've got the outreach team that's directly employed by the council. That's seven members of staff who go out till midnight. Every day they go out, but they go out till midnight on three days a week. They're out there over the weekend, and they're constantly engaging with those rough-sleepers to try and get them into services.

We also fund the Wallich intervention service, which is called the breakfast run; we fund the day centre, which they actually have to go into, but also the night bus. There are 15 per cent of rough-sleepers who will only go into the services that are on the street, if you know what I mean. So, they will only access the bus service or the breakfast run or the outreach team who are out there. They won't come into the day centre or into the other services, into the housing options centre. So, assertive outreach is really important—

Which most progressive local authorities are doing. So, in terms of the optimum model, as is being discussed around the housing first model, in terms of that persistence, that stickiness of sticking to that person and coming back in terms of policy and thinking in terms of tenancy and the support that wraps around that, how much of an ask would that be at this moment in time?

Well, we are already doing quite a lot of that in Cardiff—

—so we've got the rough-sleeper project, which takes people directly into self-contained accommodation, so using the housing first model. So, the outreach team have access to that, so they will be the glue sticking to the person and then trying to bring them into the housing first model. It is temporary accommodation and they do move on later, so it's not strictly housing first, but now we have the Salvation Army running a housing first model, and that's very much about having the support on the street to get them ready to come into services, because otherwise they won't come into services at all. And then when they do come into the housing first model—. We've only got two so far into that because that's quite a new scheme, but so far that has proved quite successful.

Then, also, there's a complex needs project where the support is on the streets for the people who are constantly being evicted from our front-line services—you know, very intensive support on the street and then into the hostel and to continue that intensive support in the hostel to try and make them sustain the accommodation. All of those projects do have some success, but due to the complexity of the individuals, that success is never more than about 75 per cent. You will have people dropping out even with that intense model.

In terms of how big an ask it is for local authorities, the funding that is available for local authorities is shrinking, so it is a challenge if it is kept as a housing responsibility, but if it is demonstrated to be a wider responsibility and involves health as well—because rough-sleepers are far more likely to call GPs and access accident and emergency—as well as adult social care and possibly children's services, I think we have a hope of actually addressing that issue within Wales, but it needs to be holistic, the services that are provided, and not just housing.

Yes, I'd agree with that, that it's definitely more than just a housing issue, but in Wrexham we are exploring the housing first model. We haven't actually got a strategy in place around it. We are looking at what's developing really, but we've actually got a couple of properties that we're trialling at the moment where it has been a housing first model with our other partner agencies that we work with. I think the key for us is engaging with health within Wrexham and trying to get more services around the health element of it. I think finding accommodation first and foremost in Wrexham isn't one of our major problems, really. It's sustaining the tenancies once we get people into them, and the support element of it at the end of it, really, which is the crucial bit that I think we do need to concentrate on a little bit more.

10:40

Can I just intervene again? I suppose the challenge for an authority like Powys—and I'd say that a lot of local authorities are not too dissimilar—we don't have a huge stock of single-person accommodation. So, that in itself presents a challenge for us, and we are looking at introducing a housing first pilot in the coming months. But the shortage of single-person accommodation within the social housing sector is a big challenge for us; and another huge challenge for us is a lack of shared housing within the private rented sector.

Okay. We will be returning to these matters later in our session. Jenny.

Could you, Mr Inkson, just tell us how many people you've got on the housing waiting list, and how many people you've got sleeping rough?

We've just undertaken a re-registration exercise very recently, and I think the figures are somewhere about 1,200 people on the housing register.

And sleeping rough, I would say, within the last six months, we've come into contact with about 13 rough-sleepers. The scale of the problem is dwarfed by what happens in both Cardiff and Wrexham.

So, why isn't it possible for you to develop the sort of single-person accommodation that is needed?

Well, the development of housing is something that we are looking at. We have recently taken on our first six one-bedroomed flats in Crickhowell. It's the first local authority housing that's been developed for 30 or 40 years, and we have plans to build more homes, but it takes a period of time—from planning to the delivery of new homes, it does take some time.

I'd say it's slightly longer than that. We also need to bear in mind that, as a local authority, the skills and knowledge around the development of housing has left the authority. So, it is a learning process for us.

Okay. Could I ask, in terms of rough-sleepers being generally found to be in priority need and then able to access the interim accommodation, is that your experience as local authorities: that, generally, rough-sleepers are found to be in priority need?

We've recently started doing homeless assessments on the street, through the outreach teams, so we're not requiring them to come into an office. What we've found is that, from the information we can gather, they are not being judged as priority need. That wouldn't affect how we treat them, because we would treat them as vulnerable and a priority anyway, and they would always have priority over our single-person accommodation. However, it's quite difficult to gather all the information you need for a priority need decision. I think, in some ways, it's a bit of a distraction from the decision that the person is vulnerable and that we really need to help them, rather than going through all of the paperwork that's required for a priority need decision.

Each case is determined on its merits. So, whether somebody is found to be a priority need depends on the circumstances that they present with. I would probably say that, in the majority of cases, rough-sleepers who we, as an authority, have come into contact with have been considered to be in priority need of accommodation.

For Wrexham, it's very much the same. Our rough-sleepers have got very complex needs, and it is our understanding and my opinion that they do fall into the priority need category. Most definitely, in Wrexham, we've had a particular issue, as the panel are probably aware, with substance misuse, and a high proportion of our rough-sleepers have got addictions. We've got a particular problem in Wrexham with new psychoactive substances, which is a very complex need to address and makes people very, very vulnerable, and has all sorts of onset problems as a result of that addiction. So, I would say, yes, quite a few of ours would fit that category.

And work we've done—we've gone out. We don't just sit here; we go out. We've done some work with the Salvation Army. But also, within my own constituency, we're finding—. And I know; I'm well aware of the issues that you face, in particular, with the NPS, because we did a study on that, of course. But access to mental health services, detoxification and general support to help with those complex lifestyles that have been adopted, through, you know—. We met people who were years and years, but they—. We watched them on their journey, going through, which was amazing, and there's fantastic work by the Salvation Army here in Cardiff. So, do you have issues with being able to—? What we were told was that, when they do present, and people are reaching out to them saying, 'We can support you', then the support, through the access to the mental health teams and continuous support, was just not there. People were, if you like, deciding to go back, because they just weren't getting access to the mental health support and the detoxification, and you know that's a dangerous process in itself—it needs to be very well advocated. Do you have an issue there?

10:45

I think, sometimes, with some of the rough-sleepers we are trying to help and to get into detox and rehab—we do a profiling system now in Wrexham, so for those rough-sleepers who we know and are engaged with, we have their profile. Our outreach workers meet with them on a daily basis, they come into Crisis Cafe once a week, so we do have that engagement with them. I think the biggest issue that we have found is that when a rough-sleeper presents to us, and says, 'I'm now ready for detox', that place isn't available, and it might take us a week or a fortnight, and then that gives them the time to change their mind. It's having the service at that exact time that you need it—

Yes, we have a massive problem with dual diagnosis of mental health and substance misuse at the same time, and accessing services for people with that sort of complexity is very difficult. I would echo that, but they're not necessarily the sort of people who can meet appointments, and if it's not there there and then when they've got that window when they want to do it, then that's really difficult. So, really, the assertive services, the services that go out and stick to the person, really need to be health services, not just housing services, because, as some of the panel have said, it isn't a housing only problem. There is a housing issue, but it's not a housing problem alone.

I would concur with what Jane and Tracy have said.

In Wrexham, we have got two nurses attached to our outreach team recently employed. That's proved very effective, not just dealing with mental health issues, but other health issues as well. We're piloting that as part of our outreach team, and that is proving invaluable, because there are gaps in mental health services. But it's something that our Supporting People programme is looking at in the planning process of how we can address that gap.

Who funds that? Is that the council funding those mental health nurses?

It's council funding at the moment, yes.

We funded two mental health nurses, and we're going to fund one, going forward, from council funding.

Before you do, Janet, I think Rhianon wanted to come in on this point.

Very briefly, this is just the underbelly in terms of the ongoing eviction issues in terms of access to mental health and in terms of addiction services support, I think. This is a massive issue. But just very briefly, this could even be a 'yes' or 'no', there has been comment that registered social landlords are really not housing homeless people, so do you collect data on the homeless people—I'm sure you do—that you house?

Sixty per cent of all general lets in Cardiff go to homeless people—

Sorry, I'm talking about rough-sleepers, not homeless—

Rough-sleepers—we don't keep separate figures for them.

Okay, that's what I wanted to know. So, generally, there's no key performance indicator or performance indicator around that, so you wouldn't be able to tell us. Okay, thank you, Chair.

Priority need is widely discussed and this issue. If priority need was abolished, what would be the impact for your authorities?

I think a significant increase in expenditure on homelessness services across the local authority. Bearing in mind we have a supply of temporary accommodation to meet the current level of demand, I would see, in the very short term, until that is increased, a significant increase in expenditure on bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I think those are some of the short term, then in the more medium term, we'll obviously need to look at the temporary accommodation that we would provide. We need to develop more, probably that will be supported, and need to be managed. So, expenditure in those areas would increase quite significantly, I would have thought.

10:50

Yes, expenditure would increase. My personal view is that, if you're homeless, without a roof over your head, or rough-sleeping, how much more priority can you be? So, my feeling is that, yes, we should treat them as priority need. But, yes, it will have an impact. It will have an impact on resources, on the support that we need to develop to make sure people can sustain their tenancies having lived rough on the streets, and the cost of it, and the accommodation in some areas—whether or not it's available. We've got a local lettings agency in Wrexham and we do engage quite well with the private rented sector, and that's another avenue to be able to house people. So, we've used that as quite a positive approach to setting people up in a sustainable tenancy. But my view is, if you're vulnerable, living rough on the street, then you are very much in priority need.

We don't assess priority need before we allow people to go through our single person accommodation gateway, so they can go through there whether they're priority need or not. I think that giving that duty on everybody might increase the numbers coming forward, rather than people trying to resolve their own problems. That would be my concern. Plus, also, I think, there would be quite a lot more assessment and paperwork, which is one of the problems with the new Act, really—the amount of paperwork that needs to be done in the assessment.

So, I think it's really more about vulnerable people, isn't it, making sure we pick up the vulnerable people, whether or not they've had an assessment, and that we treat those vulnerable people in the best way that's most appropriate for them? So, for example, if we think that somebody is particularly vulnerable—they've been rough-sleeping for a while, or for some other reason—we would put them straight into a hostel room if we possibly could, rather than putting them through emergency accommodation that can be a bit more difficult for them to sustain.

Can I just ask on that point? Does everybody have that? In my own constituency it's very difficult to access hostel rooms and things. It's mainly down to bed and breakfasts. Do you have facilities to provide anyone who presents as vulnerable with hostel accommodation?

We do at Wrexham—we have hostel accommodation, and we have direct access accommodation, and we quite often have a surplus of our accommodation with rough-sleepers still living rough on the streets. So, I think there are some barriers around the hostel accommodation, about the rules and regulations if you want to remain as an occupant there, and I think that presents barriers for some of the client groups that we deal with in Wrexham. But, yes, if somebody needs it, there is availability there—for Wrexham anyway.

Just briefly, following up on Julie Francis, under what circumstances would a person on the street not be deemed to be priority need? You're in charge here. You're the local authority. It's your decision as to whether or not somebody's priority need. So, what's the profile of the individual who's deemed not priority need by your local authority?

Well, I think in our position at the moment, every case is individual, like my colleagues have said. I think it's the vulnerabilities in terms of our rough-sleeping. They're so vulnerable in terms of the issues that they've currently got.

So, are all your rough-sleepers, then, deemed priority need?

I think again it's individual, because there are a couple of rough-sleepers we've got on the streets of Wrexham who we know have already got tenancies. So, it's difficult to say. It is individual. I would say most people who present with complex needs we pick up.

Okay, that is obviously a very exceptional situation, but apart from them, would you—?

I think I probably need to quantify that in that, because of the drug issue, the substance misuse issue that we've got in Wrexham, that is quite a social, cultural thing, and people tend to gravitate towards the street and the people who have got the addictions, and the peer groups that they mix with, really, if you like. So, in terms of that, they prefer to be on the street with the friends, with the culture, rather than being at home. That's very small numbers really, isn't it, but that is the case, unfortunately? So, yes, I would say that, apart from people who've got tenancies, they are priority need, and that's how we treat them.

Very briefly, it was just a comment that Jane Thomas made. You said that, potentially, if there was an end to priority need it would mean that people would not solve their own problems. I wanted to understand what that meant, because, of course, when we had the academics in earlier, they were saying that there should be more of an onus on local authorities to be proactive and not just allow people to come through the doors. Isn't it for all of us to help to solve people's problems, whether it's someone's fault or not, that if they come through the door that they—? You know, I just want to understand why you said that. It just flagged up to me straight away. 

10:55

It's not a matter of fault, and I wasn't really speaking about rough-sleeping, because homelessness is much, much bigger than rough-sleeping, isn't it, and most people resolve their own housing issue, don't they? But if you give the council a duty to do something, then more people may come into the service. I'm not talking about rough-sleepers—that's quite a different issue, isn't it, where we need to be out there on the streets trying to get them into accommodation? I just mean the general population. Obviously, we would help them to secure accommodation, but if we then had to provide everybody with accommodation, that might attract more people in who would otherwise have found private sector housing quite happily on their own. 

Okay, thanks for that. We move on, then, to Mick Antoniw. 

A couple of very short questions, and it's partly for the record. In terms of the data that we have about the actual numbers of rough-sleepers, we've got, obviously, the Welsh Government approach and the figures there—the national rough-sleepers count—and then there are other methods and so on. How satisfied are you that we actually have a fairly accurate picture of the actual numbers that fall within this category? 

In Wrexham, it's pretty accurate, given the profiling that we're doing and the work that we're doing with the outreach workers. We can be working with any amount up to about 40. Obviously, the figures are fluid—they're not the same on any one day—but we engage with between 10 and 40 in any one day. So, we're about right, I would suggest, for Wrexham. 

Does the system—? Do you have your own mechanism and your own system of counting and assessing it, or—? 

Yes, we do, and we work quite closely with partner agencies, with the Wallich, with Clwyd Alyn Housing Association and other registered social landlords. We've got the four outreach workers. They all get together. We have provider meetings where individual cases are discussed. We will know on a daily basis whether we have any new guests at Tŷ Nos, the night shelter, the night before, and then we will send the outreach worker to pinpoint that particular rough-sleeper to start some profiling, find out where they've come from, whether they need to go back, whether they need some reconnection help, and then bring them into the office to work with our housing options officers.   

And, obviously, Cardiff is the biggest in the sector—your figures are reasonably accurate. 

We count every week the number of rough-sleepers with the help of our partners and the outreach teams. So, at the end of December it was 79 people. During the actual Welsh Government count, the rough-sleeping was disrupted a little bit by a police operation in the city centre, so it was a bit lower than it actually is. And we count the numbers coming in, so we have a significant number each month of new rough-sleepers, or new to rough-sleeping at the moment because they may have been rough-sleepers previously. So, we think we've got quite a good handle on how many there are at any one time. 

Do you have any comment, then, on the Government's system as opposed to the Wallich-type system in terms of network details? Is there any variance or is there any big issue on numbers? 

I don't think we've got an issue with the numbers, no. 

Just looking at the causes of rough-sleeping—do you think we have a deep enough understanding of why people sleep rough? Do we need more research, and what do you think are the main reasons? 

No, I don't think we have a very good understanding at all and I think research would be useful, but I don't think that research can just be asking particular rough-sleepers because I don't think you would get necessarily terribly accurate information. And it's very difficult to tell what's cause and effect because, obviously, a huge proportion of rough-sleepers have got both mental health and substance misuse issues, but whether that is a cause of their rough-sleeping or a cause of their becoming homeless in the first place is very hard to track through. Obviously, the welfare reform changes have meant the benefits system is not, possibly, as complete a safety net that it used to be—people do fall through it more easily and, obviously, we're very concerned with universal credit coming to Cardiff shortly for full service that that might increase. And although there's really quite a lot of advice across the city to help people, I'm particularly concerned that people won't seek that help. And that is what we find as a landlord, because, obviously, we're also a very large social landlord—often the people that we do end up evicting, even though those evictions have reduced recently, are people that just don't make any contact with us, they don't seek any help or support, and they are often single people. So, I think there does need to be research, but it really needs to dig into those reasons, and not just ask the people who are rough-sleeping why they ended up where they are, because I don't think you'd get very accurate information from that. 

11:00

I think we need to draw a distinction between rough-sleeping and persistent rough-sleeping because some people may sleep rough for a night or two following a relationship breakdown and be helped into accommodation. Really, what we need to focus on is that hard core group of persistent rough-sleepers. I was asking a colleague this yesterday when we were looking at our homelessness review. Public Health Wales have done a lot of research into adverse childhood experiences. Could we actually look at adverse childhood experiences and people's propensity to rough-sleep, and particularly that persistent rough-sleeping group, because I think there's probably quite a close connection there with adverse childhood experiences?

And, from our experience in Powys, local housing allowance is quite a big cause of rough-sleeping, mixed in with, obviously, individual circumstances. But, if you bear in mind that there are three local housing allowance rates across Powys—the Montgomeryshire rate, the Brecon and Radnorshire rate, and the Neath Port Talbot rate down in Ystradgynlais—it's easy to access accommodation, or relatively easy to access accommodation, in a town like Llandrindod Wells—we've got a large supply of private-rented accommodation—not so in Brecon. If people have been brought up in Brecon, and Brecon is their world, they will rather sleep rough than move to another town. And accessing rented accommodation in a town like Brecon, when you're only entitled to £45.90 a week, is virtually impossible, in a town that also has no supply of shared accommodation as well. 

Is there a particular problem in a rural area, or is it similar to the urban—

I think it's exacerbated in a rural area because, if you're in an urban area, you could move a mile or two into a cheaper area of town and access accommodation. That's not available in rural towns. 

Thank you. Obviously, when people start rough-sleeping, I'm sure not many intend to do it permanently, and it often starts as—you know, whether it's domestic violence or losing a job or mental health issues. In regard to regional collaboration, with such small numbers, and, if we look at looked-after children as well in terms of those small numbers, is there any current thinking around opportunities for working collaboratively? We all know the point that you've just made in terms of you want to stay in your centre, but is there any merit in that? And, also, in terms of universal credit around the guarantor issues, in terms of the already known eviction arrears rate—bearing in mind in England that we've just only just dipped our toe into this water—there is very great concern that this is going to exponentially rise and obviously knock on to the rough-sleeping perspective. Is there any thought around (a) that projected rise that's anticipated, and then the whole landscape in Wales around regional collaboration? And is there any current regional approach in terms of local authorities working together with health, not within your own local authorities, and also around substance misuse issues, because the quantities of scale are there in terms of procurement?

In terms of regional working, we are working with Ceredigion in terms of our homelessness strategy, particularly around the issue of assertive outreach work. We would want to explore whether there is an opportunity for us jointly to commission such work, because the small numbers that we have in Powys wouldn't necessarily require us to have a service full-time. But, possibly with Ceredigion, that may be an opportunity for us. 

So, is there currently any type of regional collaboration around this agenda in Wales between local authorities?

Not in Cardiff.

I think there is in north Wales. 

Yes. In north Wales, we're aiming to work collaboratively. I think Tracy touched on it before: our homeless strategies are going to be worked on regionally with the common themes and then the more local plan attached to that—so, yes, definitely some collaborative working.

In terms of the new psychoactive substances work that's going on in Wrexham, that's starting to feed out more to regional areas as they experience similar problems. We've hosted a number of inquiries regarding the model of—. We've got what's called a 'gold group' at Wrexham, where they engage with people there and then, as a rough-sleeper, and put them into immediate access to detox and rehabilitation. So, that's a model that we're working on regionally as well.

In terms of—. Just if I might indulge myself and say that one of the causes that I find in Wrexham as well, which doesn't seem to be mentioned a lot, is isolation and loneliness in what people experience—people coming out of care sectors, for example, people coming out of prison, people coming out of even residential settings in some areas, they've been used to lots of people and then we put them into tenancies or we put them into accommodation by themselves and they're just completely lost. There is a need for more support and wraparound services. But I've talked to a few rough-sleepers who have tenancies and have then got back to the street and their reasoning for it is that they want to be with people—they can't manage the tenancy alone. So, whether there could be some more work done around shared tenancies or around other models—I know shared tenancies don't always work, but around other models of how we can target the isolation as well, because, as well as the complex needs, there are things that we overlook that are not so obvious, which I think—. Isolation is a major issue; they gravitate towards groups of people.

11:05

When we talk about rough-sleepers, we tend to imagine this visual presence and we do see—high streets, shop doorways and things—but a question for you, Simon: I've been reading up some recent studies about, in more rural areas, people actually don't go to the high streets, but they will go off into the countryside and set up. They're still sleeping rough; they have no accommodation. I just wondered: have you done any studies as to whether more rural rough-sleeping is off the beaten track, in the countryside?

We haven't, and that's a question we were discussing yesterday, actually, because Powys is so vast. When we do the rough-sleepers count, we obviously focus on the towns, where we've been given intelligence by other agencies. We don't look at isolated farms, for example, and there's plenty of land where people could pitch a tent and live. But I think, if you don't have access to a car, it would be very, very difficult, unless you are going to live off the land, to sustain that lifestyle for any length of time. Public transport: there is very little public transport in rural areas, so how are you going to get your benefits, how are you going to sustain yourself—

And it's a very isolated existence, isn't it? I just wondered if you'd done any work on it—

No, we haven't, no.

Okay. Could I ask Wrexham if you're able to provide us with a reason for the apparent decrease in rough-sleeping in Wrexham, with 16 fewer rough-sleepers in last year's count compared to the year before?

I think it is simply down to the assertive outreach that we've done—it's the prevention work that we've done with landlords and with social landlords themselves to try and sustain tenancies in the first place. It's certainly, I think, the engagement of some of our health professionals in outreach work to try and address some of the more complex issues. The housing options teams themselves have taken a much more proactive role in preventing homelessness and preventing people from going onto the street. I think the fact that we've got a lower number, Wrexham would seek to continue to improve on that and lower it even further. That's our goal—to get as many people off the street as we can and into settled, secure communities where they're going to thrive and flourish. So, yes, I think it's a combination of factors. But it's mainly down to the support people are given.

Okay, thanks for that. Could I just ask about prison leavers? We've got the national pathway now. How effective is that? Would you like to see priority need re-established for prison leavers?

Shall I talk about the pathway first? Priority need is a different issue, I think. But we are having significant problems with the pathway, and possibly it's something that we should, ourselves, have put more work into. In quarter three alone, we had 23 people who started sleeping rough following a release from prison, so that's in one quarter alone, and, 10 of them, we had no previous information from the prison about. So, I think that what is happening is the prison leaver is saying that they have somewhere to go to the prison, so they're not doing that engagement work, and yet, when they get home, or wherever they thought they were going to be housed, it's not happening.

Eight that were referred from prison, so we were expecting, didn't come in, didn't attend the housing options centre, and five did attend but soon disengaged with services. And we know that, of those 23, 10 are still sleeping rough. They may have been sleeping rough before they went into prison, it has to be said, because, obviously, because of the complex needs of the clients, it can be very difficult. But I think there is an awful lot more that we could do to join up services between homelessness and the prisons. I think one of the problems is that Cardiff prison is very short stay, so it has limited time to work with them, but there certainly needs to be more delving into whether the prisoner has actually got somewhere to go, rather than just accepting their word.

11:10

I think our experience matches Jane's in Cardiff. Obviously, the scale is slightly different. Of the seven rough-sleepers that I spoke about, only one of those his last accommodation had been a prison institution. The pathway suggests that a local authority would get three months' notice of a prisoner's release. From what colleagues have told me, that tends to be more like two weeks, and sometimes not at all.

We find that the prisoner pathway is an excellent piece of legislation that is not being used to a great effect. We have a regional prison liaison officer based in Wrexham, and she works for the other four local authorities, visiting HMP Berwyn and Styal Prison, and it's her role to be that link for the local authorities and prison services. And, just to echo what you were saying there, very often the referrals are coming through when an offender is due for release in two weeks. Her feedback to us is that, had she had that information and the referrals when she should have had them, we would have had far more placements ready and available when the offenders are due to be released.

Okay. Well, that's very useful, practical information. We do need to move on, I'm afraid. We haven't got much time left. Gareth Bennett.

Thanks. We might have covered a lot of this, but, if there's any extra stuff you want to add, what services do you offer to rough-sleepers in your council areas, and how effective are they at tackling the problem of rough-sleeping? I don't know if you want to go first.

Do you want me to go first?

Don't go over what you've already said, but if there's anything additional you'd like to highlight—.

Obviously, we've already talked about the outreach, so I won't talk about that, but we have got a considerable amount of hostel accommodation. We've got more than 200 places in our single-person hostels, and that's five different hostels; it's not all in the same hostel. I think we're up to—. We always have 45 emergency places. We have another 50 emergency places during cold weather. So, there is a huge amount of resource going into rough-sleeping. There's also significant supported accommodation in the city. We've got 390 places of supported accommodation, so that's move-on from hostel into supported accommodation that helps with mental health and substance misuse, but also 189 spaces for young people specifically, with a specific young person's gateway and a young persons' dedicated hostel.

In terms of how successful they are, we are piloting a range of different services because we do recognise that, although we have these services, the clients are going around in a loop, and are often evicted and then rehoused in services. What we do need is more intensive support services in order to try and keep them in the accommodation, so we are piloting a range of innovative projects, including housing first and the intensive support projects that I talked about earlier, a specialist hostel for vulnerable women, and in particular for sex workers, who are in the wrong type of accommodation. So, we are piloting a wide range of schemes with funding that we managed to free up from Supporting People by recommissioning services.

But we still have a huge issue with people being evicted from services and just going through that process again and again. I think we had 203 service users evicted up to December. Some of those—23 had multiple evictions. So, obviously, the services are not keeping people in there in the way that we would really want them to, and that's something I'm exploring with our providers of services. Some people have had up to 36 placements within accommodation and have lost them. So, I think really our focus is now on trying to provide that support, working on some of the ACEs and the psychologically informed provision to try and grow those services to be more supportive and have far fewer evictions from services.

11:15

In Powys, I suppose we have the benefit of small communities, and rough-sleepers are quite visible in those small communities and we get to hear about it very, very quickly, either from members of the community, ward councillors, StreetLink. We have a range of generic services, so we do have temporary accommodation across the county in all of the main towns, with the exception of Brecon at the moment. So, we will place people into the temporary accommodation. We are looking at assertive outreach, but actually it's more than just the outreach; it is the assertive support to ensure that people can remain in the accommodation that they are placed into, so that they can sustain their tenancies, rather than just picking them up off the street. I think that's probably about it. We are looking at housing first as well.

Okay, thanks. Does one of you want to outline Wrexham?

Yes. In Wrexham, we have very similar services. We work very closely with the Wallich. They do an excellent project in Wrexham whereby they don't just kind of sustain people—they work on things to help them flourish. We've got another service, ARCH, which we work with quite closely. We've got the assertive outreach along with the health interventions for that. We've got the gold group that I've mentioned for the substance misuse work that we're doing. We have the crisis cafe, which is very successful. We find that informal settings where people can come and have a drink and a talk and something hot to eat is a better way to engage with people and to get them to engage with services, so we tend to focus on those. We're looking at the housing first model. We've still got estate offices in our local areas for the local authority, which operate an open-door policy for anybody to seek advice from. We operate Soup Dragon and we are currently working with Housing Justice Cymru to look at a church-based day shelter for rough-sleepers to be able to access. We've also got the Salvation Army and other people working within, and we are looking at providing some pods for move-on accommodation for rough-sleeping with wraparound support to enable people to move on to sustainable accommodation.

Thanks. With the hostels—Jane, you were mentioning hostels—how effective do you think they are at meeting the complex needs of rough-sleepers?

They do have a lot of success and we monitor the positive outcomes. I think that they do have quite a lot of success, but the complexity of the client group means that a lot of people do fall out of services, particularly around the drug spice, which is causing a particular problem at the moment that is very difficult for the providers to deal with. I know we had one person who came through our complex needs project who had both heroin and spice addiction. They did manage to get him onto a methadone script, but the spice use was so heavy that they just could not keep him in the hostel for the sake of the other residents. With these sorts of needs, it really isn't about the accommodation; it really is about the support and finding the right thing that would work for that individual. We are working with Public Health Wales on the ACEs issue and we've been trying to find some learning from that.

One of the things is that, when a provider evicts, to have a reflective approach and to document what has gone wrong, what has gone right with that person, because they might have moved them on—for example, that person did go on to methadone—but they haven't moved them all the way. So, to have that learning of what worked well and what didn't work well, and then pass that to the provider the next time they come into the service, so that we've got more of that learning of what works for that particular individual, and focus the support on their needs. Because, obviously, a lot of these people do come in with trauma, and they do need specialist services. So, on the whole, I think they're doing a good job, but we just need to focus more on those very, very complex individuals.

11:20

I think the persistent rough-sleepers that we're talking about are a very small group of people, but actually they need significant multi-agency intervention if you're going to turn those lives around. It isn't just housing intervention; it is health, mental health, adult social care and possibly children's services intervention. There needs to be a wraparound solution.

I'd like to add to that, just to say, if we could do one thing differently, it would be to get more assertive mental health and substance misuse services onto the streets.

Yes, that's what I want to get on to. Obviously, one third of the people seen in Cardiff actually aren't from Cardiff. Could we have some idea of what your approach is to those people without that local connection? Because there is a danger, isn't there, that the services that we provide in Cardiff act as a magnet. So, I just wondered if you could tell us a bit, from your perspective, before we get that of your colleagues.

Yes, certainly. There's a difference between people coming into the housing options centre and then people who are sleeping rough. So, if people come into the housing options centre, they are referred. They are given advice and information. So, if they wanted to access the private rented sector, we would give them the same information that we'd give to anybody else. But if they want more assistance than that, we will try to reconnect them with their home local authority. We work with the Salvation Army to do that—fairly successfully—either to reconnect them with their family, which is obviously ideal, or to reconnect them with the local authority.

In terms of the people sleeping rough, specifically, or particularly any vulnerable people, we will occasionally give a waiver. So, we will say, 'We will allow people into services if they have particular vulnerabilities', or if they really don't have a very close local connection to anywhere else, which does happen as well. So we will allow those people into services. But otherwise we are trying to reconnect them to their local authority.

Through the Welsh Government grant funding, we have funded some bonds and rent in advance for people from out of county to try and assist them to access the private rented sector, preferably not in Cardiff because we have got quite a lot of homelessness in Cardiff anyway, but not necessarily in the local authority that they came from. We've been doing that on a trial basis this year to give more support to people with no local connection. But, otherwise, we really do try to connect them.

We did have a major problem with European Economic Area nationals, but that has reduced quite significantly now. There are only one or two. And, again, we worked with the Salvation Army to either try and reconnect them or to get them into work because, often, they were falling into homelessness because they weren't in work and therefore couldn't access benefits. A small amount of help to get them back into work would resolve their problem.

Obviously, there are services in Cardiff, and it does attract people in—not only the services, but the ability to beg and make a huge amount of money from begging as well. So, it is a major issue, and we cannot accept all of those homeless people coming into Cardiff. It would be extremely difficult for us to accept them all because we haven't got the move-on accommodation to get people out of the hostels at the end. So, although we do take—I think it's probably about a third of the people who come through with specific needs, we will give them a waiver, but we cannot possibly do that for everybody.

How much burden sharing goes on? If you've got people coming from other local authorities, do you then—? If the person refuses to go back—maybe there's been a violent scenario that's forced them to come to another place—do you then get financial support from the local authority that has the duty? How does that work?

No. However, for domestic abuse, we're part of Refuges Online, so we do share accommodation across Wales for domestic abuse victims.

11:25

Okay. So, the person fleeing domestic abuse from Powys, you might accommodate them in Cardiff, but the bill would be picked up by Powys. Is that right?

No. It's a reciprocal arrangement. So, we might put people from out of Cardiff into a refuge for domestic abuse, but other councils then pick up Cardiff people when they need to move further away.

The criticism is that the reconnection service isn't effective, because people are given a ticket back to wherever, and then, there's no effective connection. So, I just wondered what your experience is, because we'll be sending them back to Powys, possibly, conceivably—

Can I just say, we don't just give them a ticket? We would never just do that.

We would contact the local authority and ensure that they would accept them before we sent them back.

Okay. So, then what happens? Have you had this experience?

We haven't, actually. I was chatting to a colleague yesterday, and we haven't had new referrals back from Cardiff. As Jane was saying, Powys isn't one of the authorities that they receive huge numbers of people from.

We have tried to reconnect a difficult rough-sleeper with his mother somewhere in England, and that lasted a couple of weeks and then broke down, and he returned to the area. So, it didn't involve the local authority in England, it involved contact with his family.

One of the issues we found when the Chair and I visited Solas in Newport was that these people with adverse childhood experiences, the only person they've got to love them is their dog. So, if hostels don't accept dogs, then they're not going to go into a hostel. Solas do take dogs—they had nine dogs on the day we visited. What thought has been given to, I'm afraid what is a fact of life for some people with very complex mental health needs?

We do have hostel places for dogs. I was in Tŷ Gobaith and there were dogs there, recently. We do that. And couples were always a problem, as well, and we've now got a lot more provision for couples who want to stay together. That was previously quite a problem. But, yes, we certainly cater for dogs.

In terms of allowing dogs in temporary accommodation, I'd have to check that and get back to you.

Yes, it's the same for Wrexham—I think we'd have to check it. We do reconnect people where we think they will flourish from going back to be reconnected. However, if somebody presents in the situation that you've said in terms of domestic violence or reasons why they can't return to their area, we do have reciprocal arrangements with our neighbouring authorities that we will foot the bill, if you like, and then they will do the same when there's a case that we need to present to them. We have quite good links with that in terms of we wouldn't just get a ticket; there would be conversations about background and whether that person would flourish going back to where they're from, really.

Okay. I think we have to move on, because we're almost at the end of our allotted time. Perhaps you might send the committee a note in terms of reconnection, because I think there is an issue as to the level of joining up between the authority that's referring somebody on for reconnection and the authority receiving the person, and whether the level of support is sufficient to make it a success. And, also, whether people are sleeping rough because they do not wish to be reconnected and would rather sleep rough than be reconnected. So, if you've got any information on that, it would be very useful.

In the small amount of time available to us, I wonder if Bethan Jenkins might address some of the questions, not the ones that have previously been covered, but others.

I would just ask a brief question with regard to how you use your powers in relation to public protection spaces or dispersal powers, working with the police. Much of what we've discussed, and why we're having this inquiry, is because we've had concerns about how, potentially, some local authorities have been moving people on. Shelter has said, 'Well, if you're going to move people on, you need to have the support services in place for them to go to.' I have personally witnessed police moving a homeless person on outside a shop in Cardiff, and it wasn't hostile, but he had to move everything from that shop window. How are you using those powers? Are you using them sparingly? If you haven't got time to answer it now, send us a note on why you use them, how you use them. Is it to do with this sort of aggressive—or not aggressive begging but the predominance of begging that you're trying to alleviate, or is it other issues that you have, potentially? 

11:30

It's not very widely used in Wrexham. It's not something that—. We've used it, with the police, obviously, on maybe one or two occasions, because we had individuals who were posing a risk to the public. There was quite a huge outcry—it was at the time when NPS use was at its worst, and it was felt that that was the only way we could tackle those particular individuals. It's not something that we widely use at all in Wrexham.

To my knowledge, it's not been used in Powys. I would also just like to say that there are times when a concern about rough-sleeping from people is based on the perception of people who are begging. Just because people are begging doesn't mean they are rough-sleeping. They may have accommodation. It may not be settled or permanent or secure accommodation, but, quite often, they're not rough-sleeping.

Public perception.

I think that has a lot to do with benefit sanctions, as well as substance misuse issues.

I'd second that. A lot of people begging are not homeless at all. We have found that that is definitely the case—some of the people we've rehoused ourselves. We don't use public protection orders. I think the only ones we've got are around parks and people camping in parks—we've got some powers there. Generally, the police have been taking action, but it's supposed to be about aggressive begging. They have been moving people on for that purpose, but they've not been using public protection order powers, as I understand. We're trying to develop a pathway with the police so that they've got a very clear way to refer into services when they do intervene, so that they can refer people to The Big Issue, so that they can sell The Big Issue instead of begging, and that they know exactly where to refer to get them into housing services. We're developing a written protocol with them on the pathway that they should follow.

I'm afraid we haven't got any further time, but we will write to you with a request for some further responses to particular points. We might include in that, I think, whether there are any diversionary giving schemes being developed or thought about in terms of street begging. Thank you very much indeed for coming along to give evidence this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Thank you very much.

11:35
4. Ymchwiliad i Gysgu ar y Stryd yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 3
4. Inquiry into Rough-sleeping in Wales: Evidence Session 3

Hello, everyone. Thank you very much for coming in today.

We now move on to our third evidence session with regard to the committee's inquiry into rough-sleeping in Wales. I'm very pleased to welcome Yvonne Connolly, regional manager for Wales and the south west for the Salvation Army, Richard Edwards, chief executive of the Huggard Centre, Frances Beecher, chief executive of Llamau, and Antony Kendall, director of operations for the Wallich.

Thank you all very much for coming in today to give evidence. Perhaps I might begin the questioning by asking about the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. How effective do you think it has been in terms of helping tackle rough-sleeping in Wales?

I think the housing Act was very, very positive. It's legislation that is not just UK-wide leading legislation; international countries are looking at it. But I don't think that the legislation actually had rough-sleeping in its particular remit. So, whilst I think the housing Act is very positive and has diverted many families and many people away from homelessness, which is absolutely to be commended, I think, to cover intervention and what is needed on rough-sleeping, it would have to be expanded a little bit. I don't know if anybody—

Yes, I'd back that up, really. There's been a clear focus on changing the Act to prevent homelessness, and there's been some clear evidence to show that's been very successful. But, obviously, with the rise in rough-sleeping levels, we've still got people falling through the net. I would agree that the focus of the Act needs to be working more for people who are becoming homeless or are already homeless. I think section 68, where local authorities could be providing accommodation while further investigation is taking place into an applicant's homelessness eligibility and possible priority need—I'm not sure whether that is being applied consistently across Wales.