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Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

14/02/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Emma Williams Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Polisi Tai, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Housing Policy, Welsh Government
Rebecca Evans AM Y Gweinidog Tai ac Adfywio
Minister for Housing and Regeneration
Rob Owen Rheolwr Polisi Atal Digartrefedd, Llywodraeth Cymru
Homelessness Prevention Policy Manager, Welsh Government

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
Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Megan Jones Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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 rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 11:00.

The public part of the meeting began at 11:00.

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

We move into public session with this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. Item 5 on our agenda today is apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We've had one apology, from Mick Antoniw. Are there any declarations of interest? Sorry—also an apology, of course, from Bethan Jenkins. Are there any declarations of interest? No. We will move on, then.

6. Ymchwiliad i Gysgu ar y Stryd yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 6
6. Inquiry into Rough-sleeping in Wales: Evidence Session 6

I'm very pleased to welcome Rebecca Evans AM, Minister for Housing and Regeneration, together with her officials, Emma Williams, deputy director of housing policy with the Welsh Government, and Rob Owen, homelessness prevention policy manager with the Welsh Government. Welcome to you all. This is our final evidence session into rough-sleeping in Wales, and we're very pleased to have you here today to give evidence.

Perhaps I might begin, then, with some questions on the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and firstly, Minister, how you would respond to suggestions that, while the Act has been effective and productive in terms of homelessness generally, it hasn't been as effective for rough-sleepers. How would you respond to that view?

Well, good morning, Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to come to committee today. I would agree that the homelessness legislation has certainly been successful in terms of preventing homelessness occurring. Since the Act has started its implementation, we've seen around 13,000 households having their homelessness prevented, which is a tremendous success, and I'm pleased that other countries are now looking at what we've been able to achieve here. England is developing an Act very much along the same kind of lines. I do think it is fair to say that we still have a long way to go in terms of making sure that our legislation delivers specifically for people who are rough-sleeping. I think that fact is recognised in our rough-sleeping action plan, which does say that there is an important role for legislation but that perhaps stronger statutory guidance under that Act might be a way in terms of ensuring that the Act does deliver for people who are rough-sleeping as well.

Of course, the Act has a really strong focus on prevention, and we would aim to intervene before the point at which people do become homeless. But I would look to the research that's being currently undertaken in terms of the independent evaluation of our housing Act that's been commissioned by the University of Salford in terms of helping us gain a better understanding about the groups who have been best supported and have had their homelessness prevented or alleviated as a result of the Act, and a number of other pieces of research, which are ongoing at the moment. We expect to have some of that research back in late spring and summer, and I think that that then will give us a much more robust understanding in terms of the impact of the legislation on different groups of people.

At that point, Minister, might you consider further legislation, if you deem that necessary, having received that analysis?

I think that when we receive the analysis back in terms of the evaluation of the implementation of the Act, then we can certainly consider whether any further legislation might be required, any changes to existing legislation, or whether it would require more of a policy response or an investment response. But I think that our rough-sleepers action plan, which was published just last week, does give us that opportunity, really, in order to use the action plan as a basis for moving forward when we have the results of that evaluation back. The action plan is very much a living document, and the intention would be for it to be adapted, taking into account the best practice and the evidence, which we'll be receiving in the coming months.

Okay. If I could refer to some evidence the committee has received from Dr Mackie with regard to the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, he pointed to what he thinks is a key deficiency in that it only requires local authorities to assist those who seek assistance, so that local authorities aren't required to be more proactive and proactively identify and assist rough-sleepers. Would you agree that legislative changes to introduce such a proactive approach are necessary?

11:05

I think that what Dr Mackey's evidence suggests, and the evidence also from the Wales Audit Office suggests, is that what we really need as a result of the Act, and what the Act seeks to achieve, is a culture change. And some local authorities, I would say, are further down the road than others in terms of ensuring that that culture change does come about. And again, that independent analysis will give us a perspective on which local authorities are performing well, and we saw some of that in the Wales Audit Office report as well.

Okay. If I could ask about priority need groups as well, Minister. Your action plan states that Welsh Government will consider the case for amending secondary legislation to modify priority need groups, including rough-sleepers, by January 2020. Why is it necessary to delay any decision until 2020?

I think any decision that is taken in terms of priority groups would be a significant decision in terms of the legislation that we have at the moment, and the decision would need to be made on the basis of an understanding of the evidence available. I referred to some of the research being undertaken by the University of Salford, but we also have a specific piece of research being undertaken by Wrexham Glyndŵr University, to be published in April, and that looks specifically at the experiences of rough-sleepers who have come from a prison setting before experiencing rough-sleeping. I know prisoners are a particular area of concern, both for the committee and within that context of the priority need discussion as well. So, we'd have to look at that, and look at some of the other evidence that is coming forward in terms of the efficacy of the Act for different groups of people.

I'm also keen to understand the impact that removal of priority need has had on the situation in Scotland as well, because we know that the removal came into effect in Scotland in 2012, but that has led to an increased use in terms of people spending perhaps—well, more people in temporary accommodation and more people spending a longer time in temporary accommodation as well. So, that's something that we would wish to avoid here in Wales. So, potentially, there would be unintended consequences, and I think that it would be wrong to indicate strongly a change in policy, or a change in legislation before we had established the facts and explored all of those issues.

Okay. I'll just bring Jenny Rathbone in at this stage.

Obviously, I'm interested to look at the Glyndŵr University research, but we have had quite a lot of concerning information about the impact of removing the status of prisoners as being priority need because a lot of our witnesses have argued quite coherently that if you're leaving prison and you don't have a home—. If you have no housing, the chances of ending back up in prison, or, indeed, a worsening of your mental health issues are a further burden on health services—. I think I'd be concerned about the amount of time you plan to wait to review this, given the amount of evidence we've heard that we don't have enough liaison between housing, health and the criminal justice system, and that it's actually costing us more.

I think that there are certainly things that we can be doing immediately rather than waiting for the results of research and so on, in terms of deciding a way forward. So, certainly, things that don't need legislative change or even a policy change. One of those would be, I think, to improve our discussions with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation, with the prison service, and with the organisations tasked with supporting people as they come out of prison. And the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Chief Inspector Peter Clarke, regularly meets with Welsh Government, and, in fact, he has a meeting with Alun Davies today. And I know that homelessness officials, alongside officials from other policy areas, will be meeting with him to provide some additional information about the Welsh context and to have some discussions in that area.

There's also a strategy group that has been established recently to open up a dialogue between the Ministry of Justice and the Welsh Government and justice services to ensure that there is a really robust interface between those three areas. Clearly, an important piece of work for that group will be exploring the support that there is for prisoners. Although this piece of work has just started, there's an accommodation work stream within that piece of work that looks specifically at the destinations of prisoners and the way in which to best support prisoners as they leave. I don't know if Emma would like to provide a bit more of an update on the work that we're doing in that area.

11:10

Thank you, Minister. The thing I'd like to focus on as much as anything else is the national pathway that we've established. We developed that in December 2015, but we accept that it's not been consistently or widely well implemented. I think that, if we can focus our efforts—and we'll be talking about this through the strategy group and also the application of other approaches for prison leavers—where we can get that well embedded, where we can get services working together and discussing the housing needs of prisoners long before they actually leave the secure estate, then we can have much more successful outcomes, without having to look for legislative change, which can obviously take time. So, we have the tools there. We're beginning to develop the dialogue that will actually allow us to make sure that that's being consistently and properly implemented.

Some of these issues are non-devolved, of course, in terms of the resourcing issues facing the prison service. So, some individuals are not being identified as being at risk of homelessness on release, and then, of course, there are resource issues and constraints within the Community Rehabilitation Company, and I think committee has had some evidence on that particular issue as well.

However, there are things within the devolved context that I would like us to look at much more closely, for example better information sharing on health as prisoners leave the prison setting into the community. And local authorities really need to be working at a much earlier stage in terms of planning for release, and that's covered under the homeless sector, isn't it, Rob, in terms of the preventative approach?

It would certainly be very welcome—although the prison service doesn't have a good track record on this, we look forward to changes.

Well, this is clearly an area where improvements need to be made.

Are there particular issues with regard to short sentences? Because we've heard that sometimes there might only be two weeks' notice of release, which provides a lot of difficulty for service providers. If somebody's sent to prison for a very short period of time, then there isn't going to be 12 weeks' notice because they're not in prison for 12 weeks. So, are there particular issues there and are there ways of overcoming those problems?

You're right that the pathway does say that there should be a 12-week planning period in terms of releasing prisoners, but, clearly, many prisoners do find themselves in that cycle of very short sentences, coming out of prison with nowhere to go, essentially, and then finding themselves back in prison as well. I think there's perhaps a wider discussion there to have in terms of the justice system and crime prevention and so on and wider support for prisoners, both within the prison setting and on release as well.

If I could just add, of course, if the relationships are there between the prison services and local authority housing officers, then that will become less of a barrier because where there are relationships the dialogue can start much quicker and much more easily. What we have at the moment is where there aren't necessarily relationships between the different players in the different services, then it's much more difficult to address those issues and challenges in such a short timescale. So, I do think there's quite a lot about building relationships and building a good dialogue.

Is that again the national pathway that will facilitate that?

The pathway can help provide a framework that establishes those relationships, but, to be frank, multi-agency working is always at its best when individuals understand one another's roles, know who to contact, and can therefore cut through some of the delays and the bureaucracy, if you like, to make sure they are contacting the right person at the right time.

A good example of that would be seen in Caerphilly where there's a practitioners' group and that's made up of probation and homelessness services and the local authority. They've seen some improved and tangible improvement in performance there in terms of prisoners being supported upon release. I understand that that approach now is intended to be taken Gwent-wide, so there will be, certainly, some learning for us in terms of watching what appears to be, at this stage, a successful approach.

11:15

Thank you, and it would be very interesting to follow the progress of that model as it's rolled out through Wales as a best practice model.

With regard to the number of high-profile cases there have been around gaps in that pathway journey from prison or probation, there did seem to be a lack of awareness in the last session, in particular from certain witnesses, around any potentiality for reports or post-sentencing reports, or information that would then carry on to public authorities to be given in a timely fashion. So, within that interface that you're talking about, and that dialogue within probation and prisons, it would be very, very useful for this committee to follow through how we can better improve that communicational dialogue in that journey, because it is still happening. I'm very concerned in terms of the proportion of ex-prisoners that are in the rough-sleeping community in terms of those that are particularly hard to reach, and I think it's a very important link that we get right.

I think the casework approach, which we're promoting through our rough-sleepers action plan and through the new information technology system that is being developed by the Wallich, has some potential to help with some of those notification issues that have been identified and that lack of sharing of information about individuals. The casework approach I think will be extremely useful, because we know, actually, they are a relatively small number of people who are rough-sleeping, and they're all known to services. However, at the moment, there's a lack of sharing of information amongst and between services about those individuals, what their needs might be, how they've progressed on various different support avenues in the past and so on. So, I think that IT system, as it's rolled out as part of our action plan, will be extremely instrumental in providing a more person-centred, individualised service to people experiencing rough-sleeping or at risk of it.

Cyn belled, rydym ni wedi bod yn sôn am gyn-garcharorion o fewn y cyd-destun angen blaenoriaethol, ond mae yna grwpiau eraill hefyd o bobl sydd yn gallu cael eu categoreiddio fel rhai sydd efo angen blaenoriaethol. Buaswn i'n licio eich barn chi am hynny, am ehangu allan—dim jest y grwpiau o gyn-garcharorion. Pa grwpiau eraill ydych chi'n meddwl a fyddai'n gallu elwa o wneud newidiadau, fel sydd wedi digwydd yn yr Alban?

So far, we've been discussing ex-offenders in terms of priority need, but there are other groups too who could be categorised as having priority need, and I'd like your view on that in terms of expanding this, not just to ex-offenders. What other groups do you think could benefit from making changes such as the changes that have happened in Scotland?

Well, I'll ask Rob to come in in terms of what the Act intended, in terms of the approach to vulnerability as an absolute test to ensure vulnerable households didn't find themselves in the situation where they didn't have access to accommodation. The current categories are almost the ones you would expect: so pregnant women; people with dependent children; people who are vulnerable as a result of old age, mental ill health and so on; homelessness as an emergency in terms of, for example, experiencing a flood; 16 and 17-year-olds; people who have become homeless as a result of domestic abuse; care leavers; ex-servicemen and women who have become homeless since leaving the forces; and it does include a person who has a local connection with the area and is vulnerable as a result of being an ex-prisoner. And I think that when the Act was passed, the intention, or the expectation, certainly, was that prisoners would be captured by that test. In terms of the work to consider whether there are groups other than prisoners who are thought to be left out of this particular test, I'd be more than happy to consider that as we consider the issue of priority need and vulnerability more widely.

Thanks, Minister. I think it's fair to say the concept of priority need could be considered as an old hang-up of the old legislation, where the application of the test was essentially to divide resources in terms of access to social housing. What we have in Wales, in my opinion, is a very low threshold in terms of access to what is considered interim emergency accommodation under section 68. Now, the test that normally should be applied, for local authorities to apply to an individual who appears to be homeless, who appears to be in priority need, is that accommodation should be provided whilst the other steps are taking place under section 73. Once they have completed the assessment, the reasonable steps come in. The question of whether or not somebody's satisfied that an individual is in priority only comes at the back end of our process, in terms of our legislation. So, the test of vulnerability has been very contentious for a long time. In Wales, our interpretation within the guidance, and particularly the amendment that was made with the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, which was not the Pereira test, is actually a lower threshold. So, in terms of the other groups that you refer to, obviously we'll be looking at this with the rough-sleeper working group, in terms of a review of priority need, to see what groups are maybe marginalised within our legislation at present, and obviously put a case forward for change if need be.

11:20

So, if the threshold is that low, there's no point having a priority need test—

Well, at the moment—

Yes. Thanks to the Assembly Member. At this point, the threshold for the interim accommodation is very low, but when we get through the system—. The process, in terms of the legislation: you have a duty for prevention, a duty to help to secure accommodation, and then an absolute duty to secure accommodation, when the help to secure has failed. Now, at this current time, some people, unfortunately, will drop out of our homelessness system when they get to that stage if help hasn't been found for them, whilst they are experiencing homelessness. I'm not talking about rough-sleeping. I'm talking about homelessness in the broadest sense under the definition under the Act. As we are all aware, some people at this point do fall out of that system. We need to look at who is falling out of that system and why. If there's an issue around interpretation in terms of local authorities, that's something that we can address through our guidance.

Could I ask: was any consideration given to giving automatic priority needs status to known rough-sleepers? Was that considered at all?

That has been discussed at the rough-sleeper working group, which is a working group made up of cross-sector organisations, agencies and local authorities. The issue of verifying a rough-sleeper—. I think all of you may have seen in the recent press, particularly around Cardiff, where I believe the police were involved in a recent operation to try and support some of the efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour, et cetera. There appears to be some stigmatising of individuals, whether they are rough-sleeping or not. Cardiff council responded to say that x amount of people on the streets of Cardiff actually have accommodation available to them, and not in the emergency sense. So, I think the question that we have to think about is how we verify a rough-sleeper. What does that actually look like, and how can we actually ensure that there is a process in place that is robust enough as well to actually identify everyone that needs to be identified?

You'd be surprised.

I think that that's demonstrated, actually, by some of the challenges with our rough-sleeper count, in terms of gathering accurate data. You have one figure for the period over two weeks, which is essentially an estimate given to us by local authorities. Then, of course, you have the rough-sleeper count, which is—by its definition—very difficult to undertake in terms of having to physically see individuals who are rough-sleeping. There will be known areas where people go to rough-sleep, but equally, there will be places where people do their best to stay out of sight, and they need to be counted as well.

Well, maybe there are some difficulties in identifying known rough-sleepers, but the Wallich, for example, in Newport would be able to say that x number of rough-sleepers are receiving breakfast and a range of services from them seven days a week. So, it certainly wouldn't be difficult to identify those rough-sleepers.

No, no, they would provide that information as part of that two-week picture in terms of capturing the data. But, I was just trying to demonstrate really that it is a very complex picture. Although many of these people are already known to services, there is a danger of going on and off the radar of service providers as well. So, it is a very complicated picture, but one of the things that we are aiming to do through our action plan is improve the way in which we capture some of that data. For example, the way we capture the data regarding availability of emergency accommodation and emergency beds showed that Swansea had one bed, which would obviously come as a shock to everybody. But, actually, that was only part of the picture because of the way that the data is collected. Actually, there are more than 60 beds, but they are provided by different providers who aren't captured by that piece of work. So, I think there's a lot we can do in terms of trying to get a more accurate picture of the situation as well.

11:25

Before we move on, could I just ask about the code of guidance and whether you think it's been consistently followed by local authorities, and so resulting in rough-sleepers being found to be in priority need?

This is an area that we will be looking at specifically as part of the research into the implementation of the Act, in order to understand to what extent the code is being adhered to. But I'm not sure whether Emma or Rob would have any reflections on their experience as well.

I'm happy to let the Chair know. Officials have been undertaking a series of support visits with local authorities since the implementation of the Act, and using our official data returns has guided us in terms of who we should, maybe, visit first. So, we're about halfway through that programme at the present time, and one of the areas that we do, indeed, cover is the use of the code, the availability of the code and, quite frankly, whether or not the staff are aware of the code. I'm quite pleased to say that the code is being adhered to in terms of being used and referenced, as well, within the notifications that local authorities are giving to customers as they're going through the homelessness assessment. Is it perfect? It's on its second draft at this point in time. We're going to be reviewing it again this year, and, hopefully, with a draft available for the summer. We recognise, from speaking with partners, that there are areas that could be clearer, and we will adhere to that challenge.

If we move on then, Rhianon Passmore has data and scale.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you. We've covered and touched upon some of those points. In regard to the welcome emphasis in your plan on housing first models of care and the ability to persistently stick with individuals in this cohort of the community who often have multiple, complex substance misuse, alcohol and mental health needs, it's very important that we are moving in a direction of travel in that way, and I welcome that. In regard to the counting of the data that you just mentioned, whose responsibility is that in regard to local authorities and around criminal justice arenas? My question really is: how accurate do you think our current counting of the rough-sleeping community is? How can that be improved and what do we need to be able to do that, bearing in mind the predicted rise in that community around welfare reform, universal credit and the whole issue around the use of new psychoactive substances and legal highs, which are causing great concern at the moment? Sorry, it's a long-winded question.

I think there are two elements to that question, really, and one is particularly about how the data goes about being collected, and that's something that local authorities do, in partnership with the providers in their areas. But maybe Emma or Rob would be able to give you a little bit more information.

Yes, in terms of the data counts. The methodology is very much based on a process that Homeless Link devised in England, because England have been doing the counts for many, many years. The difference between us and the English counts is that we require local authorities to produce the two figures, as we've talked about today, so the two-week estimate, which comprises of, essentially, interactions between services in the area, such as police, fire service, parks, et cetera, and the normal outreach services and local authorities themselves, with people who claim to be sleeping rough, and then the one-night count, which we talked about, is a snapshot in a particular window on a particular night of the week that's specified by us. Within England, they do not require all local authorities to do a one-night count where they have an estimate of fewer than 10. So, that's essentially the process.

We recognise that the data can only give us a broad indication of the scale of rough-sleeping in Wales, and it is very difficult to get a constant picture. However, I'm sure the evidence you've received from the Wallich will have mentioned that the new street homeless information network that they've set up—.

You're coming to that, are you? Do you want me to talk about that now?

11:30

No, no, that's fine. Basically, it's in terms of how it will enable Welsh Government and our partners to work better and more accurately, and really what sort of impact you think it's going to have overall, bearing in mind the issue of who is really, overall, responsible for the co-ordination of many different potential services around this particular cohort.

Okay, if I talk about the data to start with, we have quite high expectations regarding the SHIN network, which is based on the combined homelessness and information network model that operates in London. We are supporting that project, and once completed it will be able to provide local authorities and us as Welsh Government, at national level, a fairly live picture of the scale of rough-sleeping as and when we need to call on that data. But it's only as good as the information being put in—I take that point.

With that being said, the funding that we've supplied the provider for this year in terms of developing that system also includes enough revenue to acquire the licences for pretty much every member of staff that operates in this kind of field to actually use this database. So, that barrier in terms of people not being necessarily able to use the software due to cost, et cetera, has been removed. So, the SHIN co-ordinator will be starting to promote that system. I expect that, over the next 12 to 18 months, as that comes live and becomes quite established, we will be able to produce very robust rough-sleeping data based on the information from services, directly from services as and when they're encountering people.

How will that then be used to co-ordinate and make more accessible the services to this cohort?

Well, local authorities have their homelessness strategies to publish this particular year, which obviously they will reveal periodically. That information will obviously be fed into their particular local planning processes. In terms of policy development, it will inform us in terms of the decisions that we need to make as well. So, at this point, whilst we know that rough-sleeping is rising, we don't necessarily know the scale in terms of making appropriate decisions such as funding, et cetera, and priorities. This system will allow us to have a more robust idea of the scale of the problem in Wales.

I think the other part of the question there was also about, I suppose, how we work within the context of the mental health issues that many people face when they are rough-sleeping and also that close crossover in terms of substance misuse, because we know that substance misuse is a particular problem amongst the rough-sleeper population, although it would be remiss of me not to recognise that, actually, there are people rough-sleeping who don't misuse substances as well.

In terms of how we take this forward, the rough-sleeper action plan was developed in partnership with our rough-sleeper working group, and that has representatives on it, as well as the homeless strategies working group, from mental health, from the third sector, from the housing associations, local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association to give that particular perspective that does include mental health. There are also a number of internal official working groups working across Welsh Government. For example, there's the senior health and housing group, which is chaired by Andrew Goodall. So, we're very much committed in terms of working much more closely than ever before across Government on the health and housing agenda. In fact, we have a dedicated member of staff now working on a health and housing agenda across Government to make sure that we are very much joined up.

I suppose that's demonstrated in our substance misuse delivery plan, which was published towards the end of last year. That in itself includes some particular actions in terms of helping people who do misuse substances to sustain tenancies, and that includes strengthening partnership working between the area planning boards and the regional collaborative consortium, and also by revising the good practice for the provision of substance misuse services to homeless people as well. So, we're very much looking at this in a joined-up, cross-Government way.

Can I just ask about regional collaboration? It's very small.

We come on to some of the wider issues later in terms of causes and stats to address.

Hi. Given the range of complex and varied needs of rough-sleepers, what is the Welsh Government doing to tackle these issues before they lead to homelessness?

We know that the causes of homelessness are very wide and varied. For example, the analysis that we've done thus far on the housing Act does suggest to us that the main cause for people who are in danger of losing their home is actually the failure of a tenancy or a tenancy coming to an end. In terms of those people who then go on to become homeless, the main cause is a family member or friend not being willing to house them anymore. Of course, that kind of situation can happen very quickly, and that does make it more difficult to secure the tenancy.

So, there's important work, I think, going on in terms of supporting young people in particular who have poor relationships with their families in order to broker some family support for those people in order to perhaps see if there is a way to make staying at home a better option for the young people and the family. Equally, we know that adverse childhood experiences are very common amongst the rough-sleeping population, which is why we're really keen to take a trauma-informed approach. The Welsh Government, as part of the funding announced towards the end of last year, did ensure that we could provide some additional funding to make sure that there's training across various sectors for people working on the front line, to ensure that they are fully up to date in terms of that training.

11:35

On that very point about the adverse childhood experiences, which can lead then to very severe adult mental health issues, a lot of the evidence that we've taken has suggested that access into mental health services is one of the key components that really helps, but that isn't available. I just wondered how you work cross-department-wise or portfolio-wise within the Welsh Government to ensure that there is easier access to mental health services so that, when people do come forward and want to be helped, they have the necessary support in place.

This is really important in two ways in the sense that we understand that many people who are rough-sleeping have very, very limited contact with health services generally. I think, for around 40 per cent of people, their first contact tends to be at a crisis point, when they attend or present at accident and emergency department. So, there does need to be more work to be done in terms of that ongoing support for people who are rough-sleeping. Part of the answer to that, I think, will be through the housing first model. Although housing first is essentially about putting that roof over somebody's head, we know that the package of support that the person might need around them will, on many occasions, involve support for mental health. It will involve support in terms of tackling substance misuse. That's why a key worker approach to housing first, which is one of the aspects adopted in our housing first principles, will be really important in terms of giving people who often, over many years, have developed a strong distrust of services. It will give them that opportunity to link in through a trusted individual.

What we did pick up as well, Minister, was the fact that a lot of those key workers working out there in the field, in terms of outreach and running hostels—we had a really good visit to the Salvation Army, and the work that they do here, in Cardiff, is exemplary. Not only did some of the people who had been rough-sleeping speak of their experiences—and again, it was the mental health issues. When they decided they wanted support, if it's not there, there's that tendency to fall back and go back onto the street. I suppose, really, there's an assumption that people will present to A&E, but sometimes people—. Outreach workers are very successful at encouraging people to come forward as well. How do we get that joined-up approach so that, when somebody does come forward for that support and those hard-working front-line workers—people going out and being there to support them, when they then need those specialist services kicking in—? If they're not there at that time—. Would you agree with me there does need to be greater working within the Welsh Government in terms of the health portfolio and making sure that those support services are there when they're needed?

I completely agree that there is a need for support services to be there when the individual is ready to access those services. Because, for lots of people who are rough-sleeping, they feel like they've been let down by the system time and time again. They don't have anyone they can trust in, and when they finally do seek support, then we absolutely have to make sure that it is there for them.

I also thank you for pointing out the fact that there are wonderful people doing wonderful work every day under, often, extremely difficult circumstances, and I think that we don't often get the chance to say thank you for that work. So, when we do have those visits, it's really good to have the opportunity to have one-to-one conversations with people delivering on the front line, hearing their experiences and then also being able to reflect on those, I suppose, as we develop policy as we go forward.

11:40

And my final point on this part is: many of these services do appear to be third sector services or charities, and I just wondered how you could perhaps put a model in place across Wales that those services are, if you like, available under the auspices, really, of the Welsh Government and each local authority, because quite often, a lot of this does fall on to our hard-working charities and the third sector with lots of volunteers involved, and it's how we can put a better framework in place to support them.

Many of those projects will be funded by Welsh Government through Supporting People and other funding streams, for example. We provide funding to a huge range of organisations—

It was more the actual strategic working, if you like, and support.

It is done strategically, in the sense that organisations who bid into funding need do so along those lines that we set out, which we believe will make the biggest difference on a strategic level to support people. But I do think that it is highly appropriate as well for those organisations to be delivering, because, again, it comes back to trust, and sometimes the charitable organisations, third sector organisations, are able to engage. People are pushing at a door that they feel much more comfortable being opened than they would in perhaps a more formalised kind of service as well. So, I think this agenda requires all partners working together: local authority, Welsh Government, but also the huge patchwork that we have of voluntary organisations as well.

Okay. We're going to come on to effectiveness of services. Before we do, just one other matter on the causes of rough-sleeping. Dr Peter Mackie suggested some further research might usefully be done in terms of preventing homelessness and rough-sleeping on the interaction and relationship between key state institutions such as prisons, hospitals and the care system—that relationship between homelessness and those key institutions. Is that something that might be covered in terms of what you said earlier, Minister, and the work that's going to take place, or is that something that you might consider?

The Glyndŵr work will certainly look at the relationship between prisoners and rough-sleeping. I should also mention that the Welsh Government is supporting some work that Shelter is doing in terms of gathering the experiences of rough-sleepers in Cardiff, Wrexham and Swansea in order to understand what's led them to rough-sleeping and what their experiences are like on the streets. The Welsh Government has also partnered up with other organisations and is taking forward a strong research agenda that I'll ask Emma to update on in just a moment.

But before we leave the mental health issue, I did want to add that our mental health delivery plan does highlight housing needs and timely access to mental health services as a key priority for people who are homeless or vulnerably housed. So, it is something that's very much recognised within the health department. And some of the projects that have been funded using the additional £2.6 million funding this year include support for people with mental ill health, for example training for outreach workers in Wrexham so that they're best able to support and understand people who are rough-sleeping and also have a mental health support need, and also funding for a link worker between health and homelessness services in the Vale of Glamorgan as well. So, there are examples of practice being developed across health—or mental health particularly—and homelessness, that respond to the particular needs of the local area.

I think there's a UK-wide acceptance that we have a lot of research and evidence in this field but not necessarily well correlated and easy to access in order to be able to use it to assess impact of different approaches and in order to inform better policy development. There are two particular strands of work on a UK-wide basis that we're engaged with at the moment. The first is the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence—CaCHE—which will have a base in Cardiff, I believe, housed by Cardiff University, pulling together research and looking for gaps in research evidence and how we fill those gaps. And then, a centre for homelessness impact has been established, which is seeking to draw together and assess the different evidence of impact and policies and make it more accessible to people at various level of policy development, implementation and front-line delivery. So, two really interesting UK-wide, research and academic-backed groups of people who'll be able to really add to the level of understanding that we have in this field, and really help us to make sure we're doing genuine evidence-based policy making.

11:45

Thank you. From a head count on 10 November, we know that there's been about a one-third increase in rough-sleeping, and yet we still have a reasonably large number of emergency bed spaces not taken up. Some people have told us that this is because they find it intimidating or dangerous to go to the emergency accommodation, because of violent, mentally ill or drug addicted people also in the accommodation. We've also heard that it is because the rules didn't allow dogs to be taken, and rough-sleepers become very close to their dogs and they're unlikely to take them. So, I wondered if you could just tell us whether empty emergency bed spaces are unused because they're in the wrong place, they're not where the rough-sleepers are—or is it because the nature of the emergency accommodation doesn't meet people's requirements?

It's probably, from what I understand from talking to people working in the sector, a combination of the two, but probably more along the lines of the accommodation not meeting people's requirements for the reasons you've described in terms of people finding them scary places to be in many situations, and women, particularly, not wanting to engage. There's the fact, also, that there aren't couples' rooms and the issue of not being able to take your pet, and so on. Other people will have been banned from using particular services because of previous behaviour and perhaps they don't want to engage with some of the stricter rules in terms of no use of alcohol or drugs in those places, as well.

So, I do think there is certainly a piece of work to do in terms of better understanding the reasons why people won't engage always with emergency beds. That said, it is important that we do have the right number of them and that we do have them available, which is why we've provided some additional funding for an additional 40 beds, which will come online in the coming months as well. Because, as you have identified, the need is increasing—the number of rough-sleepers is increasing and I think the reasons for that are well known in terms of the impact that austerity and welfare reform is having on people's ability to keep their tenancies.

So, it's important that these beds are there, but they've been described to me as a 10-hour sticking plaster and I think that's right, because we shouldn't be looking at emergency accommodation as a long-term solution or anything even beyond a very short-term solution for people who are rough-sleeping. It has to be much more about moving people into more secure tenancies, for example, through the housing first approach and so on.

Solas, who deliver services in Newport and Cardiff—they highlighted the fact that what there was much more of a shortage of was the type of specialist accommodation for people with mental health issues or drug issues, who obviously find it very difficult to settle down in emergency accommodation. And Peter Mackie also said that the lives of such people are so chaotic that they're never going to make it to the emergency accommodation by the hour at which they're supposed to turn up. So, I just wondered if you could say a bit more about what the Welsh Government could do to provide more specialist accommodation that has staff equipped to deal with people's quite challenging behaviour.

Local authorities will be having to produce their homelessness action plans this year, and part of that will require them to look at rough-sleeping in particular. But through our rough-sleeping action plan, we've specifically asked them to look at the kind of support that's offered in terms of emergency beds and to review those plans to ensure that appropriate protection is there, looking at things like whether pets are able to stay with the individuals concerned. Planning should also be addressing the needs of women and couples. So, looking at those key reasons why people tell us that they don't want to engage and seeking to address them.

11:50

There's some concern that the specialist accommodation is limited or non-existent in some places like Powys, and I just wondered how the rough-sleeping action plan is going to tackle that specific issue.

I think part of the issue that you're highlighting here is that the traditional stepped approach, through emergency accommodation and into hostel accommodation, just simply doesn't work for some individuals, and that's why we're trying to move away from that with approaches like housing first, where placing somebody into a secure tenancy and then enabling them to access support around that, drawing on Supporting People services to find the right support for individuals, is the way forward, rather than sticking with the traditional stepped approach, where people move slowly through the system and may find it, as you say, very difficult to engage with the right services at the right time, because their lives are simply too chaotic for them to be able to engage effectively with services. They're just not ready for those services. So, I think we're trying to take a very different approach, of which housing first is one part. It won't address the needs of all of these groups; it will address the needs of some of these groups.

Obviously, for rural authorities, it's particularly challenging. Because of the rurality, there are very small numbers. But they will have services through their Supporting People programmes that, hopefully, will be reflected in the way they join up those services in their plans that they produce this year. We'll be looking for how they are linking together those services to find the right support for individuals. But it's very much back, as the Minister was saying, to a person-centred approach, rather than a system and process approach.

Well, that's excellent. So, how are we going to use this person-centred approach to address the local connection issue? One local authority completely denied they put people on a bus with a ticket, but the voluntary sector organisations were adamant that that still does happen. And the Wallich said sometimes people don't want to go back to where they came from for good reasons, because there's violence—you know, that they've fled from violence in that area. Could you explain how you think we could address this rather differently, for example, looking at the funding model differently rather than having a reciprocal funding model, having a central pot of money or recharging local authorities who—? For example, Cardiff accommodates somebody from another area, but can't accommodate everybody's homeless.

I know Rob's been looking particularly at the reconnection issue and, being our housing Act expert, he knows, in-depth, what people should expect when they're dealt with under the housing Act with regard to that reconnection issue. But then he's also been engaging particularly with one of the providers who does the reconnection work here in Cardiff—

I think it's important for me to say that the concept, again—local connection is defined within the Act, and then the code of guidance builds upon those criteria, shall we say, for what constitutes a local connection or not to an area. But I think it's important for me to say, for the purpose of the committee, that local connection in respect of what is in section 80 of the Act only refers to—it's only there for the purpose of the formal referral process that's built within the Act for groups who are in priority need, unintentionally homeless and not from a particular area. It's there as a mechanism to be able to notify and transfer cases in a managed, organised fashion without anybody losing any of their rights. What we have, it appears, as an opinion within the sector, is, as you have said already, Member, that people are being put on buses, et cetera. Now, I think it's important for me to stress that the Housing (Wales) Act does not consider local connection in terms of the legal responsibility on a local authority. So, for example, if I were from Bridgend, and I turned up at Cardiff local authority and I had nowhere to live, they would be duty-bound to assess my case, and the determination would be that I am eligible and I am homeless, therefore they have a duty to take reasonable steps to assist me—nobody else. If, as part of that conversation, my options are limited due to, maybe, local service provision being limited, from a local point of view, to only local people, which is a decision that has been made locally by the local authority—not in respect of the Act—my options may be considered very limited to stay in this area that I'm not from. There may be a conversation that'd take place in terms of: 'We can help you to reconnect back to your home authority, and we'll put things in place to make sure you're not left high and dry on a bus with nowhere to go'.

If that happened to be the decision that the person wanted to take, we would expect—and the guidance is quite clear on that—that those arrangements should be in place so a person isn't, for want of a better term, just dumped back in their home authority. The reconnection service in Cardiff does receive a small amount of money from Welsh Government's homelessness prevention fund, and, having spent a number of hours with them, it was very clear, from the observation that I saw, the importance of it being a third sector organisation running it. It gave that independence that sometimes was reassuring to individuals who may be limited in terms of their housing options. However, those who wanted to remain within the city limits of Cardiff were indeed supported to do so. In terms of the success of that, and how realistic that was as an option, it remains to be seen. But they were supported to do so and they were not persuaded otherwise, if that was the route they wanted to go down.

So, in terms of the local connection issue, to summarise, the duty to help is on the local authority. They should be taking reasonable steps, and, if they're not fulfilling their obligations, we do have a series of rights to review and appeal within the Act that people can use, and we support organisations like Shelter to provide that level of assistance to individuals.

11:55

I'm sure the reconnection service is very valuable for some individuals, and I'm sure we would support that. But we have a problem: a place like Cardiff has acute housing supply problems—huge numbers of people awaiting appropriate housing who are already housed, or indeed on the streets. How do you think—? How is the Government going to balance the person-centred approach we want to have to individuals who are homeless with the obligation that all local authorities are taking seriously their responsibilities under the housing Act? Is it a central pot of money? Is it money following the individual? Or is it some sort of recharging system? How would you envisage that?

There are three really good options.

We don't want local authorities who are not taking it seriously simply saying, you know, 'On your way'.

There's a danger, isn't there? Each one of the suggestions that you've made has pros and cons. If you have the recharging system, for example, then a local authority may decide, 'Well, it's easier for us not to have services' and just pay for them in other areas. If you have the pot of money that follows an individual then you will have local authorities wanting to build certain things in order to attract, maybe, the actual funding that comes with it. So, there's definitely some work we need to think about looking into in terms of options here for how these problems could be overcome. It's a very good point.

Peter Mackie is on a number of our advisory groups in this area, so I'd certainly be interested in having a further conversation about the various ideas that he's presented to the committee as potential ways forward—as Rob suggests, looking at the pros and cons of each of those and how we can improve things. But we have committed again in our rough-sleepers action plan to provide stronger statutory guidance on rough-sleeping to ensure effective application of the homelessness legislation to improve outcomes for rough-sleepers, and that will include clearer guidance on assisting those people who have no local connection to ensure that they do receive personalised assistance to secure accommodation. Because we've heard the same kind of stories as the committee has heard in terms of being given a ticket and sent back without the support that you need at the other end of the train or the bus.

12:00

Sorry, could I just add there that the work that is ongoing to develop more individualised data and to be able to track will help us to be able to actually look at the outcomes for people who may be reconnected back to their local area, which we simply don't have the ability to do from the central Government perspective at the moment. Obviously, the people working on the ground know individuals very well and have a wealth of knowledge about them that helps them to provide a person-centred service, but when people are moving we can't guarantee that that knowledge is being shared effectively, and we can't tell what the outcome was, and I think that's quite an important aspect that we get a better understanding of.

That's through the street homeless information network.

Thank you. Just looking a bit more widely, there's obviously an anxiety amongst the third sector organisations that, if Supporting People loses its ring fence, that may mean that money is not available for the specialist client group that they're serving. I think they're looking to what's happened in England and the shrinking of services. So, I just wondered if, Minister, you'd be able to give your views on how, if you didn't ring-fence it and put it into the revenue support grant, that would then not impact on the quality and consistency of services available for this specialist client group.

I would begin by saying that no decisions have been made in terms of where we do take Supporting People, but we are looking at testing out the suggestion of a larger grant bringing together the grants for 10 different non-statutory services. That itself would be ring-fenced, so there's no proposal to put Supporting People money into the RSG, as was the case in England. The proposal that we're looking at does maintain funding for these non-statutory services, so there would be no chance of local authorities then spending that ring-fenced money on statutory services, for example, on education or social care, and so on.

It's also important to say that we're testing through our pathfinder project at the moment what we could do in terms of creating a model that is outcome-focused, because that's really where our attention needs to be in terms of what we're doing to support the most vulnerable people in society. There's no doubt that the Supporting People work is incredibly important. I've spent quite a lot of time in my first three months in post visiting various different kinds of Supporting People projects. They work with people across all walks of life in the sense—facing all kinds of challenges, from mental ill health to substance misuse, domestic violence, and so on. So, there's no doubt that these things are incredibly important, but the proposals don't mirror that which has happened in England, where the money has just gone into the RSG and has to fight against the statutory services as well.

And also the other distinction in terms of the situation across in England is that local authority funding in Wales has fared rather better than it has in England as well, so the pressures on local authorities, although they are great in Wales, they're certainly greater in England.

And, lastly from me, the Chartered Institute of Housing has raised concerns that the capacity of local authorities to meet the increasing demands of homelessness is already an issue. You've got ambitious plans with your rough-sleeping action plan. How are you going to ensure that there's sufficient capacity to deliver these aims?

In recognition of the challenges facing local authorities and the increasing demand in this area, Welsh Government has announced an additional £10 million for this year and for next year. So, £6 million of that will go into the revenue support grant, and this is completely separate, of course, to the £123 million that goes to Supporting People. But this £6 million will be expected to be used by local authorities to strengthen their response in terms of that preventative agenda under the housing Act. And then the other £4 million of revenue funding will be funding some of the projects that I've described earlier, so the mental health project up in Wrexham and the Vale of Glamorgan, for example. And there will be some further opportunities to announce some money under that £4 million as we see the action plan develop, and as we get the responses back to the research that we've been undertaking, or that has been undertaken by other bodies, in order to inform where we best target additional resources as well.

12:05

A lot of people are arguing, from the evidence we heard last week, that if we had better co-ordination between health, housing and the prison service, that we'd actually save a lot of money to stop people descending into the most critical conditions. How are we going to get all these organisations to work together to collectively provide better value for money?

I think that the forum where we would have those conversations would be through that Justice in Wales strategy group, and particularly the accommodation work stream that is going on underneath that in order to ensure that people leaving prison don't become rough-sleepers. But that group is still embryonic at the moment, so we would expect some progress to be made in the coming months on that. And, of course, I'm happy to update the committee.

Thank you. With regard to the witness evidence that we have heard, there has been much concern mooted around the supergrant issue. So, you've mentioned the outcome framework. How can you reassure the voices that are concerned that the outcome framework that you've mentioned will be rigorous enough to withstand not just statutory services, but other—[Inaudible.]—for instance, the more attractive and cuddly Families First approach that will be subsumed within this grant? We know from evidence that we are dealing with some of the most needy cohorts in our society, and they are often not at the top of the pile in terms of being able to be addressed effectively.

In terms of the development of the outcome framework, we're very much taking that work forward in partnership with the sector, so talking to people who are delivering Supporting People services at the moment in order to make sure that we get those key outcomes correct, and that they do measure up with, for example, our well-being outcomes and so on, so that things are measurable and things do feed in much more holistically to our cross-Government working through 'Prosperity for All', but also the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. But I know Emma's been doing a lot of work on the outcome framework.

As the Minister says, we have a working group on which we have representatives from Cymorth, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and others, as well as local authorities helping us, at the moment focused on designing the pathfinder year, but then the group will change slightly and move on to looking longer term, if the decision is made to move to a wider grant. At the moment, the guidance is absolutely clear, that in relation to SP services in particular, the expectation is that local authorities in pathfinder areas, and other local authorities, will allocate funding to SP services, in line with their overall allocation unless they can very clearly demonstrate how they are providing an equal or greater level of service for less funding. So, there is a level of protection built in even within the pathfinder.

It was also an expectation that the same level of management information is provided back to us over the pathfinder year so that we're able to monitor that there isn't a dip in service, whilst we're working with our partners to look at, if we did move to a broader early intervention and prevention grant, what that would need to look like in order to balance the need for allowing flexibility so that we can join services up. Because there is a very valid case for saying that some of these individuals may not fall just within the remit of one of these grants, but several. In which case, by joining them together we can provide, again, a more person-centred approach, and make better value use of the funding that's available to deliver the right services. But we need to balance that flexibility against exactly the issue you're saying, about making sure that we don't lose vulnerable groups, because not only do we need to make sure that they are protected and they receive the services they need, but it's in everybody's interests because, as has been pointed out, it costs more if we don't get the support right in the first place and as early as possible. But the whole grant is very much focused on early intervention and prevention. So, trying to move things much further upstream and avoid having to deal with issues at the crisis point.

12:10

Okay. We will have to move on. Could I ask one question before we do? Cardiff council, referring to StreetLink Cymru, said that in terms of referrals, they'd only received two over and above what was already known to the homeless outreach team. Does this suggest that more effective use needs to be made of StreetLink, and if so, how might that be achieved?

I think that Cardiff council, if I'm right, since 2016 when StreetLink was first launched have had around 800 referrals. So, that demonstrates two things, really: it demonstrates good engagement in terms of members of the public—although I do think that there's more that we need to do there and, again, that's reflected in our action plan—but it also demonstrates the level of engagement that there is amongst the services in terms of people who are rough-sleeping being very well known to services. The fact that only two hadn't previously been known to services I think speaks volumes, really, about the work that is going on out there in terms of supporting people who are rough-sleeping.

Okay. So, you don't see any particular issues being raised by that in terms of effective use of StreetLink?

I'd like to see StreetLink more widely used and more widely advertised, and that's certainly something that is in our action plan. I also think that StreetLink is a good way for members of the public to be able to do something constructive and helpful for an individual who they see is rough-sleeping. I completely understand, on a human level, when you see somebody who is on the streets, for example, who you believe to be rough-sleeping—although we know that many people who are begging and so on do actually have accommodation—it does provide members of the public with a practical thing that they can do in order to help an individual, which I think is what really want when they see somebody in desperate need.

Okay, thanks for that. We'll move on then to Gareth Bennett—perhaps beginning with the housing first issue.

Right, thanks. We've had concerns raised by Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick that the Welsh Government appeared to have been overly influenced by the Finnish model of housing first and she thought that perhaps a dispersal or scattered-site approach might be more effective than a congregate model. How do you respond to those concerns?

I suspect you might have received the evidence before our housing first principles were launched, because they were only launched last week. With our housing first principles, although we do look very closely at the Finnish model, we actually look at lots of other models that are being undertaken across the globe. So, our housing first principles do very much promote different models. So, we talk in the document about the pure model. So, that is in dispersed accommodation, but also communal settings, where appropriate for the individual as well.

The housing first project could also be based on rapid rehousing, after a short period in temporary accommodation as part of a wider, housing-led approach. So, we are actually looking at all forms of housing first and it'll be for local authorities to determine what's most appropriate, but the core principle, really, at housing first is that people should move into their own, self-contained accommodation and that they should have normal security of tenure, but it should be based on the individual's choice as to where the right kind of accommodation is for them, because we know, if we put somebody into inappropriate accommodation, then there's a chance that this housing first model is not going to live up to the expectations that we have for it. Equally, one of the reasons that the dispersed model is very good is that it does mean that we aren’t ghettoising people who have some quite severe chronic and complex problems and we wouldn’t want that to happen either. So, it's really important for local authorities to take all of this into account, as I'm sure they will, when they're developing their local approaches to housing first.

Thanks for that. That was quite wide-ranging. The rough-sleeping action plan states that the Welsh Government will encourage the application of housing first principles to enable rough-sleepers to find settled accommodation. Why does the Welsh Government believe that such an approach should be encouraged rather than mandated?

12:15

I think local authorities do have responsibility for addressing their homelessness challenges and their rough-sleeping problems on a local level, and the housing Act very much gives them the power with which to do that.

I think that the housing first principles, which were published last week, are very clear that we do expect housing first to play an increasing role in local authorities' approaches to tackling homelessness and rough-sleeping in particular. And we are very clear in the document that it should be considered in all local contexts. And we intend also to reflect that in the forthcoming statutory guidance that will be issued to local authorities as well. So, we're very clear that this is very much something that local authorities need to be considering within their own responses to tackling rough-sleeping.

What is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that the local authorities are using assertive outreach services to engage with rough-sleepers?

Again, this is something reflected in our action plan. Assertive approaches can take all kinds of forms. We've been having some examples, actually, of an individual who approaches somebody day after day after day and doesn't have any kind of good response from the individual who's rough-sleeping, but then, eventually, they take a cup of coffee, they start to have a chat, and building up that kind of relationship and that kind of trust eventually leads to a positive outcome as well. So, assertive responses are particularly important, and I've got an excellent example of one in Rhondda Cynon Taf where they have Step-by-Step, and that provides support with housing, health, and vocation, and it's almost a hand-holding kind of exercise, which has received some really good feedback from people who have been involved in that. So, they'll get support from an individual at every step, for example in terms of filling in their benefit claims and so on. So, again, they build up the trust, which is really important.

So, we'll be looking very closely at the Step-by-Step model in RCT to see if it's something that we can promote to other local authorities across Wales. And, again, there are excellent outreach workers within local authorities, but also within the wider third sector as well, doing great work, reaching out to rough-sleepers and homeless people every day.

Thanks for that. Settled accommodation is another issue. Some witnesses have raised concerns that only a relatively small number of homeless households in Wales are being rehoused in social housing compared to England and Scotland. Do you think that's the case? And if so, why?

I think Rob might be able to give us an idea of the picture in terms of the take-up of housing in various different sectors. But I think the important point, really, is getting the right tenancy for the individual, and we're actually doing some really good work with the private rented sector in order to understand the barriers that they feel, or that they have, in terms of taking on people who have a history of rough-sleeping, who are homeless and so on. We provide bond schemes, for example; they've been very successful in terms of being able to at least tackle that initial reluctance of people to enter into the private rented sector. But it really is about using all of the sectors that we have to the best of the availability of the housing that's out there. So, I don't think that it's wrong to be looking to the private rented sector to be playing its role in this arena.

It's just to expand. Since the Act came into being, back in April 2015, as I mentioned earlier, the Act is, essentially, compartmentalised, and the intervention duty helped to secure this final duty, all of which can be ended, these particular duties, with an offer of accommodation that's likely to last for six months. I think it's important, for the record, that, during those first two years, 8,000 social housing tenancies were used to either prevent or relieve homelessness. So, in terms of whether or not we are lower than England, Scotland et cetera, we have different outputs now from what maybe has been reported there. Local authorities are not only focused on using social housing. We've opened the market up and private sector housing is being used in equal measure to social housing across our statistical returns. So, I think people are getting good quality housing in both sectors.

12:20

Okay, thanks. There have been issues over police and PCSOs and how they deal with what they perceive as problems with rough-sleepers. Of course, the Welsh Government has been involved in funding the PCSOs, so do you see any opportunity there for the Government in trying to get a more co-ordinated approach with the police in dealing with this issue?

I'm really keen that Welsh Government works very closely with the police in terms of—I say 'tackling' rough-sleeping, but really we need to be talking in terms of 'supporting' rough-sleepers into accommodation and into accessing the kind of help and support that they might need. One of my early meetings in post was with the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales and his deputy, and both of them were really keen to work very closely with Government in terms of the homelessness agenda.

A few pieces of work that are going on, for example, would be the work that the police are leading in terms of anti-social behaviour. This is particularly with regard to the social housing sector, but nonetheless I think it will be a useful and informative piece of work more widely in housing. We're seeking to work with the police to roll out that trauma-informed training to PCSOs and people working on the front line there who might come into contact with people who are rough-sleeping so that there's a better understanding of the kind of circumstances that might lead somebody to be rough-sleeping, and then obviously to have a better understanding of the things that can be done to help them.

Okay then, Minister, could I perhaps ask a final question in terms of diverted giving schemes? I'm aware of a local scheme in Newport that is being worked up that would seek to enlist shops to put posters in their window and so on advertising the scheme, which would encourage people not to give money to people begging on the streets, some of whom might be rough-sleepers, but to give to these shops instead and that money would then be used to provide better services for rough-sleepers in the area. I know that there's a scheme in Swansea. We had conflicting evidence from some third sector organisations as to whether it's sensible to give cash to people begging on the streets or people sleeping rough who are begging on the streets or not. I just wondered what the Welsh Government's view is about the diverted giving schemes and whether Welsh Government might be setting forward its own views on whether diverted giving schemes are a potential valuable contribution to the issues, and if so, what form those diverted giving schemes might best take.

I think that the diverted giving scheme that you mentioned in Newport—I'd be very keen to come and find out a bit more about that. Other schemes that are similar operating elsewhere do speak to that issue that I described earlier in terms of that human need to help somebody who you see who's in a desperate situation, and it does provide a very proactive and helpful way in which an individual can engage. Again, I'm very aware of the fact that there are differing views about the best way to help an individual who is rough-sleeping. From my perspective, I think diverted giving is a good way to do that, as is engaging with StreetLink to try and get that person the kind of services and support that they need, because rough-sleeping is not a way to sustain a life in the sense that we need to be ensuring that people are helped and assisted from the streets into accommodation through things like housing first and so on and are able to access and engage with the support services that they might need in order to sustain a tenancy, but then also deal with other issues they might face and then be supported, for example, into considering whether employment would be something that they're ready to do and so on, and have the support that they might need to do that. Again, housing first and our approach to rough-sleeping more generally does take a holistic view in terms of engaging employment and so on.

12:25

I was just going to add that, of course, there are a number of different approaches to diverted giving. What we don't have at the moment is a particularly clear evidence base about which ones are the most effective in terms of reaching our long-term objective, which is actually not supporting people to be on the streets, but actually supporting people into long-term housing solutions. So, again it's an area where, working across the UK—because these schemes are prevalent across the UK—we can look at establishing an evidence base on how we make the most effective use of, as the Minister says, that very genuine public desire to do something useful and practical that does genuinely help people in the long term. So, I think it's an area we need to look at a little bit more before we can draw a clear view, but perhaps where there is an appetite for people to have some guidance about, 'If we are going to do this, how do we do it?', to have the greatest positive impact.

That's very useful. Thanks very much.

Well, thank you all—all three of you—for coming in to give evidence to the committee today. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Thank you very much.

7. Papurau i’w Nodi
7. Papers to Note

Item 7 on the committee's agenda today is papers to note. We have papers 4, 5 and 6.

Paper 4 relates to the committee's equality remit. The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has considered this at a recent meeting and has in fact agreed to undertake some work on it as it relates to the Welsh language. So, perhaps we might consider this again when we see the results of their work, if the committee is content with that.

Paper 5: Members will have had—. We will return to this at a future stage when we discuss human rights in terms of the work that the committee has done and might do.

Paper 6 relates to the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill, which we discussed in private session earlier. Is the committee content to note those papers? Okay. Thanks very much.

8. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i Wahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
8. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 8 is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting, and also to return to item 4 on our agenda, to discuss that. Is the committee content so to do? Okay. We will move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:27.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:27.

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