|Caroline Jones MS|
|Dawn Bowden MS|
|Delyth Jewell MS|
|Huw Irranca-Davies MS|
|John Griffiths MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Mark Isherwood MS|
|Andrea Lewis||Llefarydd ar Dai, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Housing Spokesperson, Welsh Local Government Association|
|Calum Davies||Swyddog Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus Cymru, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol y Landlordiaid Preswyl|
|Welsh Policy and Public Affairs Officer, National Residential Landlords Association|
|Clarissa Corbisiero-Peters||Cyfarwyddwr Polisi a Materion Allanol, a Dirprwy Brif Weithredwr, Cartrefi Cymunedol Cymru|
|Director of Policy and External Affairs, and Deputy Chief Executive, Community Housing Cymru|
|Jennie Bibbings||Rheolwr Ymgyrchoedd, Shelter Cymru|
|Campaigns Manager, Shelter Cymru|
|Jim McKirdle||Swyddog Polisi Tai, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Housing Policy Officer, Welsh Local Government Association|
|Katie Dalton||Cyfarwyddwr, Cymorth Cymru|
|Director, Cymorth Cymru|
|Matt Dicks||Cyfarwyddwr, Sefydliad Tai Siartredig Cymru|
|Director, Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru|
|Rhys Gwilym-Taylor||Uwch-swyddog Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Crisis|
|Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Crisis|
|Catherine Hunt||Ail Glerc|
|Yan Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniadau, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Ymchwiliad i Effaith COVID-19: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Ddigartrefedd||2. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact: Evidence Session on Homelessness|
|3. Ymchwiliad i effaith COVID-19: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Dai||3. Inquiry into COVID-19 and its Impact: Evidence Session on Housing|
|4. Papur i'w Nodi||4. Paper to Note|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod ac ar gyfer Eitemau 1 a 2 o’r Cyfarfod ar 16 Gorffennaf 2020||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting and Items 1 and 2 of the Meeting on 16 July 2020|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:59.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:59.
Okay, may I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, continuing our committee work on the impact of COVID-19 on our areas of responsibility?
The first item on our agenda today—item 1—is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. There are no substitutions or apologies for this meeting. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included on the agenda for this meeting, which was published last Friday. But this meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.
Apart from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Just to remind all participants that microphones will be controlled centrally, so there's no need to turn them on or off individually.
Are there any declarations of interest? No. Okay. If I was to drop out of the meeting for any reason due to technological problems, Dawn Bowden MS will temporarily chair while I attempt to rejoin.
Okay then, we move to item 2, our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact, and we have an evidence session with regard to homelessness. So, we wish to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on homelessness in Wales, and we have with us today: Rhys Gwilym-Taylor, senior policy and public affairs officer for Crisis; Jennie Bibbings, campaigns manager, Shelter Cymru; and Katie Dalton, director of Cymorth Cymru. So, welcome to all three of you. Would you then like to make opening statements, of no more than five minutes, to highlight the main priorities you would like to raise with the committee as organisations in relation to that impact of COVID-19 on homelessness? And following those initial statements, we will then turn to questions from members of the committee. Katie, could I ask you to begin, please?
Thanks very much, Chair. I wanted to start off talking about the importance of a home, and I think that that struck us as being more important than ever during this pandemic. It certainly highlighted the difference between those who have a safe, secure home and those who do not, and those who have suitable accommodation and those who do not. And the risk of that has been greater than ever, and could, potentially, have led to many more deaths, had partners across Wales not acted very quickly to avoid that.
It certainly exposed the inequalities, particularly in health, facing people who experience homelessness for a length of time. We know that they are more exposed to the virus due to the lack of accommodation and access to hygiene facilities, but that also many have underlying health conditions that could have made them more susceptible to COVID, and have very, very serious impacts had they caught it.
I think it's also exposed the risk for those for whom home is not a safe place—those who are experiencing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence—because being in lockdown in their home on the advice that it would be safer, unfortunately, is not the case for too many people across Wales.
It's been an incredibly challenging time for Government, for local government, and for providers of housing support. We know that we do not have enough affordable accommodation in Wales, and that certainly set us at a disadvantage when trying to bring people inside. However, I think that the response has been really positive across the board, and people have worked in partnership to find solutions.
People have been redeployed to different roles within their organisations. The majority of people have really stepped up to the challenge and taken on really different roles to make sure that people could be kept safe. I think what's also important to recognise is, although there was an immediate focus on getting people off the streets and into accommodation, there have continued to be homelessness presentations of very, very high numbers in some areas throughout this pandemic. So, while local authorities were struggling to find accommodation to house people, it wasn't just the number that were currently on the streets; there were many more people who were presenting due to relationship breakdown, family breakdown and other reasons.
One of the things I really, really wanted to do was to pay tribute to the staff working in the sector. I think they haven't received the same level of recognition as NHS or social care staff, and I think that's often because the majority of the population is lucky enough never to need these services or to come into contact with them and many may not be aware of those services. But staff across the country have really stepped up. They've put themselves at risk, the health of their families at risk, by continuing to go out and provide homelessness and housing-related support. I think it's really important that we recognise their contribution to keeping people safe and the extraordinary efforts that they've made.
I think we'll talk more about the Welsh Government response during this committee session, but it has been generally positive. There's been leadership in policy and funding and there's been a real collaborative approach. At the start of the pandemic, I was getting daily calls from Welsh Government officials checking in, making sure that they were on top of emerging issues. I've been part of weekly co-ordination meetings and I've helped to write a lot of the guidance that's been developed, alongside officials and other stakeholders.
We welcome the vision that the Welsh Government have set out for phase 2, but this isn't a short-term issue: this will take years of sustained effort, funding and support to make the vision outlined in the phase 2 document a reality. And it's not over yet; there continue to be homelessness presentations. There are fears that those will increase when the ban on eviction ceases. And we fear a surge in violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence presentations when people are finally able to leave their houses and access the sort of public services that might be alert to problems of violence against women and domestic abuse.
I think, finally, it's really important that we take this opportunity to deliver lasting change, particularly for those people who have been brought off the streets who haven't engaged with public services for a long time. We absolutely cannot let them down. We have to make sure that we provide the housing and the support across multidisciplinary teams to ensure that those people don't return to the street. We also need to look to the recommendations from the homelessness action group, which seems like many years ago, but was actually only in March, and make sure we remain focused on the ambition of that document, that we move towards rapid rehousing and away from emergency accommodation—something that is reflected in the phase 2 guidance.
And, finally, these committee sessions are about holding the Welsh Government to account, but a challenge that I'd like to put out to all parties is that we have a Senedd election around the corner and we know that this will need a sustained effort from whoever is in Government next time round, and I urge you all to take the things that you hear today back to conversations with your political parties in the development of manifestos. Thank you very much, Chair.
Okay. Thank you, Chair. I wholeheartedly agree with everything that Katie said, especially about the importance of good homes and how much the outbreak has shown up the importance of good homes in a public health context. We can certainly see in our casework where the equalities dimensions of poor housing are becoming clear in terms of access to outside space, in terms of people's ability to self-isolate—disrepair has gone up during COVID. And, yes, we've seen certain types of homelessness continue to happen, particularly around domestic abuse and relationship breakdown, and illegal evictions have gone up a lot too, and I can talk more about that as we go on.
We saw, at the start of the outbreak, as Katie said, that there was a fantastic response from services—it really was the sector at its finest—working to bring people indoors. There was a good response as well from social landlords and, by the time courts were stayed, social landlords across Wales had already withdrawn all of their eviction proceedings. So, we did some really good joint work, I think, with social landlords in those early days.
What we've seen since then has been very much a pattern across Wales where we have, in terms of our homelessness casework, concentrations of homelessness casework in certain parts of Wales, and there are many other local authorities where we're seeing very little casework at the moment. And I think this is really something that is worthy of unpicking a bit further. Some local authorities, incredibly, still are managing to meet housing need for everybody who comes through their door, including all of the new people who are becoming homeless all through COVID, and they're accepting the legal duties and there are no issues there, no casework, and yet we have—at the same time, there are certain local authorities that have struggled a lot to meet their statutory responsibilities over this time. Quite early on during lockdown, we became aware of temporary accommodation waiting lists that were building up in certain authorities, and there's one authority, for example, where at one point there were 60 people on the temporary accommodation waiting list, and these included some extremely vulnerable individuals. We were working with families of young children who were sofa surfing during this time; we worked with sex offenders who were released from prison and had nowhere to go and were sleeping rough as a result. The safeguarding implications of this are quite frightening.
Into all of this came the Welsh Government guidance, and that was a very useful and valuable intervention at that time, when it wasn't very clear whether the statutory framework was even applying anymore, and Welsh Government confirmed that, yes, it did, and I know that we're going to talk about that more in a moment. By and large, most local authorities have taken that guidance according to the spirit—mostly.
I just want to talk very quickly about the rapid rehousing approach and echo what Katie was saying about the extraordinary challenge that we have ahead of us. If we're going to meet this ambition, we are going to have to put the resources in place, and, as well as that, to make all of this sustainable, we need to put the focus back on prevention, because it's all been about a crisis response these last few months, as it's had to be, but we're very aware of this new wave of homelessness that is inevitably going to hit us when the courts reopen at the end of August. We need to start thinking about eviction prevention and other forms of prevention as well, making sure that private landlords are—that we're dealing with arrears in the private rented sector and that social landlords as well get back onto the zero evictions into homelessness agenda, because we'd made such good progress on that prior to COVID hitting us.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'd like to start as well by echoing the comments around the significance that we've seen of the home and the value that we all place on a home and also that we've really seen—we've put into practice a lot of the things that we know work in preventing and relieving homelessness, in particular the partnership work on a local and national level, the way that local authorities and Welsh Government have worked with third sector partners to do, really, a do-all-it-takes approach to getting people in and to preventing people from slipping into homelessness, and that really shows that neither rough-sleeping nor homelessness are inevitable; there are real, tangible things that we can do to end homelessness.
As others have said, the response from Welsh Government and from local authorities has been overwhelming. The service change overnight from a number of services has been incredibly welcome, and what we really need to do now is to consolidate that learning and make sure that what staff have learnt in delivering services in a new format can form a part of the homelessness action group work moving forward.
Our concern is that a lot of these measures are temporary. Phase 2 does seek to embed a lot of that learning, but there is a real need to make sure that what we have learnt is embedded moving forward and that we take a long-term view alongside the immediate response as part of phase 2. So, for those people who are likely to be facing eviction and the pent-up pressure in the courts system, those people who have no recourse to public funds and those people who might be on the furlough scheme, the pressures that will exist on those households that will push them into homelessness if we don't get phase 2 right and there isn't that capacity on a local level to respond—we'll see a lot of people pushed into homelessness and be at real risk of the worst forms of homelessness.
And I suppose what I would say is that homelessness policy has often been driven by short-term actions and obviously the coronavirus has characterised that as well as it could in needing to take an emergency response. So, in our written submission, we did talk about looking at the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term actions that we needed to take to move to prevention, to move to an ending homelessness agenda, and, as Jennie mentioned, we really need to deepen our prevention agenda moving forward. The phase 2 and the rapid rehousing and housing-led approach is really important, but that deepening of prevention—switching off the tap and making sure that people don't become at risk of homelessness in the first place—needs to be a real focus for Government, moving forward.
And I would probably just finish by saying that, as Katie mentioned, Welsh Government have committed to a plan to end homelessness; the aspiration has been set out and it's really important that, whilst we may compromise on the pace of that, given the circumstances, we don't compromise on the aspiration that that set out, because there was broad agreement across the sector that that sets out the range of measures and the system change that we need to undergo in order to end homelessness and it's important that we do keep our eye on ending homelessness and not just managing the situation in the short to the medium term.
Okay, Rhys, thank you very much, and thanks to Katie and Jennie as well. We will be coming on to the matters that you mentioned in questions and we begin with Caroline Jones.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you so much for your presentations—all were different and really interesting. So, when we look at COVID-19, we know that we've learnt an awful lot about homelessness and how quickly we can deliver services. So, how can we measure the scale of what has been achieved regarding changes to service provision and delivery and whether these achievements have brought us closer to ending homelessness? Like Rhys has mentioned about the aspirations to end homelessness, Rhys, and you were quite passionate, we mustn't compromise on these aspirations, and I too feel that that is so important, because homelessness is a passion of mine.
So, do you think that, you know, we can share good practices, we can replicate them, perhaps coupling traditional methods with new methods so that the services—? Because, after all, what we're after is a lasting change—to quote Katie, really, on saying that. So, we need sustainability. So, how can we measure what has been achieved and how can we really make it more sustainable to ensure that we are on the right track to ending homelessness? Thank you.
Thanks very much. Yes, really good question. I think there are a number of things that we can utilise to measure impact so far. I think, first and foremost, the numbers that have been moved into emergency accommodation, both from off the street but also from more hidden forms of homelessness. So, we know that there are a bunch of people who were sofa surfing, for example, who weren't recorded in homelessness statistics, and therefore it was difficult to assess their need and the numbers, and, because that was not a sustainable position for them to be in during the pandemic, they've presented to homelessness departments and we've been able to deal with that. So, I think that's one element.
However, I think a really important measure of how successful this has been will be the numbers of people who are moved into more permanent accommodation, because it's been fantastic and absolutely essential that people were moved off the streets and into emergency accommodation, and I can't emphasise that enough. However, whilst we're talking about sustainable impact, it will be the numbers of those who are then able to move into more secure housing.
Another element that I think will be important is the numbers who have started to engage in some forms of substance misuse treatment. So, we've heard from a number of our provider members and local authorities that, since coming into emergency accommodation, a number of people have started treatment for substance misuse, and that's been really, really positive, and then that has helped people to start to think about some of the root causes of homelessness and maybe psychological issues that they might want to have some help addressing. So, I think that level of multidisciplinary support is also a really important part of that.
In terms of learning for the future, I think one of the things that has been welcomed is there was a huge cut in the bureaucracy around some of the processes and the hoops organisations had to jump through to get things done, and, actually, the Welsh Government's funding, although it had a very clear vision of what it needed to achieve—i.e. people off the streets and into accommodation—it was very flexible around how that was spent by local authorities and providers. So, we saw people being very creative and innovative about how they spent that, so it became much more person-centred and things happened much more quickly. So, I think—you know, there's obviously an importance in having accountability, but I think balancing that with reducing some of the bureaucracy will be important.
And you're right: there have been some huge changes in terms of the digital support that's been offered, and while that doesn't work for some people, and the face-to-face support is incredibly important for building those really trusting relationships, it has helped some groups to engage. So, we've heard from some members who support young people that they had much better engagement using different methods of digital support and we also heard from one of our members who provides sexual violence services who experienced very good engagement with their clients, and maybe that was because there was an element of distance and security that people felt being able to have that conversation from their own home rather than having to go elsewhere for it. So, those are some of the things that I think come up in terms of measurements and sustaining some of the good practice.
Thank you for that. Could I just ask Jennie just a question a sec? Jennie, what I picked up on when you said that the casework has been lowered in Wales because people have been found accommodation—can you tell me how that time regarding lack of casework, then, has been utilised by people to enhance homelessness becoming a thing of the past?
Sure. I say that our casework has gone down—that's only our homelessness casework; other forms of our casework have continued to, well, either stay the same or increase over that time. So, we've still had quite heavy demands on our service, but we've shifted a lot of how we work with people so that working with people on the phone or online has become our primary means, and some of our staff have been redeployed to meet that need more effectively.
Would I be able to say a few points about the measurement of success?
Thank you. Just to add to Katie's point about measurement, I think a really important aspect of this is where people go. So, when we see people being moved into permanent accommodation, who are the providers and what form of accommodation does that take—how much of this is private rented, how much of it is social landlords?
I think there's a bit of an issue around allocations in Wales, and I know some allocations policies are being looked at now because they're such a poor fit for phase 2, but, traditionally, allocations policies in Wales in recent years have drifted away, rather, from the provisions in the Housing Act 1988 and we have actually asked Welsh Government would they provide some guidance to local authorities and housing providers on how the Housing Act 1988 should be interpreted, specifically section 160A, because it has got a little bit less generous and less inclusive in recent years and we don't want to see large numbers of people in temporary accommodation being stuck in TA because they've been excluded from social housing, and we want to make sure that everyone is playing their part. So that, I think, is an important part of measurement. Also, I think, at some point, we need to talk to people themselves who've been in temporary accommodation and hear directly from people about how their lives have changed during COVID and what they want to happen in the future as well.
Thank you very much, Jennie. Rhys, did you want to come in at this stage?
Yes. I think just one of the things I would add is, again, around that permanence of people moving forward and also how on a local level—Katie touched on it—. Around that multidisciplinary approach, how do we see local partners and public services across the breadth of services coming together to resolve homelessness, and how do we take that sliding-scale approach to assessment? Are we rapidly rehousing people whose main housing need is perhaps benefits and accommodation, and are we providing that proper wraparound multidisciplinary support for those people with really complex needs? How are we making the offer to those people suitable so we can make sure their homelessness is brief and non-recurrent?
Thank you, Caroline. Thank you, Rhys. If I could move on with a couple of further questions, the first one, really, is about variation: to what extent we have seen variation, significant variation, across Wales in terms of the response to rough-sleeping and homelessness and COVID-19. Jennie, you did point to this, didn't you, in saying that some local authorities seem to have done really well and you said some have met all the need and that you didn't have much casework at all in those particular local authority areas, but elsewhere it was quite different. Could I ask, Jennie, did that follow a predictable pattern in terms of where the problems are greatest, or was that not the case?
It wasn't entirely unexpected. I think part of the pattern that we've seen emerging shows which authorities perhaps were better geared-up in terms of their homelessness response and which authorities had the strategic support and a level of sophistication in terms of the services that were available. So, it wasn't entirely unexpected. I do think, as well, there are some issues around—or some questions to be asked, perhaps, around—the support that each local authority has from their partners locally, because we can see that that's not the same across Wales.
And I do think that if you are—. It's particularly challenging, I think, if you are a local authority who's got a stock transfer registered social landlord and all of the housing, all of the resources, are with the RSL but you're the one with all of the strategic responsibilities. That's a difficult relationship to make work. I don't have any data on this as such, but I would ask the question, I think, about how much support each local authority had from their RSLs, particularly—. Some of the RSLs did furlough quite a lot of staff early on, and you do wonder how much support have they been able to provide. Whereas we also know that, in some parts of Wales, allocations have continued throughout COVID as well, in a limited sense. Allocations didn't come to a complete standstill, so ways were found of making that happen in a limited and safe way. 'Was everybody doing their bit?', I suppose, is the question.
I know that Welsh Government have been very aware of this throughout, and they have been providing a lot of policy support to the particular struggling authorities. I wonder whether perhaps something slightly different, in fact, might be what is needed, because, despite that level of support, we still didn't see any marked reduction in the number of TA waiting lists. So, do we perhaps need a more targeted, a more resourced, specialist support to go in and troubleshoot and unlock supply? Because that's what authorities need really need: affordable supply. So, it's not that Welsh Government wasn't aware or helping—they are helping—but, 'Is it the right type of help and is it enough?' is the question.
Okay, Jennie. Thanks very much for that. Would either Katie or Rhys like to add anything in terms of variation across Wales? Katie, yes.
Thank you. Yes, I think there are a few factors for me that influenced the difference in approach and response in addition to the points that Jennie has made, and one is about—. Some of the local authorities in the national rough-sleeper count record zero rough-sleepers in their area, and we know that can't possibly be true—certainly over the last few years—so there is a question as to whether those areas that have consistently recorded zero or low numbers were well equipped to respond to that. I would agree that some of the areas that have higher numbers of people sleeping rough were able to mobilise teams much more quickly. They have several organisations delivering support to people sleeping rough in, predominantly, the big urban areas, and I think they were therefore able to mobilise much more quickly and then think about redeploying staff as they went along, whereas, in other areas, the amount of staffing available to support that process will have been a lot lower.
I think the availability in different types of accommodation also impacted. So, we know, for example, that, in Cardiff, the council took over two hotels and were able to house, I think, over 150 people in that emergency accommodation and were able to do so fairly rapidly. There were a number of hotels in Cardiff that they were able to take advantage of. In other areas, they've had to use B&Bs, they've had to use holiday accommodation. So, I think there are different challenges for different local authorities.
And I think—. Touching back on one of the points Rhys made in answer to the last question, the involvement with other services varies across Wales. So, we know that, in some areas, there are existing multidisciplinary teams where social workers, mental health workers, substance misuse workers are part of the homelessness response team. But, in other areas, that isn't the case, and certainly something that we at Cymorth and our members would like to see is much higher levels of engagement, particularly from mental health services. We know that mental health services are difficult to access, they're overstretched, if you're in the general population, and I think it's really important that, as we move forward, we think about how we fund specific mental health posts within homelessness teams, so that people can get the support that they need without having to navigate through really difficult systems. And I think, on that point, some of the work with substance misuse teams has been very, very good during this pandemic and we've seen a number of people start treatment for substance misuse problems, and that's because area planning boards and the operations on the ground have worked alongside their local authorities.
So, those are some of the things that I think have affected the variation in response and things that local authorities and Welsh Government will want to think about going forward to try and make sure there's a much more consistent service delivered, wherever you are in Wales.
Thanks, Katie. Rhys, are you happy with that or—? You are, thank you very much. Okay. Jennie, just one other thing that you mentioned in your opening statement—you spoke about the problems with prison leavers and, for example, some who were sex offenders. Did that improve through the period of the pandemic up to the current point, or are those problems with prison leavers still very much with us?
The problems are still with us. So, I'm talking specifically now about—. In north Wales, we run the Prison Link Cymru service, which works between HMP Berwyn and the local authority, and what we found throughout—our case workers have found it very frustrating, because people have been coming out of prison without any prevention work having been done, and being released with no fixed abode. There's then sometimes the challenge of getting the local authority to accommodate, because there isn't any accommodation available. So, it's issues within the prison and it's issues with the local authority. Things did shift in that particular local authority after we had to seek a judicial review for one individual who was very vulnerable. He had a range of health issues and he wasn't being accommodated—at least not anywhere near to where he needed to be to access his treatment—so, we had to get an injunction. So, they did accommodate him. And, after that point, things did improve with the local authority, but with the prison we're still having issues and we're engaging and we're—. The local authority's frustrated with the prison, the probation service is frustrated with the prison—it's a real problem at the moment, I have to say.
Okay. I don't know if Katie or Rhys might be able to add anything on that, particularly, perhaps, in terms of the situation across Wales. Katie.
I think it's safe to say that there were problems with communication during the pandemic between prison, probation and local authorities. I know that a number of local authorities were frustrated because they weren't receiving the information they needed in order to try and secure the accommodation for people. They were, obviously, having to house large numbers of people, and I think it's safe to say that local authorities find it difficult at times to find the right accommodation for people leaving prison, depending on the offences committed. And, at a time when much of the temporary accommodation was being utilised due to the pandemic, it was even more difficult. And I know a number of local authorities persistently asked for more information about general release that was planned, but also some of the mixed messages that came out about early release plans. And some local authorities were frantic, really, trying to understand what sort of numbers they were likely to face if early release schemes went ahead, and how they would manage to accommodate people. So, I think that's certainly a lesson to be learned from the pandemic: how things like that can be communicated much more effectively between non-devolved and devolved services to make sure that people have the information they need to keep people safe and housed in this circumstance.
Okay, thanks, Katie. Rhys, are you content with those answers, or did you want to add anything?
Yes, could I just briefly add that this is a group of people who we know when—? Part of the prevention approach is that we know when these people are going to be released. And obviously there are particular circumstances to be dealt with at this point, but, as part of the—. The homelessness action group recommends looking at critical time interventions, and that's part of a rapid rehousing approach in that we know when lots of these people—we know when all these people—will be released from prison, and how do we, as Jennie was talking about, ensure that, on release, those people have accommodation to go to. That's part of how we create capacity within local authorities to both transition, but to ensure that, those people who are presenting for whatever reason, there's capacity on the front line to work with those people to find options that work in terms of preventing and relieving their homelessness.
Okay, thank you very much, Rhys. Okay, well, as ever, we're pressed for time—we'd better move on. A further question from me, before I bring in other committee members: the impact on staff working in the sector—what are the main points there that we really need to bear in mind in terms of that impact and how that impact is best addressed? Katie.
Thank you, Chair. We represent about 80 organisations who are involved in delivering homelessness and housing support services across Wales, and, ever since the start of the pandemic, we've been collecting key issues from those members on a weekly basis. And, fairly soon after the pandemic started, this became a recurring theme raised by a number of our members. I think, as I've highlighted in my opening statement, staff continued to put the health of themselves and their families at risk by going out to deliver services because they're hugely passionate and invested in the work that they do and they're very, very committed to the people that they support.
They've had to work in really challenging circumstances. It's been difficult, I think, for lots of people to comply with the social distancing and self-isolation restrictions—being, you know, stuck in a hotel room 24/7 and told that you're not really allowed to go out for the next three months obviously can add to frustration and boredom. We know that a number of people using homelessness services have got significant experience of trauma, lots of experience of mental health problems and some substance misuse issues. I think you can imagine that it was very challenging both for the people in accommodation and the staff who were there trying to support people. So, it was a really difficult period for staff.
I think for those who were delivering face-to-face support that was their daily experience. For those who were delivering digital support, there was a lot of isolation. I think it's fair to say that for a lot of staff, many of their encounters with people they're supporting with their histories of trauma will include talking to people about everything from suicidal thoughts to experiences of abuse earlier in their life and current experiences of fleeing domestic abuse. That's the sort of conversation that support workers have on a daily basis. And while they're often, in normal times, able to go back to their office to talk to colleagues and unload a bit, when people are sat in front of a computer screen that's really hard for people. So, I think whether people were delivering face-to-face support or virtual support, it's been really, really tough.
I think we've heard from everyone the tremendous effort that people have made, whether you're working in a local authority or in a housing and support provider. They've been going non-stop since the start of this pandemic. There has been no respite for people. As I've said, homelessness presentations continue to come through the doors in large numbers, and people are being asked to now focus on the delivery of phase 2.
We've got significant concerns about the well-being of staff and burn-out. We're really worried that people are going to get to a stage where they're unable to continue and that people are off unwell with their mental health. It's really important that we provide staff with the support that they need to process some of those experiences.
I think public recognition, as I've said, hasn't quite been there as much as for some other services. I think it's really important that we recognise people's efforts, but that we also make sure that when services are commissioned there is enough funding in there to provide psychological support to staff who have this daily experience. That's something that's included in the housing support grant guidance that was released earlier this year; it features within the phase 2 guidance and it's certainly something that I hope will become a reality as we move forward, because if we're expecting staff to continue at this pace, we need to make sure that they're supported.
We also need to make sure that we're not, through phase 2, increasing case loads. We need to make sure that there is more staffing to deal with the challenges ahead, not simply loading additional case loads on to existing support workers, who are very stretched as it is. So, that would be, I think, the perspective from the majority of our members across Wales.
Thank you very much, Katie. Is there anything either Jennie or Rhys would like to add to that? No, okay, thank you very much. Dawn Bowden, then, please.
Thanks, John. I just wanted to take you back, actually—it was something that Jennie touched on, which was around housing allocation and the impact of the Welsh Government issuing additional statutory guidance, particularly around priority need. I know that all of you have been involved in campaigning around moving away from priority need in the longer term, outside of the COVID situation. So, I just wanted to explore that a little bit with you, really, in terms of the impact that that's had on homelessness throughout the pandemic, and whether you are still of the view, moving forward into phase 2 and beyond, that that is, ultimately, the objective.
Okay, thank you, Dawn. Yes, so, the statutory guidance that the Welsh Government issued—as I say, it was a very welcome intervention at that point, because some of the conversations we were having with some local authorities were suggesting that now isn't the time to be talking about people's rights, as if people's rights are a thing that you put on and take off depending on how convenient it is. So, that was very reassuring. I know, at the time, our legal team looked at it and they said, 'Oh, it's not as tight as it could have been.' But we said, 'Oh, no, local authorities are going to take this in the spirit that it was intended, of course they are.' And most of them have.
There's one large local authority at the moment that is taking a very narrow view of the guidance and they're interpreting it in a very literal way to suggest that they're only going to owe statutory duties to a certain cohort of people, and in doing so—they still say that they are going to accommodate people, but they're accommodating people outside the statutory framework as an act of goodwill, I suppose. And if you're helping people outside the statutory framework, of course, you don't have to meet the tests for suitability and likely to last six months and the right to review and all of those important safeguards that we built into the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. So, I think it's a shame that we have at least one authority in Wales that is quibbling about that when the majority of authorities are taking it in the spirit that it was intended and helping everybody in the rights framework.
The suspension of priority need during this time has been a very unexpected and very welcome thing, I think, in terms of setting the future direction of housing and homelessness policy. I think prior to COVID a few of us were a little bit worried about where this was on the Welsh Government's agenda, because the priority need review had been commissioned and completed and not published, and I'm not sure how current that is now in terms of the figures in the review, which were all kind of a pre-COVID scenario. Nevertheless, the policy direction—and the homelessness action group, of course, has been very clear about this as well—is that ending priority need should be a part of the vision moving forward. So, I think it's been an interesting experiment, but to take it to the next level we're going to have to tighten up the framework a bit.
Okay. I don't know whether Rhys or Katie have got anything to add to that.
Thank you. I would agree with everything that Jennie has said, and I think if we recognise the value of a home during a pandemic, that principle still continues once this is—at the point where we get over this. And arguably, retaining priority need in any of the legal tests in the system runs counter to that value and to that ethos. I suppose some of those people who will benefit most from relaxing from this guidance are those people who've probably been in the revolving door of the system for years whose unmet needs have compounded their challenges in accessing and sustaining accommodation.
So, for us—and Jennie mentioned it's part of the work of the action group as well—removing priority need and those tests so everybody has access to that main homelessness duty is kind of part of finishing the job of the 2014 Act. Only when we get to that point can we really have said that we've ended homelessness, where everybody whose homelessness isn't prevented or relieved has access to that full range of support to end their homelessness.
I agree with everything that Jennie and Rhys have said, and I think what the experiment during these times has exposed is the lack of suitable accommodation—affordable—that we have. And different local authorities have struggled to different extents during this, as Jennie has highlighted. There have been some who have been really keen to house people but simply have really struggled to find any stock to provide.
So, I think we support a move to abolish priority need. We support the removal of barriers to people being able to access a home. But I think it highlights just how important it is that we focus on increasing the affordable housing stock—and by affordable I mean social housing—to enable people to have access to those homes. Because, otherwise, removing the legal duty will not have the effect that is desired.
Yes, and that was exactly the point I was just going to make as a follow-up. So, in terms of removing priority need—that is only as effective as your housing supply, isn't it? It was always there as a way of rationing housing. So, the two things have to go together, don't they? Certainly, we've heard the housing Minister talk about that in phase 2, because certainly in one of my authorities—most of the homeless in my area have been accommodated in hotels, bed and breakfasts—not suitable long-term accommodation. So, I'm glad you picked up that key point, Katie, in terms of moving away from priority need as a policy. Thank you.
I think I would add to that that the affordability falls in two areas. One is about the Welsh Government building enough social housing, but the other is on the UK Government increasing housing benefit or the universal credit housing element to ensure that people can meet those costs.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. You've all spoken about the challenges that are facing the sector, and, of course, people who are affected by this as we move towards phase 2, and you've all spoken very persuasively about how a lot of the measures that have been put in place are very welcome but temporary. So, building on what you've already said, if there were priority things for the Welsh Government to focus on in order to overcome or to remove the barriers that would be there to make this a more sustainable solution so that we don't go back to seeing more people living on the streets, what do you think that the Welsh Government should focus on in the first three months and in the first six months of the next phase? Jennie, you're nodding—[Laughter.]
[Inaudible.] A number of things. First, I don't think we've talked—well, I know we've talked briefly about allocations and opening allocations up so that people can move from temporary accommodation into social housing more easily than they can at the moment. There's been a little whisper of a possible trend in terms of reducing security of tenure for people coming out of homelessness into social housing, and I think this is something we just need to nip in the bud. We've heard of a number of people who were moved, in one local authority, from temporary accommodation into RSL accommodation, but because the housing associations were risk averse, what they did was put people on to excluded licences and they said that if they were good and they didn't get evicted, then they might be able to get a starter tenancy in time. Now, I'm a little bit worried that this is something that we might see happen in a broader sense as we seek to go into phase 2. Talking about setting people up to fail—if you're putting people on excluded licences, it's very easy to evict, you don't need to go to court, you don't need to justify why, and you can threaten people with that, so it makes them feel less secure. So, that's something that I think we have to nip in the bud.
But the other point that I just wanted to raise quickly is about prevention. And even though we're moving into phase 2, we have to think about prevention now; it's not something that we can think about in six months'2 time. We're going to have a lot of new evictions happening from 23 August, and I know that, in terms of the private rented sector, the Welsh Government is looking at different options to help all of those private tenants to address their arrears and to work with landlords and try to encourage landlords to negotiate affordable repayment plans—that kind of stuff is very welcome. Maybe we might need to kick the evictions ban a little bit further down the path, possibly, but let's see how that goes. We need to address the underlying issues of arrears.
And finally, we mustn't forget the tremendous progress that was made in social housing evictions. We had a 40 per cent reduction in possession claims from social housing up to March this year. That's a lot to do with the Welsh Government's push to end evictions into homelessness from social housing. And I know that there will have been a lot of positive learning in the sector over these months, so we must keep that momentum going and, partly, that's about sharing good practice and showing the naysayers that, yes, this can be done and, in fact, some landlords are already doing it. I think, also, there's a role for better monitoring, because we don't actually know in Wales who is evicting at the moment. We used to collect that data up until 2011, and I know it's very difficult to ask for data to be collected in Wales, but nevertheless, can I put that out there as something that would be very beneficial?
I would echo the focus that Jennie put on prevention. That has to be an underpinning part of what we do, but I would see it in three ways. It's how we maximise supply in terms of access to PRS and the social rented sector. There are practices that vary across local authorities in terms of prevention, grant funding and bond schemes that sometimes have conditions attached to them. I'd look at the long-term funding—how do we move from short-term funding to long-term funding from Welsh Government to make sure that local authorities and partners have some permanence in their planning as we move from phase 2 into what the transition looks like? And, again, that look at access and sustainment and how we harmonise across all tenures, making it easier for people who have experience of homelessness to access accommodation and the support they need to maintain that home.
Thank you very much, Rhys. Katie, did you want to add anything, or are you content?
I agree with Jennie and Rhys's points about allocations and access to housing, and I think that expansion of things like the PRS leasing scheme would be really positive. Because we know that there are a bunch of landlords who have empty properties now, maybe those who are in areas where students might have previously lived within some of that accommodation, who are looking for some rental income, and I think this is a key opportunity to work with the National Residential Landlords Association. That work has already started in terms of emergency accommodation, but I'd like to see a much more longer term commitment to accessing that, where it could be managed by an RSL who has all the expertise in managing social housing, but it would increase the level of stock and give landlords security.
And I also think that ensuring that the appropriate intensity and multidisciplinary support for people, as we move from emergency accommodation into more permanent accommodation—. For lots of the people who've come off the streets, there is a reason why they've been the ones who were on the streets in the first place, and that's because of the trauma they've experienced, mental health problems, all the things that the three of us have talked about today. And making sure that we have enough staffing support, enough mental health support, enough substance misuse support will be absolutely critical, and, strategically, making sure that the health Minister makes sure that health boards play their part when it comes to mental health. I know there's a commitment there from officials, but we absolutely need to make it count, because, as I said, if we don't, we will lose this key opportunity to make that lasting difference to people's lives.
Thank you, Chair. It's tempting, from the answers you've given, and from the rocket boost that's been put under the efforts in recent months because of COVID, to forget the wider pieces of work that were already in train. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are, at this moment, on taking forward those areas, such as in the homelessness action group's recommendations—those much broader, much deeper recommendations. I would assume you'd all want to see those taken forward. What are your thoughts on that now, as we come out of COVID—well, we've still got a long way to go to come out of it—but what are your thoughts on taking forward those recommendations?
The recommendations and the direction of the action group have to underpin what we do next. The principles that were in that work have to underpin around staff, rapid rehousing, the legal tests, the long-term funding and supply. But coming back to a point that Jennie made, I think three out of every four recommendations in those reports relate to prevention, and we have to take that refreshed look at how we deepen prevention practices, how do we make sure that when people present as at risk of homelessness, that the options available and the tools available to staff in a local authority give them the necessary resource to be able to do that.
And then, I think, alongside that we need to make sure there's long-term funding available to fund those interventions. We need to make sure that we learn from, as we've mentioned before, the experiences of people who have been accommodated in these last couple of months, and those staff who have transformed services, in how we now conceptualise that plan moving forward so it's grounded in what we've learnt, and it's grounded in people's experiences of the last couple of months.
Thanks for that. Jennie and Katie, do you have anything to add to that?
I think the phase 2 document is absolutely aligned with many of the things that we put into the homelessness action group's report. So, it's really pleasing to see the alignment of those things happen. But Rhys is correct, there needs to be much longer term sustained impact. When we originally talked about rapid rehousing within the homelessness action group, we were talking about transition periods of three to five years. We've talked about the housing stock that would be needed to do that and the levels of support, and just because we're focusing on rapidly rehousing the people in the system at the moment, it doesn't mean that we should take our eye off the ball in terms of that longer-term planning.
As we've outlined today, we need a sustained effort in terms of accommodation, stock, but also the support funding. So, you would expect me to say that the housing support grant needs to continue to be ring-fenced throughout the next Assembly term—and there's been cross-party support for it, so I would hope that that would be the case whoever is in Government. But there also needs to be a significant increase in that funding, because we now have hundreds more people in the system who need that support, and if we let them down, we are failing them and we are failing this nation in its ambitions to end homelessness.
So, I think we are moving in the right direction with the homelessness action group, but it's probably the responsibility of every party represented here today—to think about how you're also going to incorporate that into your manifestos and plans, should you be the party of Government following the Senedd elections. Because we will need sustained effort for a number of years after this one to make sure that we can realise the ambition within the homelessness action group report. I think this committee is very much focused on local government and housing, but the homelessness action group also made it very clear that this was about a cross-Government effort, a cross-public service effort, that it cannot be solved by housing alone. And therefore, regardless of the Minister or the department or the public service, everyone needs to play their part. Certainly, the homelessness action group report sets out a very clear road map to achieve that.
Thank you. It's a good, timely call to arms there as we all draft our manifestos. Sorry, Jennie, did you have anything to add as well?
Just to underline everything that Katie and Rhys just said. They have stood the test of COVID, the homelessness action group recommendations. If you look at them now, they are strong now, just as they were prior to COVID. We've got a blueprint there for ending homelessness in Wales, but it needs to be resourced, and I think, without knowing the detail of the phase 2 plans yet, we can look to Scotland and look at what they did last year around rapid rehousing plans, and we know how expensive it actually is. We do need the resource to follow the Government commitment; local authorities are going to need the money to be able to make this happen.
Yes. Chair, do you want me to touch on the issue of recourse to public funds—
I think Mark Isherwood had some questions on that issue, if that's okay. Mark.
Thank you, yes. Afternoon, all. In relation to the pandemic, firstly to touch on the points you made earlier a few times about some local authorities having appeared to have been ready to respond and responding well, and some less so. I don't know if you're able either now or in writing to identify those—not to name and shame, but if some have performed less well than others, they might need help, support, advice steering their way accordingly, because the underlying issues in that local authority may just be money or it may be understanding, attitude or simply resource, but we really need to know.
In terms of recourse to public funds, I'm wondering what experience, particularly related to the pandemic, you had in terms of how support has been able to reach or not reach those people affected. I know in Flintshire, for example, Flintshire town of sanctuary has been supporting people from the Libyan refugee dispersal in the area and a number of families have had food parcels and so on taken—[Inaudible.]—more about that.
Finally, to touch on some of the broader points, it's 16 years since the sector first launched its Homes for All Cymru campaign, warning there would be a housing supply crisis. It's 15 years since I first was party to a report by a predecessor committee on homelessness talking about the revolving door—the need, yes, to address the bricks-and-mortar supply issue, but that alone wouldn't solve the revolving-door issue if we didn't tackle the underlying causes. Of course, before the pandemic, this committee produced a rough-sleeping follow-up report on mental health and substance misuse services. We expressed concerns on the levels of integrated support for rough sleepers with co-occurring disorders.
Earlier this year, in terms of the housing support grant and your campaign—it seems to be an annual campaign now—just to safeguard and, hopefully, grow that support, we saw the sector, Cymorth Cymru, Community Housing Cymru, Welsh Women's Aid, warning that services preventing homelessness and supporting independent living had now reached a tipping point. The pandemic has temporarily changed all that, but what, in my experience—and I've been—[Inaudible.]—not more reports and legislative enquiries regarding these matters. What significant shift do we need so that this ceases to be something we all agree about and then fail to deliver on, and it becomes integrated into the way we do things?
Thank you. First of all, Mark, on the point about further information, I will have a chat with colleagues, because we do have data, obviously, to back this up and to show that map, if you like, of casework, and it is a pretty good barometer, I would say, because we have that all-Wales coverage. It's not our usual style to name and shame without going through a proper process with authorities, so what I can do is I can talk to colleagues and I can see if we can provide some data to the committee, if that would be useful, so that that would provide a bit more context.
That's fine. On the issue around no recourse to public funds, our casework has been very quiet on this over COVID, which is a really good sign, and obviously we know that the Welsh Government was able to provide funding—as a public health issue, was able to make funding available so that people could go into refuge, people could be accommodated, and authorities have been making use of that, and it's been really, really welcome. But I know that there are issues around survivors of domestic abuse going into refuge, and questions marks about—and this is another instance of COVID meaning people can get support who weren't able to get support before—how are we going to help women in refuge now, when all of a sudden they're not able to access that housing support anymore. So, it is a concern.
In terms of the shift, I hear what you're saying, Mark, and talking to my colleague John Puzey and Michelle Wales, who've been in this sector 30-plus years—there was another group, another homelessness action group, is this going to achieve anything different? I think that the consensus within Shelter Cymru is that something is different now around the homelessness action group, around the unprecedented learning that the sector has undergone over the last few months, and the opening up of a possibility that we could do things differently in Wales—we could see an end to priority need, we could get a universal homelessness system where everybody gets the help that they need.
The difference here is going to be about resources, ultimately. It all comes down to whether housing is going to be at the top table in terms of Government's strategic priorities moving forward, and that means sharing the responsibility. One of the great recommendations from the homelessness action group was the public sector duty to prevent homelessness. That would be a wonderful way of getting some shared buy-in here so that we can get the money that we need to build the homes and provide the support. And then we can end homelessness—we have the blueprint in front of us.
So is it just about resource? Resource is critical, but is it not also about doing things differently, recognising the whole person and doing things with them rather than to them, to help support them to develop their own independent lives rather than simply give them the key and say, 'Aren't you lucky? Isn't society kind?' and leave them living in their own hell?
I can see Katie agreeing with that, and Jennie. Katie, do you want to come in?
Yes, sure. One of the points I'd make to one of Mark's points about the ability of local authorities to respond to this is I think it's fair to say that austerity has had an impact on the capacity of local authorities, and I think that there will be many homelessness and housing local authority staff who will be crying out for more investment and more capacity. At the same time as staff who are having to house the hundreds of people coming through their services, they are also having to think strategically about phase 2 bids, and the amount of bandwidth they had left was nothing at all. So I think that making sure that we resource people to do the strategic thinking around this step change is really, really important.
As you would expect, I fully agree with Jennie about sustained funding on the capital side for increasing social housing stock, but also on the support side, and I know, Mark, that you've been a strong supporter for many, many years of what used to be Let's Keep on Supporting People and what is now the Housing Matters campaign. I think some things have changed. I think that the committee's work in its various forms over the years has helped to maintain the focus and pressure on this issue. I think that we've seen that substance misuse services have really been around the table during this pandemic, not least because of some of the recommendations coming out from this committee, there's been a real sustained effort, certainly with the officials that I deal with in substance misuse, to make sure that their services are much more involved in housing, whether that's through Housing First or multidisciplinary homelessness teams. So, there is a change happening on that front, and we'd like to see the same happen with mental health services.
I think that what's different at the moment is the work that we've been doing on trauma-informed approaches. I think that that offers the explanation as to why so many people end up falling on really tough times, and it is so linked to the trauma that they've experienced in their childhood. And when we start to understand that as support providers, as local authorities, as Government, then we start to understand the things that we need to do and the ways that we need to work in order to better support people to avoid homelessness, to sustain tenancies and to recover from some of that trauma. So, I think that is one of the things that has changed dramatically over the past few years and sets us up on a really good foundation for understanding the causes and what we need to do to end it.
I think one of the things that has to happen as we move to phase 2 is that there has to be true partnership and collaboration between local authorities and support providers, and we've seen that during phase 1. In a crisis, you see how people respond, and, for the vast majority of local authority and support providers, they have worked in partnership, they've shared information, shared resources and done what's been necessary to make that difference.
As we now go back into the new normal and things are less frantic, we can't lose that. I think we all accept—and those of us who are on the homelessness action group know—that services do need to adapt as we move towards more of a housing-led, rapid rehousing approach. And that means some really difficult conversations for some existing services who may not be in the vision of phase 2, but I think it's really important that local authorities work in partnership with those third sector providers, because most will be on board with change, but they will want to do so in partnership with the local authority, and they have so much value and expertise to offer. What we can't do is lose that incredible value and expertise from organisations, because most will be up for changing but they need to be part of that conversation and they need to be given the opportunity to be part of that new vision for phase 2. So, I think that's one of the things that the committee might want to keep an eye on: how that goes forward in terms of that partnership and collaboration.
But I agree: I think the appetite is there for change at a strategic level and increasingly operationally, and I think that politicians from all parties are saying the right things. I agree with Jennie that there needs to be that very strong leadership around the Cabinet table, and that's certainly what we have with the current Minister, who is prepared to make bold statements and make bold decisions, and that needs to continue into the future. Of course, the scrutiny from other parties is absolutely essential in holding whoever that Minister is to account.
Thank you very much. Rhys, could you be fairly brief, because I'm afraid we've overrun our time? Rhys.
Yes, no problem. I just wanted to touch on the issue of no recourse to public funds. Crucially, the ability to accommodate those individuals and provide support was done under the guise of public health. So, this is a group that is probably at greatest risk that, when these emergency measures were lifted, they could fall back into street homelessness—so, into a vulnerable position. So, there are things that Welsh Government can do and that we can do in Wales, but they are sticking plasters and what we really need to see happen is that we need to see UK Government lift those NRPF restrictions and guidance to allow local authorities to provide that support, whether that's on a 12-month period, as we're recommending, through legislation, or on a longer term basis. But, without that action from UK Government, action the Welsh Government takes is a sticking plaster for those groups.
Okay, thank you very much, Rhys, and thank you, Katie, and thank you, Jennie. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Thank you very much for giving evidence to the committee today. Diolch yn fawr.
Okay, the committee will break very briefly and resume at 3.15 p.m. Thank you very much.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:09 a 15:15.
The meeting adjourned between 15:09 and 15:15.
Okay, we will continue, then, with item 3 on our agenda today, which is on our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact, and an evidence session on housing. And I'm very pleased to welcome Clarissa Corbisiero, director of policy and external affairs and deputy chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, Matt Dicks, director of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, Councillor Andrea Lewis, housing spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association, Jim McKirdle, housing policy officer with the Welsh Local Government Association, and Calum Davies, Welsh policy and public affairs officer with the National Residential Landlords Association.
We will begin, then, with opening statements of up to five minutes per organisation to highlight the main priorities you would like to raise with the committee in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on housing, and we will then turn to questions from Members. We do have a running order, I believe, and I think it's the WLGA that will begin. Okay. Is it Jim?
It is, Chair, thanks very much. Thanks for the opportunity to give evidence today. Just a few key messages to open from the WLGA—hopefully, it won't take up the whole five minutes—but this has been a very challenging time, as I'm sure you'll understand, for local authorities across many of their functions, but particularly so in relation to the work that they do around housing and supporting homeless individuals and households. I'm sure we'll have the opportunity later in the meeting to discuss some of those particular challenges.
I think that the need to ensure that people, some of whom may have previously been rough-sleeping, are able to be in accommodation that allows them to follow the guidance on hygiene and protect themselves from infection in ways that the wider population might take for granted, has been a real reminder of some of the key reasons that historically led to the establishment of municipal authorities, and then succeeding local authorities, and the focus that they had in the early days and continually on public health, the need to pay attention to housing conditions and the important role played by the development and the provision of public housing.
I think, for us, a key message to come through from the work in the pandemic has been the importance of partnership and collaboration. They've been key features in the housing sector's response to the pandemic. The partnership between local authorities and Welsh Government has felt real and has been productive. It's not always been without its operational challenges but, in the main, those challenges have been overcome quickly and effectively, and I think it's important to reflect that our elected members share the Government's overall ambitions in relation to tackling homelessness and ending rough-sleeping in Wales wherever possible.
Collaboration with other partners has also been a very important feature—other partners being RSLs, support providers, the voluntary sector and others—and that's also largely been effective. And I think that responding to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic has given us, collectively, the opportunity to understand and appreciate how strong and resilient some of these partnerships really are—they are already—and that, when things have just needed to get done quickly, we've got on with them, whereas perhaps beforehand we would all have focused a bit more on our perceived differences rather than the job in hand.
As well as very real challenges, there have been opportunities that have been created during the pandemic. Those are opportunities for individuals, opportunities for organisations and, hopefully, for wider society. For individuals who may previously have been leading a very chaotic lifestyle, there have been some very encouraging examples of, where they've been supported in emergency accommodation settings, that's provided them with a chance for engagement and stability, perhaps engaging meaningfully with substance misuse and mental health services for the first time, and enabled people to take some very important steps on recovery journeys.
As organisations, we've now got the opportunity and a focus, I would say, and some of the resources we need to accelerate the pace at which we transform and develop homelessness services, and the nature and quality of temporary accommodation provision in particular. And maybe—just maybe—society will take the opportunity to better understand some of the things that contribute to people becoming homeless, and how it's possible to lessen the chances that people will end up sleeping on the streets.
I think also the pandemic has helped to underline and remind us how interconnected and interdependent the different components of the housing sector and the housing market actually are, and how easy it is to interfere with the operation of some of those things. For example, furloughing staff who carry out repairs to empty properties in one part of the sector means that, very quickly indeed, there are reduced opportunities to move people out of scarce emergency accommodation in another part. And it's equally important that the private rented sector and the market sectors are operating effectively, to provide real choice for people who need to find somewhere to live that best meets their needs and allows them to take care of themselves and their households.
The final, key message that I'd like to emphasise is the need to recognise the hard work, resilience, imagination and sheer persistence of staff in local authorities and partner organisations, who've, more often than not, gone much further than the extra mile in their efforts to keep people safe over the last few months. And long may it continue.
Okay, thank you very much, Jim. And then, Clarissa, please, on behalf of Community Housing Cymru.
Thank you, Chair. I would really endorse a lot of what Jim said around the strength and resilience of partnership working. And as organisations, housing associations, that are rooted within communities, in normal times—if we can remember what those even looked like any more—we spent a lot of time thinking creatively about how to deepen those partnerships with our friends and colleagues within local government and in the health service, and, actually, this has been a real, true test of the resilience of those partnerships. And I think, overall, we've seen them really flourish. For housing associations, that's required adaptability and agility in the type of support that they provide and the mechanisms with which they do that. And I completely agree with Jim's outline of how that's really worked really very well.
That's included things like making lets available for responsive placements and passing those over to support our local authority partners, as they grapple with the challenges that they were presented with. It's included things like moving staff and assets around. So, that can be as simple as using your vehicles to help with the transfer of food or resources to where it needs to be, and it's included a very human element—so, supporting tenants to access the welfare system or the support that's available across the public sector.
So, partnership has been a really important part of the response. I think, as we move into this next phase, it's really, really important that we think about how we build on that. So, the examples that we've heard, as the trade body for housing associations, about where this has worked well have been where housing associations are really linked into the discussions that take place in those local co-ordination cells, and thinking through how we build those links into local resilience fora as we move into recovery, so that housing associations continue to be agile and play their full part in supporting our public sector partners, as we move towards a recovery.
The second point I wanted to make was around the support to tenants. And, like lots of organisations, housing associations have simply transformed the way that they deliver services over this period. Really, really early on, we recognised that one of the really important things that we could do as social landlords was to provide some confidence for our tenants, and so came out early and talked about the fact that there would be no evictions as a result of COVID-related financial hardship. We were really then pleased to work with the WLGA and, with the support of the Welsh Government, turn that into a financial support protocol, which really set out very clearly what tenants could expect from their social landlord, both in terms of supporting their financial resilience during this really, really difficult period, but also, much wider than that, thinking about the role that, as social landlords, we can play around health and well-being and navigating the system. That might be for anything, including accessing welfare payments to providing short-term grants to help with energy bills and pay off energy meters—that kind of thing.
All of that work sits alongside conversations and commitments that were made pre-crisis around no evictions into homelessness and driving down eviction levels to as low as possible. I think that those two things—the financial assistance protocol and those commitments around working together to try and drive down homelessness and commitments around ending evictions into homelessness—together provide a bit of a path to how we might frame some of the next phase of work.
And then I think, finally from me, Chair, I just wanted to reflect a little bit on next steps and how—Jim talked a little bit about how interconnected the housing system is, and I completely agree with him there. And, actually, I think that proves true as we move into the recovery phase. So, the COVID crisis has exposed on a really grand scale the importance of home, health and place, and also the inequalities, actually, that many of our communities in Wales face around that. So, there is a real opportunity for us now to think creatively about how we use public funding to boost economic growth, but also to lock in social outcomes and any social gains that we've made during those periods. And now, of course, you'd expect me talk a bit about an economic stimulus package that is focused on building social housing, and that is, I think, for us absolutely at the core of where we think Welsh Government should go next—a package of funding that supports good-quality, energy-efficient, social homes, which, in itself, creates good-quality work.
I just wanted to draw the committee's attention to some research that we published quite recently, which looked at the fact that £50 million of investment will give you 600 new homes, £100 million of economic activity, and over 200 jobs. Now, actually, this is proved to work. We know that the social housing sector has the appetite and drive and resilience during this time to be able to step up and to provide a long-term and sustainable solution. And we'd like to see that delivered in partnership. And that partnership between Welsh Government, local government, and housing associations has been proven to work well over the past years, and is a route forward here. So, thinking through how we prioritise the very, very scarce use of capital feels an important consideration for this committee as we move into the next phase, and, obviously, it needs to sit alongside a package of support around housing-related support services. We absolutely know that a home is the most important thing—getting people into housing quickly and rapidly. Those services that circulate around an individual and a household—making sure that they are funded appropriately and are deployed effectively, feels really, really important.
And, of course, the last point, Chair, is that this isn't just for Welsh Government; housing associations have an important role to play, using their borrowing powers to make every public pound stretch even further. Thank you.
Okay. Diolch yn fawr, Clarissa. And Matt Dicks of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru.
Diolch, Chair, and prynhawn da, pawb. Diolch—thanks for inviting us along to give evidence today. In many respects, our overarching narrative hasn't changed as a result of COVID. It remains the call for the full incorporation of the right to adequate housing into Welsh law. In many respects, COVID-19 has been the story of the home. A four-month lockdown has meant that we've been consigned to our homes for a longer period than ever before, and it's shone an even brighter light on the inequalities of our broken housing system, and the inequalities of that system to cope with a global pandemic on the scale that we're currently experiencing. So, housing and the home should now be considered fundamentally as a public health issue and central to public policy planning over the next several decades.
We have seen the inequality of families with young children housed in unsuitable accommodation with no easy access to open space during the lockdown. A fantastic piece of journalism by Inside Housing highlighted a direct link between overcrowded and inadequate housing and increased infection and death rates from the coronavirus.
We've been able to accommodate more than 800 people in Wales into temporary accommodation during this pandemic, and praise has to rightly go to the Welsh Government, to local authorities and housing organisations for achieving that, and praise particularly for front-line housing professionals, and primarily those in care and supported-housing settings whose commitment and bravery has often gone unrecognised. But housing more than 800 people in temporary accommodation simply highlights the chronic shortage of sustainable and affordable housing options that existed for many before COVID and exist now. Together with Tai Pawb and Shelter Cymru, we have been campaigning for 18 months for the full incorporation of the right to adequate housing into Welsh law. We believe the case was made stark even before COVID, and we note that many members of this committee have been supportive of this campaign, calling for the due regard element to be included on the face of the local government and elections Bill during your consideration of that legislation, and we thank you for that.
But COVID has shown us that we need to go the full nine yards on this. The pandemic has demonstrated that we need to reset our view of the home. It's where physical and mental well-being begins. A safe home makes all of us better able to learn, to work, and to engage with our communities and each other. Can we continue to say that we believe housing is a right without actually acting on it? Can we continue to say that we can't do it because we don't have sufficient supply of social and affordable housing, which is, obviously, a circular argument? If we truly believe it is a right and that a safe, sustainable home is central to addressing many of society's woes, now more than ever, in the midst of a global health emergency, then let's make it a right. CIH Cymru believes that will, at a fundamental level, inform the policy debate and resource allocation. Moreover, it turns the debate about housing and the discussion about the needy and vulnerable to one about rights and dignity.
But it's not just about ensuring every one of us has a sustainable housing option, although that is central; it’s also about economic recovery in a post-COVID landscape. Housing associations already contribute a significant amount to the Welsh economy—around £2 billion per annum. That includes upskilling and training the local workforce and procuring from local suppliers. CIH Cymru did a significant piece of work around local procurement several years ago through the i2i 'can do' toolkits, which are held up as an exemplar to this day of how best to make use of local supply chains. So, social landlords are already significant contributors to the local circular, foundational economy model, which is going to be so important and so central as we move out of this pandemic.
Furthermore, we are working with Welsh Government to support local authorities in increasing the pace and scale of council house building following the lifting of the housing revenue account, a further significant contribution to the local economy, and, again, vitally important to the economic recovery. The housing Minister has publicly stated that the building of carbon-neutral homes at social, affordable rent is a key part of the Government's post-COVID green recovery plan. This must be matched by the right level of capital and revenue investment to get the job done.
Furthermore, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has placed building new low-carbon affordable housing and investing in a national programme to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes at the top of her list of priorities for a green recovery plan. In her annual report, the commissioner also urged the Welsh Government to place the right to housing at the centre of its housing policy approach.
CIH Cymru welcomes the Minister's stated aim and ambition of ensuring that none of these 800 housed in temporary accommodation during lockdown return to the streets. It would be a sad indictment on all of us if that was to happen, and we can do it, so why not enshrine that commitment, which we all believe in, into Welsh law and make a safe, sustainable home a right for everyone? Only then will it really focus sufficient capital and revenue investment to deliver the level of supply and social, affordable housing that we need to achieve that goal.
Okay. Diolch yn fawr, Matt. We move then, finally, in terms of presentations, to Calum Davies of the National Residential Landlords Association.
Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd, a phrynhawn da i chi i gyd.
Thank you very much, Chair, and good afternoon to you all.
Good afternoon and thanks to the committee for inviting the National Residential Landlords Association to give evidence to you today. For context, the NRLA represents the interests of landlords in the private rented sector, including its 80,000 plus members who manage over 0.5 million properties over England and Wales. We provide support and advice to members and seek to improve the private rented sector both for tenants and landlords through our code of conduct, training and resources.
So, for our members and other landlords, the main issue to affect them when it comes to the pandemic is finances. We have been broadly supportive of Government's actions, such as the furlough scheme, as that has meant a great deal of tenants have been able to pay their rent. Indeed, 90 per cent of tenants have been paying their rent as usual during this pandemic, according to a recent survey. Also, steps taken to ensure local housing allowance actually reflects 30 per cent of local market rent has been welcome, although the NRLA have been calling for LHA rates to cover average local rents so benefits actually cover the cost of housing. These are the kinds of steps that have prevented landlords suffering badly on the whole. However, our survey of 4,500 landlords found a majority of them had suffered financially and were still going the extra mile to help tenants in difficulties. Indeed, 90 per cent of landlords who were asked to provide some degree of rent assistance did so. To help with that, the NRLA published a guide for landlords and tenants on how to manage rent arrears in partnership with five stakeholder groups, one of which I see here on the panel today.
Again, on the issue of finance, direct landlord support has been hard to come by as they are largely shut out of governmental support schemes as they are ineligible in their capacity as landlords. To overcome this, the NRLA advocates Spain's interest free, Government-backed loans for tenants, who can apply for up to six months' rent. The money can only be used for rent, which is paid directly to the landlord and can be repaid over six to 10 years. We believe this is a fair and equitable settlement to assist both tenants and landlords.
On reopening the housing market, we're very pleased to see the steps so far, but it is vital we do not delay the ability to hold viewings in occupied properties much longer. Freeing this part of the sector will boost the economy, help landlords operate their business more efficiently and tenants to move more flexibly. We are happy to say the conversations we've had throughout this whole process with the Welsh Government on this topic have been positive and co-operative.
This brings me to possessions. The extension on the possession ban in English and Welsh courts until 23 August will significantly knock landlords' confidence in the market as they could be left five months in arrears and have no means to seek possession. It will also make no difference in preventing legal evictions and could possibly increase them. This is why it is essential that cases of anti-social behaviour and pre-pandemic cases are prioritised when courts start holding hearings again. Claims that evictions will soar ignore the help landlords have given tenants despite their own financial difficulties. The temporary possession settlement will also compound the suffering of victims of domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. In cases of domestic violence, landlords will often end the tenancy agreement and offer a fresh one for the same property to the victim, independent of the abuser. This step is now no longer available to landlords. For these reasons, maintaining the temporary possessions regime was the easy rather than the smart decision, as it will lead to unintended consequences. The Welsh Government should also make clear soon if it intends to keep the possession notice length at the extended three months.
In closing the statement, we would like to say that much of the action undertaken by the UK and Welsh Governments that is relevant to the private rented sector has been positive. But when it has not acted in supporting landlords directly, and when it comes to possessions, they have had significant implications. It is time to rectify these faults so the private rented sector can thrive in future. This will be even more important now with the economic outlook. After the 2008 financial crisis, people became increasingly reliant on renting, and that'll be the case again due to COVID-19. That is why we are determined to work with others to ensure that the private rented sector works fairly for both landlords and tenants. That has been evident throughout our actions and calls during the coronavirus pandemic, and we will continue to act in that same vein in the hope that governments of all levels do so as well. Diolch.
Diolch yn fawr, Calum. Thank you very much. Okay, we'll move into questions from Members, and I will begin with a general one, really, in terms of the scale of the challenge facing the sector during the pandemic, and the adequacy, the scale of the response to address that challenge. How do you think it's best characterised at this stage? Who would like to begin? Matt?
Thanks, John. As I alluded to in my opening remarks, the response has been excellent. We've managed to house more than 800 people in temporary accommodation, off the streets, the hidden homeless, the sofa surfing, et cetera, and that's happened because of the collaboration between Welsh Government, local councils and housing associations, and other providers and the PRS as well, so that one-housing-system approach that Clarissa was alluding to earlier has really come together and performed in getting people into accommodation. But, as I said in my opening remarks, we've housed 800 people in temporary accommodation, so what happens the day after tomorrow, and what happens in phase 2? It demonstrates that, prior to the pandemic, we had a severe shortage of affordable, social housing. We knew there was a housing crisis; we've spoken at length in this committee about that prior to that. So, in the short term, the sector's done a fantastic job—and all praise to them and praise to front-line housing professionals in particular—but there's a big job to do in order to get to a point where those 800 people aren't returning to the streets and we've addressed the long-term issue of undersupply of social, affordable housing.
Okay, thank you, Matt. I think I saw Andrea Lewis's hand raised. Andrea, would you like to come in at this point?
Yes, please. Thank you, Chair. Firstly, I'd like to echo some of the comments that have already been made in terms of collaboration, and I think it's fair to say that we've never had such a positive relationship with Welsh Government, Welsh Government officials and housing associations, and I think there's opportunity here to expand that into the private sector, as well. I think that we look forward to learning the lessons from this virus and expanding on the good work that has been done. It's fair to say that we've dramatically reduced the number of rough-sleepers in local authorities. There are some which are still, obviously, difficult to engage with, and it's fair to say that the rough-sleeper issue is complex, and some, no matter how many times we've offered support, continue to refuse, but it's pleasing to see that those numbers are very low. Many who've struggled previously to engage with support services have been readily accepting support and working with appropriate support providers. There's been an excellent multi-agency approach to providing accommodation and support, and the crisis has led to a number of services working in different ways and taking very much a more person-centred approach, and I think that's worked really well.
I could give you local examples in Swansea, just to be a bit parochial. There was a project that we've carried out in collaboration with our local housing association, Pobl, which is Tŷ Tom Jones house where we've got 20 self-contained units there, working as well with Swansea University. The Wallich and Caer Las have been supporting those people to move on and we've already got one of our residents then moving on to a more permanent housing solution. So, we'll certainly be watching that closely.
And in terms—I know we've probably got questions later on about phase 2, but in terms of phase 2, I think it's important that we really do focus on rapid rehousing and, as others have mentioned, we really need to address the lack of single-person accommodation and quality accommodation, because it's all very well putting people into temporary support and temporary accommodation, but really we all have a common goal to move people into more permanent, sustainable and quality housing solutions.
So, the crisis has, in some respects, been a very positive approach to tackling homelessness and, like others have said, I think it would be very disappointing and regrettable if we were to reverse the good work that has been done. We want to continue it and I'm sure we'll come on to possible solutions to continue that work going forward.
Thank you, Chair. I agree with everything Councillor Lewis just said, so I won't repeat that. It's really great to see the Welsh Government's plan, that focus on cohorting, taking a sensible, practical approach to managing the transition out, but also looking forward. And that focus on build within the transition plans feels really, really important, so that we are trying to get to a solution.
My point was slightly different, which was that one of the things that feels really important that we could learn from and build on during this period and the successes is that sense of shared endeavour. So, we know that homelessness isn't just a housing issue; it's a public service issue. The homelessness action group, which I sat on last year, one of the big recommendations really was around a shared outcomes framework, so making homelessness everybody's business. I think we've seen beginnings of that actually during this crisis period. All the witnesses today have reflected on that sense of common endeavour. It feels like there's a real opportunity to embed that going forward, because we know that of course the physical environment in getting somebody into an appropriate and affordable home is very important. Councillor Lewis's point about single-person accommodation is particularly acute, but actually that support service that circles around the individual is incredibly important here, and that's not just housing-related support, it's about the mental health services and our colleagues within the health service more broadly. So, that feels like a really important point just to reflect on a little bit.
So, when it comes to the National Residential Landlords Association, we've been doing our part with homelessness as well. So, on the prevention side, we've been making sure to put in all our online guidance, which we then share through webinars and landlord forums, how important it is that landlords need to talk to their tenants and try to come to an understanding about forward payment plans if the tenants are struggling, because we think that's just the best way of maintaining a tenancy long term going forward.
Additionally, when it comes to tackling the homelessness problem after someone's already homeless, we've been talking to local authorities—it kind of started with Newport actually—about a leasing scheme where, in return for a local market rent, the landlord would lease their property to the local authority and then they would house their housing priority need list through those properties. Additionally, we worked with Rent Smart Wales to create a kind of declaration of interest form for landlords on this front, to offer their properties to that scheme, and, if I'm not mistaken, the owners of over 500 properties have expressed an interest in that scheme now through Rent Smart Wales. We're really proud of the role we managed to play in that and all those private landlords who are trying to play their part in tackling homelessness as well.
And also, as I briefly mentioned in my introduction, we developed a guide with other stakeholders on how to best approach a tenant to deal with arrears. And in the long term, we're working on similar leasing proposals when it comes to Housing First clients as well, although that tends to be independent of coronavirus.
Not to add too much, Chair, but the challenges and the scale of the challenges are significant and they're ongoing. No doubt other people will be giving you some numbers—Matt talked about 800 additional people. The true scale of households in temporary accommodation now in Wales is significantly above 3,000 households in Wales, of which the vast majority are single people. But that's not just about people who are sleeping rough, that's about people who've presented as homeless during the pandemic, and some who were in temporary accommodation before.
So, I think a sense of scale here is that this is a very big endeavour indeed in terms of the additional effort and then the ongoing effort to keep people in emergency temporary accommodation, to keep those accommodation providers on side in some challenging circumstances, and then to move people on. I mentioned the increasing level of presentations. I think, after an initial dip with local authorities, we've seen presentations around homelessness rise fairly significantly in a number of local authority areas with a variety of reasons behind that, but that adds pressure to already strained systems.
In terms of the achievements, they've also been significant. I mentioned in the opening remarks the achievements of individuals in terms of engagement, and others have also alluded to the idea that we've demonstrated that things can be different and we can make things happen. I think the power of that collectively is something not be dismissed or underestimated. We've proved we can do those things differently.
And finally, Clarissa mentioned the co-ordination cell structures within local authorities, and they have been really useful in securing and facilitating the input of partners and breaking down some barriers, inside authorities, outside authorities, with partner organisations and allowing people to participate much more effectively, I think.
Thank you, Chair. I think, to a degree, you've probably touched on a bit of this, particularly in Clarissa's contribution a little bit earlier, but I wanted to ask you about the impact of the Welsh Government issuing additional statutory homelessness guidance on priority need during this pandemic, and how that impacted on the work that you all did, and what you now feel is the potential for removing priority need entirely as we go post COVID into phase 2 and beyond.
I think you couldn't say anything else other than the impact of the additional statutory guidance was very significant indeed. Immediately, local authorities were under a statutory duty to secure and maintain emergency accommodation and provide other services for hundreds of people who they were previously required to provide a lower level of assistance to. So, it was a huge step change. I think that authorities and other partners have risen to the challenge. We've covered that.
I think that what that shows us about the potential removal of priority need entirely is that it will have a significant impact. That's not to be disputed. But it does give us the opportunity to better identify exactly what those impacts are likely to be and the costs associated with making the necessary adjustments to services, the accommodation provision required, et cetera. So, a useful dry run would be how I would characterise it, but make no mistake, it's a significant impact.
Thank you. Just picking up Jim's point, really, about a useful dry run: there are absolutely some lessons to learn from it. I don't underestimate the colossal impact on local authority homelessness teams. I think there are some lessons that we can learn from it, though, in terms of moving forward.
So, we would support a removal of the priority need requirement, but that that is done in a phased and managed way. Because actually, what we've seen are placements into emergency B&B type accommodation, and as we are operating in a crisis situation that feels absolutely right and proper, but is that a model actually that we want to adopt going forward? Probably not.
So, a phased and a planned model that is accompanied by an increase in appropriate and affordable social housing feels like a lesson certainly that we would draw from it.
And can I just ask—sorry, John, before you call anybody else in—Clarissa, can I just ask, because they phased this out in Scotland over about 10 years, so what's been the impact in Scotland, do you know?
I don't have that information. We can certainly get some sent to you.
No, that's fine. That's okay. I just wondered if you knew off the top of your head. That's fine. Okay, sorry.
Okay, Dawn. If none of our other evidence givers has anything to add on that matter—
Yes. As I set out in my opening remarks, again, our short answer to that would be to fully incorporate the right to adequate housing into Welsh law, which would make the right universal. But, in terms of priority need, it was a substantial step that the Minister took during the lockdown, and in terms of the progressive realisation towards that universal right, it seemed like a good first step to take. But obviously, the caveats that Clarissa and Jim set out in terms of funding, both revenue and capital need to be pumped in to support that. Ultimately, it's a way of allocating finite resource. The problem is that we've got finite resource, so we need to address that on a gradual scale. But, ultimately, we would argue to get to a stage where a right to adequate housing is universal.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Andrea has sort of touched a little on my question, and we have met in the past few weeks to discuss homelessness, Andrea, so thank you for that. But, I'm going to ask you some more questions now.
How prepared is the sector for phase 2 in responding to tackling homelessness during the pandemic, and ensuring that people do not return to the streets? And thank you, all, for your presentations. Looking at what Matthew has said, that one size does not fit all, and both Andrea and Calum have emphasised that, in moving forward, there's a necessity for public and private landlords to be working together if people are not to return to the streets, so all the presentations emphasised the importance of partnerships and working together. So, that is of paramount importance, because different people have different needs and we can only move forward when we take into consideration all of this. So, how can we provide, for example, better emergency accommodation? We need short, medium and long-term solutions so that people do not return to the streets. So, how prepared is the sector for phase 2, really, in the response to tackling homelessness? Thank you.
Thank you. If I can respond first to that. Actually, I think it's fair to say that the sector is very prepared for phase 2. Fortunately, particularly local authorities had their homelessness action plans already in place by the end of last year. And, of course, that was setting the scene for what we knew we needed to do. What the COVID virus has done is actually accelerate some of those plans, but we still need to know—well, we still understand, quite clearly, what the challenge is. And, for the sake of repeating some of the things that have been mentioned, we do need quality temporary accommodation. We don't really, ideally, want to house people in B&Bs—that's something that is an unfortunate necessity at this time, because of lack of emergency accommodation.
But the other thing at the other end of the scale is that need for one-bedroomed suitable permanent accommodation. So, the move-on element is really critically important, and if we can reduce the times that we're taking to move people on into more permanent solutions. We always have to acknowledge that that tap still isn't turning off; we're still getting homelessness presentations coming through. So, it's the churn that we need to speed up and get people into more permanent solutions.
And you're absolutely right: I think that all sectors, including the private sector, have a really important role to play, and Housing First is very much about giving people the freedom of choice of where they want to live, and the more types of accommodation and tenures of accommodation that you have, the more freedom you can give people to live where they choose to live. So, it is critical. I know that Clarissa touched upon it. It's important, as well, that we have that multi-agency buy in and that multi-agency approach, because it is about, essentially, first of all, getting a safe roof over people's heads, but it's critically important that we have that wraparound support to make sure that they can sustain that tenancy long term and stop that cycle of people falling back into homelessness and stop that recurrence. So, I think we're really prepared—and I don't know whether Jim will come in—because some of the phase 2 plans that local authorities have submitted have got some really innovative solutions, and they've really been thinking outside the box. And those plans—I can speak specifically for Swansea—haven't been constructed in isolation; we have worked with our RSL partners particularly to tackle what we were going to do in phase 2 as a shared, collaborative approach, so not dealing with it in isolation, which I think is critically important.
Sorry, could I also ask about the student accommodation—you know, homeless people who have been placed in student accommodation? Has that been taken into consideration when the students return? That's a concern for me.
Yes. I think I'll hand over to Jim at that point, because we haven't got people into student accommodation locally. We've particularly used B&Bs and also hostels and the existing emergency accommodation. And, as I said, we've also invested a capital sum in a new scheme of 20 single units. So, fortunately, we haven't had to use student accommodation in Swansea, but I'm sure Jim can expand for other councils.
Thank you, Chair. Yes, the response in authorities has been different according to different pressures. There are some authorities who've used current student accommodation in small numbers, but also some who've used redundant student accommodation—student accommodation that was being retired or repurposed. So, I think the time that the funding's been made available, through the phase 1 funding, where these contracts have entered into has reflected the temporary nature of that. So, that was actually one of the issues I was going on to talk about, around the constraints around phase 2 and the funding that's been available. But I'll start off with the message that local authorities really welcome the £20 million that's been made available this financial year, on top of that £10 million initially identified. And, as Councillor Lewis has said, authorities' plans haven't come out of the blue; they've been accelerated by experiences in the pandemic and the changing shape of demand, but firmly rooted in homelessness strategies that were there.
I think those constraints were driven by very understandable pressures—the need to prepare bids in a very short space of time; that money's got to be spent this financial year, rather than spread over a number of financial years. So, authorities have had to, with their partners, look at solutions that can match those constraints, and I think that's why you'll see the majority of applications have actually been for capital schemes, rather than revenue schemes. Because, without the commitment to be able to fund staff posts, for example, into next year, then authorities are and partners are—. It wouldn't be responsible for them to take the risk to put those structures in place—it just isn't smart of them. So, I think we'll see an overwhelming favour in terms of the capital bids.
But I take encouragement from that in that local authorities and partners know what the solutions are to some of these pressures and problems. They've got the ideas. And if, as we understand, the bids hugely oversubscribe the funding available, then that, to me, is testimony to the appetite for change and improvement and the imagination that partnerships have come up with. So, it's been encouraging, so far, that the numbers of people leaving temporary accommodation have been relatively low—those who are returning to the streets. But I'm holding on to any wood I can find in my office at the moment. That's going to be difficult to maintain. As we already see town centres coming back into action, approaching something like normality, there will be a pull for some people to go back to the streets. So, the importance to provide that quality accommodation, that meaningful support to support people to make those kinds of changes is absolutely critical.
Thank you, John. I wonder if I could ask Calum, first of all—you've all touched on the issue of how you've responded as landlords, as local authorities, to the challenges facing tenants during the pandemic, particularly with the benefits system, but I wonder whether, Calum, bearing in mind the diversity within the private rented sector, where you have a lot of small individual landlords as well as the larger ones, the fewer much larger private landlords who have multiple properties, although they are there as well—. Can you give us some more detail on how it's differed in the response within the private sector?
Hi, Huw. So, when it comes to the smaller landlords, we know they make up the vast majority of landlords in Wales. I believe there was a Rent Smart Wales/Welsh Government survey that went out to landlords recently, and two in three of the landlords owned either one or two properties. So, we know they make up the vast majority.
In terms of looking at the data in that depth, I haven't done it myself, but I know that when we've done surveys as an organisation for landlords, that data would fairly match up in terms of small landlords would usually answer that. When they've responded, we know that, despite the majority of them suffering financially, not only just in their own finances generally, but specifically with their rental payments, they have reacted on the whole by responding positively to requests for some form of rent assistance, whether that's waiving rent or deferring rent. Ninety per cent of those who were asked did something like that, and that's despite all the financial pressures that have come with it in terms of unexpected council tax bills, for example.
But, in terms of how have they reacted differently, small and large landlords, I don't know off the top of my head, I'm afraid.
But your perception is, as a whole, the sector has responded—albeit with the pressures on them, they have responded with empathy and tried to work with their tenants to make sure that they are both in a position to see a day beyond tomorrow, if you like—that they're both there as landlords and their tenants are there as well to pay their rent.
That's absolutely true. Of course, you'll always find some bad apples, and they're always the ones that make press stories, of course, because that's what makes news and things like that. But, in terms of on the whole it being a compassionate response, yes. I was actually going through some—because sometimes we get case studies in, coming voluntarily from our members, just to say, 'Look, this is what's happened.' Sometimes they're bad and we haven't been able to solve it, but I was reading one earlier today where a landlord had tried really hard to try and come to some kind of compromise with their tenant, and they did actually manage to do it. It wasn't necessarily easy, but it shows that you can push through that initial barrier, and it's just about having that communication and realising that both sides are in difficulties here. Ultimately, what we say to landlords is: some rent is better than no rent. If you combine that with compassion, that business element of things, it tends to be, on the whole, a very good response.
That's great. Chair, I wonder if I could—in some ways, this question has been answered earlier on, but I wonder if any of our other panellists here have anything to add in terms of the response in terms of the challenges facing tenants and how you have responded to the benefits, challenges, the debt challenges and so on up to this point.
Thank you. I suppose, really, just to say that what we've seen so far is a slight increase in the amount of rent arrears that housing associations have seen between April and May, so around 4 per cent-ish. It remains to be seen what happens next, I think, as some of the UK Government financial measures start to unlock. So, we're watching carefully. I know in my opening statement I talked about the financial assistance protocol that housing associations and local authority stockholding landlords have committed to together, but a key part of that is around flexibility for the individual and about making sure that that financial support is bespoke. That feels really important, actually, as we move into the next phase.
Your point about welfare, just to pick up on that—some of the feedback from our members is a priority needs to be around the five-week wait, in particular, for UK Government. We know UK Government have made some changes around welfare during this period, but a huge amount of the Department for Work and Pension's resources and focus is on the operation of the welfare system at the moment, given the huge amount of backlog they are dealing with, and we completely understand that. But there may well be a point, as we start to see the true financial impact of the economic crisis that is following the public health crisis, that necessitates a proper look at some of the elements of the welfare system. For us, the five-week wait has got to be up there at the top of that list.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Can I ask you all what do you think will happen when the courts reopen and we start to see more evictions? I know, Calum—. Well, you said earlier that claims evictions will soar—don't take into account what landlords have done, but presumably you do—so there will be an increase in evictions, and what do you all think needs to happen to stop evictions into homelessness happening?
Thank you, Chair. Local authorities are concerned. They're very concerned about the potential for an increase in presentations on top of the increases we've already seen. And what we don't have is Welsh-specific figures, Welsh-specific research that provides evidence to support those fears, but what we've got is bitter experience, I think, of previous situations where we've had an economic downturn and we've seen the impacts.
Now, I'm encouraged to know that, at a UK level, at an England-and-Wales level, there are discussions around the application of the pre-action protocol and other measures that typically have been used in the social rented sector, and now within the private rented sector, to lessen that impact. I'm heartened by Calum's confidence in the response of his members and other colleagues in the private rented sector. But I think that to say other than that local authority homelessness services are fearful that they are about to be put under significant additional pressure would be to misrepresent the situation. I hope we're wrong.
Thank you, Chair. We have seen the number of notices served during the early parts of this period reduce. I think that there was an important point made earlier about some of the unintended consequences of the stay on evictions, particularly around domestic violence. That's something that we're particularly concerned about, but, clearly, we have to approach the lift of the stay on evictions carefully and sensitively, for all of the reasons that Jim just outlined. I think that for social landlords the commitments around ending evictions into homelessness are really important, as are some of the commitments around the financial assistance protocol. Our focus now needs to be working with Welsh Government and our partners within local authorities to see about how we make those a reality, and what we do on the ground, then, to embed that. We've started some really helpful work with Shelter Cymru around that.
I think your point about what do we need to do to end evictions into homelessness overall—I think, for me, we've spent a lot of time during this committee understandably focusing on the 'what next?'—tomorrow and the next six months—but actually a longer-term shift that is focused on prevention is the way out of this. Councillor Lewis referenced that earlier, the importance of an multi-agency approach, and that you view the threat of a loss of somebody's home, actually, as a real safeguarding issue that necessitates public services to come together and work collectively to support that individual, and a kind of bespoke plan around that. That feels like the culture shift we need to see across public services. The landlord has a really important role to play in that, but they can't play it alone—it's impossible. So that's the shift I'd like to see, and I think is really important if we're going to get to our shared ambition there.
So, on this, look, it's totally understandable that people are thinking that there might be a spike in evictions when the courts reopen, because there's a logic behind it, but, additionally, there is a logic behind, if you put all this these systems on pause, there will naturally be a backlog that's all going to pour out at one time. In the same way that Government have talked about flattening the curve with coronavirus, instead of peaks and troughs, it's the same thing that's going to happen here with the courts. We think that, when it came to the stay in possessions, and extending that period up until late August, what you actually might end up doing is encouraging illegal evictions, because you'll see some criminal landlords—who we don't believe are any of our members—but criminal landlords will ignore the law regardless anyway, and that's the key focus. So, that's something we don't think will challenge that. Additionally, like Clarissa echoed, when it came to domestic violence, these are the unforeseen, unintended consequences of making that move. When the courts do reopen, it’s really important that those cases of domestic violence and anti-social behaviour are prioritised, along with cases when it came to pre-COVID cases, including arrears, because I have some case studies in front of me of landlords who are sofa surfing because they have tenants who are refusing to pay any rent and have refused to do so since December. So, it’s making sure that those things are viewed clearly.
In terms of going forward and preventing the need for evictions in the future, from a private rented sector perspective, I’d say we’ve been doing a lot of work on a UK level, because welfare is not devolved, and talking about making sure that local housing allowance rates truly reflect local rents so it’s more affordable for people in the area. Maybe Clarissa would be able to confirm this for me, but I think I’m right in saying that two thirds of possession cases that get to court are in the social sector, so the social sector needs to be focused on as well as the private rented sector. She’s shaking her head, so maybe I’ve got that figure wrong.FootnoteLink
Thanks, Chair. I accept what Calum’s saying, but I suppose the double whammy, or what we don’t know, is at the same time as eviction proceedings start to come online, we may get a further spike in arrears, because of all the Government support packages coming offline, particularly furlough et cetera. So, we don’t know what’s going to happen to self-payers in particular, particularly in the PRS sector, but also in the social sector as well. So, we could have a double whammy coming at the same point.
CIH sent in its plan to avoid what we called the cliff edge as we come out of the pandemic and out of lockdown, and we submitted it to all four Governments in the four nations. It was around providing financial support for PRS landlords, and social landlords if required, to ensure that tenancies are maintained in the short to medium term. But a lot of our proposals, as Huw and Calum have pointed out, centred around the elephant in the room, which is welfare, which obviously we don’t have devolved power over, particularly around shared accommodation allowance, the local housing allowance rate, the benefit cap, et cetera, et cetera, which puts real pressure on homelessness, et cetera. I sent that through as an appendix to you a couple of days ago, so I hope you’ve had a chance to read through that in full. There are some elements in there that we believe would address that cliff-edge scenario, or certainly mitigate it.
Thank you. I think it’s worth mentioning that, obviously, as local authorities, we’ve got a statutory duty to house and to tackle homelessness, so obviously we’re supportive of not evicting people into homelessness because we’d only end up having to pick up their issue and rehouse them somewhere along the line anyway.
In terms of avoiding evictions, I think what we’d been doing prior, in fairness, to lockdown, through our homelessness action plans in terms of prevention—it comes back to what Clarissa highlighted, which was very much focused on prevention and early intervention. So, when somebody is starting to slip into arrears, we really need to get in early and support them so that those arrears don’t accrue to such a point that they’re almost impossible to tackle. And, of course, arrears tend to follow tenants around. So, if they’ve got arrears and then they go to another housing provider, those arrears are, again, taken into account and are a black mark on their record. So it’s important for us that we try everything we can to prevent them getting into that situation in the first place.
In terms of evictions and possession orders, the hard part, really, from my experience and for most councils, is tackling anti-social behaviour. During lockdown, that has been one of the particular challenges. Because we haven’t been able to relocate or possibly evict somebody through significant anti-social behaviour, we’ve had to do some very involved mediation between neighbours and, in some cases, that’s worked really well. So, that’s a lesson learned. In other cases, we know that, once lockdown is released, we will have to think about locating that person, perhaps, in a different place. So there are many reasons—just to point out it’s not just about rent arrears.
I think universal credit is a challenge. It's a challenge for all of us. And, as others have mentioned, we don't really know what the significance of that challenge is going to be until it's revealed when we come out of lockdown, because we can anticipate a significant rise in unemployment and the furloughing scheme is going to be lifted. We don't know what that looks like at the moment, but I just hope that if we continue to support people as much as we can—. And, as local authorities, we've got employability schemes, we've got tackling poverty, I know the construction of new homes presents an opportunity for employment. I think we need to join it all up. It's not just about housing—it's about looking at a whole solution as opposed to just looking at rents, or just looking at universal credit or welfare reform. It's looking at it in the round and looking at solutions.
Okay. Thanks, Andrea. We've got time for one last question. Mark Isherwood.
Thank you. Looking at two related issues—the development of new homes and ongoing support in the future—it's nearly 17 years, I think, since the sector joined up to launch its Homes for All Wales campaign because of concerns that there would be a shortage of affordable and social housing, and here we are today. So, in terms of going forward on the supply side, how should we ensure that we have the right homes in the right place for the right people at the right time? We know the Welsh Government has targets for housing, but are they the right targets—[Inaudible.]
Right. It looks as if we may have lost Mark, at least temporarily. I think you would have got the gist of the line of questioning. Who would like begin an answer? Clarissa and then Andrea. Clarissa first, then.
Thank you, Chair. On the question about the role of supply in economic recovery, I think for me it absolutely has to be a central part of the economic recovery. I talked in my introductory presentation about the economic business case for doing that, as well as the social business case in terms of the gains for all. I think we would like to see the Welsh Government provide some certainty about the commitments to house building going forward. So, we've seen housing associations trying their best to keep sites open as far as possible and building going in a safe way during this period. Associations have plans to build over 3,000 homes in the coming financial year. Confidence and certainty is a really important part of that. We'd really like to see Welsh Government commit to at least £200 million in the social housing grant for 2021-22, which would again give housing associations the confidence to be able to borrow and invest and make plans to scale up at pace.
There are also other things that would support that—so, things like progress with the land units, releasing public sector land, making sure that we unlock any backlogs we might see in planning. I'll defer to the WLGA on this, but again that feels a lot around capacity. There is an important issue that we have concerns about, but there's a real opportunity here, actually, that we have a progressive economic recovery that is focused on social house building, and that is focused on creating local good-quality jobs, using local supply chains, and that those homes are aspirational homes that are energy efficient.
The last point I just wanted to flag, Chair, is that the new-build element of this is really, really important, but actually also in terms of the recovery, there's also a really important opportunity around retrofitting our existing stock. So, we'd really like to see the Welsh Government continue to explore, as I know it is, what the opportunities there are around stimulating that in a way that maximises local supply chains and skills over the long term.
Thank you very much, Clarissa. I think I saw your hand raised, Matt, did I? No?
Yes. Sorry. It's interesting, isn't it? We've spent the last five days as a nation discussing whether the Welsh Government should follow the UK Government's decision on a stamp duty holiday, and how far we should go with that. In a sense, the overemphasis on the demand side of the housing market over the last several decades or so has ultimately led us to where we are in terms of the insufficient supply of affordable and social housing in particular. Clearly, with 800 people housed in temporary accommodation during the lockdown, we have a chronic undersupply of social and affordable housing.
So, we need to see investment, and as Clarissa said, we need to see commitment and investment into that, both from a capital perspective, not least the amounts that we were promised in terms of the social housing grant before COVID, but in terms of the demand that's going to come through on more social housing—probably more. But together with that, once we do house these people, lots of them have complex needs et cetera, and will need services pumped into the accommodation that they've found. So, we need commitment on the revenue support as well.
Now, obviously, there are finite budgets that the Welsh Government have got to look at, but, fundamentally, until we change that mindset that in terms of Government looking at the supply side more rather than responding to the demand side—and as others have said at the beginning, housing is wider than just housing; it's economic development, it's health, clearly a public health issue writ large by a global pandemic—until we put that at the centre as this big department all of its own that requires the investment to address these issues, then we're not going to get the money pumped into it. From our perspective, we say that the starting point is the full incorporation of the right to adequate housing. Once that happens, we put it on a par with the universal right to healthcare and the universal rights of the child et cetera, and that's when the money comes in. So, I finish where I start.
Thank you. I won't repeat what's been said other than to echo the importance of financial certainty, because we are reliant on grants to deliver housing. But I think that the housing development is critical—the construction element is critical for economic recovery.
In Swansea, we got caught in the middle of the pandemic, actually, and had to put things on hold for a short while. But we had one of our new developments where we made sure that the local supply chain was within a 10-mile radius—that was 70 per cent of the local supply chain that we used. So, the buying power element of this is really important. I'm really keen that, if we combine our buying power—initially, I was thinking local authorities and housing associations to give that certainty to local supply chains so that they've got that pipeline of work and they can expand or even grow new businesses. If you use renewables as an example, then that gives economic certainty and the strength to your local economy as well.
So, it's critically important, but just to make the point that councils recognise the challenge—we recognise the amount of affordable housing that is needed—but we also very much recognise the fact that we can't face that challenge in isolation and just deliver on our own. We need to do that in partnership with housing associations, and we also need to support the private sector to build new.
I think the concerns are not just with COVID, but also with Brexit in terms of how we get materials. There are many concerns, but the benefits outweigh the concerns, and those are employability opportunities, apprenticeship opportunities and traineeships in specialist areas. And we've been linking, in Swansea, with our local college and university to match their skills and training with what we know we're going to need for the future construction, so that there are no trade skills gaps.
So, there is a lot of good work going on with councils working in partnerships, and I think that, if the committee are interested, we can probably produce a whole list and raft of things that we were doing prior to the virus—things that are obviously really critically needed post virus to make sure that we've got the jobs and the opportunities when we know that there are going to be significant levels of unemployment going forward.
Yes, that would be very welcome, Andrea, if you could forward that to the committee. Thanks very much. Jim, did I see you wanting to add—?
Just a quick couple of positives, certainly not to repeat what colleagues have said—I agree entirely with it all. But we've got a couple of additional opportunities here in Wales that we wouldn't have had a few years ago. As is evident, we've got 11 local authorities in place to build, with the resources to borrow and contribute to that. We've, over the last two years, had an affordable housing supply review aimed at getting more out of the system that we've got. So, we're in a strong position, I think, to look at the implementation of some of those recommendations and pick on those that can help us accelerate those build programmes.
And I think that Mark Isherwood was going on to ask about asks of Welsh Government, and colleagues have mentioned a few. The one that I would add in is that I would hope that the level of trust and mutual respect, which a lot of us referenced earlier on as being evident between Welsh Government, local authorities and others around housing and homelessness issues, can continue and be evidenced in progress together, a lack of bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake and a whole range of other things, to carry on with what we’ve been doing.
Thanks, Chair. Again, I don't want to tread on other people's toes when it comes to what's already been said, so I'll try and make this brief and also topical. So, it follows today's news of the Welsh Government's decision when it comes to land transaction tax. We think this could have helped in an area of the economy. I've already spoken briefly about how, after the last financial crisis, we saw an increased reliance on the private rented sector for housing, and we think it will just happen again this time around after coronavirus. And we think that the decision to purposefully exclude buy-to-let mortgages and purchasers benefiting from the stamp duty threshold change is a bit short-sighted in terms of trying to make sure that the housing sector can provide for people who cannot afford to buy after this crisis. And so, we think that's something that's really important, especially considering it's been an area of interest for this committee—bringing back empty properties into use—and we think this could have been a really good incentive there. One of the predecessor organisations of the NRLA did a survey that found that an incentive for stamp duty or land transaction tax would encourage half of the respondents to buy a property with tenants in situ rather than seeking vacant possession as well. So, that would have boosted the market for tenanted properties and reduced unnecessary homelessness, too.
In terms of future financial support, two areas really. Making sure the tenants have the ability to pay their rent, which is why I called for that Spanish-type loan earlier in the evidence session. It's particularly disappointing that nothing like this has happened in Wales yet, considering that, over two months ago, the Scottish Government managed to do some kind of landlord scheme, although we have a few reservations about how they implemented that. And additionally, there will be landlords out there who didn’t benefit from things like a mortgage holiday—although, again, that's not a holiday; it's a deferral—because there will be people out there who rely on that rent as their only source of income or their pension. And as well as being unable to access things like the furlough scheme or the self-employment support scheme in their capacity as landlords, there are people out there who are just simply ineligible because they’re landlords and we think that's just a bit unfair. So, just trying to make sure that tenants and landlords are both helped equally is our concern. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Calum. Okay, I thank you all for giving evidence to committee on these very important matters. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
Okay, the next item on the committee's agenda today then is item 4, paper to note. And we have correspondence from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip in response to our letter following the evidence session on 14 May as part of our inquiry into COVID-19. Is committee content to note that paper? Yes. Thank you very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod ac ar gyfer eitemau 1 a 2 o’r cyfarfod ar 16 Gorffennaf 2020 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and items 1 and 2 of the meeting on 16 July 2020 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Item 5, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of today's meeting and items 1 and 2 of the meeting on 16 July. Is committee content so to do? Yes. Okay. Thank you very much. We will, then, move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:29.
The public part of the meeting ended at 16:29.
Eglurhad/Clarification: During 2018, of the 3,640 possession orders that required a court hearing that were granted by the courts in Wales, 3,050 were granted to social landlords and 590 to private landlords.