South Northamptonshire Council has been praised by a leading homelessness charity for the way it is preventing families being left on the street.
A consultancy team at Shelter conducted a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise to see how the council’s housing team dealt with them, especially in the year since new legislation – the Homelessness Reduction Act – was passed meaning councils have more duties to meet to prevent people being left on the street.
And the organisation was left with a good impression according to cabinet member Councillor Karen Cooper.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting at The Forum, in Towcester, on Monday evening (September 9), Councillor Cooper said: “Our approach was recently commended by a Shelter report following a mystery shopping exercise which described our service as having a cultural attitude and approach in line with the spirit of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA).
“The HRA has increased the duties to homeless people, and people threatened with homelessness, with a greater emphasis on prevention. This has represented a significant culture change.
“Our experience over the past 12 months is that the levels of homelessness have remained stable, despite the increased duties.
“I would like to congratulate our housing team for the way they have embraced the new act and for their dedication and commitment to their roles.”
During the first year of the HRA, the housing options team at SNC opened 623 cases from people seeking help and advice. The majority of approaches were people seeking housing advice but were not homeless or threatened with homelessness at the time. The council did, however, prevent 109 households from becoming homeless.
The new law included extending the period during which someone might qualify as being threatened with homelessness from 28 days to 56 days. The council says this means it has a duty to ‘assist with people’s housing needs earlier than we may have done in the past’.
Council leader Ian McCord added: “It’s useful to see that we are helping to prevent people every week from becoming homeless, and I think we have a pretty good record for small authority.
“Can I echo the words from Councillor Cooper and thank the whole team for their efforts. We seem to have taken this in our stride.”