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29 May 2019

This month we’ve spoken to Dominic Bradley, Managing Director of Spring Housing in the Midlands. Spring’s ethos is to provide housing for those with the greatest of needs. It works to prevent and reduce homelessness, and to create long term prosperity by investing to prevent poverty and social isolation – inspiring and unlocking people’s potential. We asked Dominic about the challenges of matching housing to those who need it most.

How is homelessness impacting Spring and do you see a solution to it?

The biggest issue we have is around welfare reform and housing policy – there simply isn’t enough affordable housing for everyone. Add to that the local authorities have seen deep cuts to their budgets which have almost eradicated non-statutory services that have been there in the past to support the people slipping through the net. Through austerity measures we have created a very expensive system. People that used to access preventative style services are now increasingly relying upon the statutory A&E being the most obvious example. Our friends at Crisis estimate there will be around 24,000 people sleeping rough this Christmas – that is to say, in tents, in cars and on the streets. Homelessness has always existed, but because there aren’t the services to help anymore, the issue is much, much more visible.

Spring Housing is doing much more work around temporary accommodation – to try and alleviate the issue of the local authorities moving families out of area which has a huge knock-on effect, from disrupting children’s education which negatively impacts their attainment to also affecting their health, wellbeing which is very hard to recover from. Around 82,000 households are in temporary accommodation in the UK –– that’s simply not sustainable and has got to change, and we can only make a difference by providing the right type of accommodation.

Is it mainly an issue just in our cities, or does it go beyond the city limits?

Homelessness is everywhere, rural areas too, but rural councils are less able to deal with the situation than the bigger metropolitan councils. In rural areas, there aren’t the skills, services or statutory functions to help – and once those functions have been eroded by deep budgetary cuts, they’re next to impossible to bring back. We need more sustainable housing solutions everywhere. There simplest way is to offer more grant subsidy to Housing Associations and Councils to build homes for social rent, every bit of evidence out through proves it's an invest to save model.  Instead we are moving millions into crisis interventions and temporary accommodation, which means millions pours out of the sector into hotel chains the private sector with very little to show for it in real terms.

How far are we behind Government housing targets? What can be done?

In Birmingham, 1 in 73 of the total population is homeless (highest outside London) Use of temporary accommodation, rough sleeping and no secured accommodation (even through owed a duty) are all on the ride. This is exacerbated by cuts to council’s budgets since 2010. We need to look closely at affordable housing –which has almost become a nebulous term with so many different products on the market. Welfare reform means many can’t access social housing like they used to be able to do. Housing Associations have tightened their belts (as instructed by government to do so) So many perspective tenants fall at the first hurdle of affordability assessments when applying for housing– which is ridiculous of course, as they’re the people that so often need help the most. 1 in 34 households claiming universal credit have declared themselves homeless since April that’s a pretty harrowing statistic by anybody’s imagination. The embattled policy has managed the feat of both costing billions more than the system it replaces (from office for budget responsibility it's now official!) It has left so many vulnerable worse off which is the worse type of irony as the welfare state was set up to help these people the most.

All of us working within social housing needs to challenge ourselves about why we are here and who we are here for, most of our organisations have a  core broadly encompassing helping the communities they serve – a community based, social rent focussed organisation, but we have moved away from that path in recent years. Partly through managing rent cuts, welfare reform and the pressure to build new homes and partly I would argue that the bottom line has become all important, as leaders are we more beholden to our banks or our tenants?

How are HA’s changing with the needs of their marketplace? Are they becoming too commercial?

Yes, I do believe that many of the housing associations are becoming too commercial. The government has encouraged large mergers of the associations in order for them to access the finance they need – levying more of it – to build new houses. But this means that many of the HA’s have become more ‘corporate-like’– with large contact centres –and generally a feeling that staff and services are less accessible, there remains no clear evidence that the big group structures are more efficient than the smaller ones, it is clear through that house building is the key driver for mergers (alongside CEO retirements). It is interesting that the social housing regulator is taking a much greater interest in the consumer standard in part no doubt because of the awful tragedy at Grenfell.

How is implementing technology helping Spring?

For us, implementing MIS AMS ActiveH Lite software has been absolutely brilliant – we can interrogate data much better and analyse where to best target our resources. With the benefit caps and welfare reform we can intervene much faster at the right time, it allows us to work much smarter that we were previously. Importantly for us as a small organisation we have a system that meets our needs that we can build upon as we continue to grow.

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