Scotland Housing and planning, Welfare and equalities

Turning keys to prevent homelessness at Fife council

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

Gavin Smith, Service Manager at Housing Access and Homelessness, Fife Council, tells us about how Fife’s approach united teams from Housing, Building Services and Support Services under the common aim of preventing a homelessness crisis, and embedded a culture going forward that focuses on Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan priorities and service redesign.

Covid-19 brought the construction industry to a halt overnight and paralysed all housing allocations, instantly sending most staff to work from home. Fife’s interim allocations approach brought together a range of teams from Housing, Building Services and Support Services with a common purpose of preventing homelessness. In adverse and challenging circumstances, the multi-functional team was brought together from across the partnership services with a single focus: preventing a homelessness crisis.

Drawing on a range of skills, abilities and expertise, staff from across the services pulled together to prioritise empty properties to extend temporary accommodation and make the best use of all available properties. Initially, it was thought that over 200 properties would have to be ‘mothballed’ during the pandemic creating bottlenecks in temporary accommodation and significant financial impacts for the Housing Revenue Account and Homelessness Services. The co-ordination team tracked over 550 empty properties, directing repairs and specialist works in accordance with changing Public Health guidance to bring every property back into use during the initial pandemic and easing period. By rapidly adapting to digital technology, a network of communications was quickly established, meeting on a daily and more regular basis to monitor progress and ensure priorities were met. The team procured properties from RSL partners, the private sector and commissioned a range of non-conventional forms of accommodation to grow temporary accommodation resources by 50 per cent within 3 months, ensuring no vulnerable household was left without a suitable housing option. Additional Woman’s Aid Refuges were commissioned rapidly as part of a co-ordinated approach to meet the needs of vulnerable people. The team helped people move out of hospital and moved other priority needs groups making the best use of every home available. The team overcame a range of challenges with a ‘must do’ attitude to help 417 households move on from vulnerable and temporary housing circumstances into permanent homes. The team progressed legacy allocations, delivered housing options advice and quickly re-developed processes to respond to the public health environment. Challenges were overcome by early adoption of innovative approaches, adopting virtual viewings, contactless sign ups and altering customer contact to limit transactional activity while providing excellent customer service. Repairs, technical and specialist services operatives often reported that their purpose was to prevent homelessness rather than simply fixing properties and this has established a culture shift in approach to managing empty properties. This technical shift was accompanied by an investment of over £500k in practical assistance, furnishings and other supports to enable vulnerable households to move into new homes with a focus on promoting tenancy sustainment. Specialist staff kept in regular contact with suppliers and contractors to ensure that every possible support was provided and there was a continuous supply chain of carpet, furnishings, white goods etc. was maintained for customers.

The approach demonstrated the partnership commitment to improving outcomes for priority needs groups. This has created a new and enhanced culture moving into recovery and renewal with a focus on Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan priorities and service redesign. While the pandemic will have lasting impacts on the housing market, the team minimised the impact and protected the interests of vulnerable individuals and households. The team success was epitomised within a clear purpose delivered by the focused and dedicated efforts of staff willing to go a number of extra miles to support each other and vulnerable people across Fife.

Gavin Smith: gavin.smith@fife.gov.uk

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