Housing services newsletter #1

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Tackling housing issues in North Devon

Rough sleeper entering home

There has been much said and written about the housing crisis in North Devon and further afield in recent months.

The struggles felt by those impacted by the crisis takes many forms; high rent costs, a shortage of rental properties, high house prices, poor housing conditions and an increase in second homes and holiday homes.

The dedicated and hardworking officers working within our Housing Service are driven to make a difference in the community, and we wanted to let you know about some of the work going on within the authority to tackle the crisis.

In this newsletter we'll be telling you about:

  • our Housing Services teams
  • the Housing Benefit Accuracy Award Initiative
  • the Household Support Fund
  • energy efficiency grants and loans
  • our Empty Homes Project
  • the Mortehoe and Woolacombe Community Land Trust scheme

Our housing services teams

House model in hands

We are very aware of the impact homelessness can have on individuals, families and communities, so our team of officers work really hard to try to find solutions to prevent this.

The main aim of our housing teams is to prevent those approaching the service from becoming homeless. We therefore have specialist Housing officers who provide advice and work with those customers to look at solutions and interventions with both customers and landlords, all with the aim of keeping people in their homes. These interventions can range from mediation with all parties, financial assistance and tenancy support.

Street of terraced houses

We have also have a specialist team of officers who work alongside the Housing Options service to assist in finding accommodation in the Private Rented Sector; they are in direct contact with a number of agents and landlords. This team also supports any agreed financial support with regards to the assistance of payment of rent in advance and/or a deposit to secure alternative accommodation. Within this team we also have a Tenancy Support Officer whose role is to support those going into tenancies who may have struggled in the past, or if it is their first tenancy.

Inside of a flat

If officers are unable to prevent homelessness, we have a further dedicated team of officers who support people who are unfortunate to find themselves in that situation. This team will arrange temporary accommodation for those we have a duty to under the Housing Act. The team will also support those in placements as we are aware of the impact that going into this type of accommodation can have on people. We have a range of temporary accommodation units that we use, either owned by us or provided by others, these can be B&B or self-contained units. Due to increase demand on the housing service we currently do not have sufficient temporary accommodation to satisfy the demand we have seen in the last couple of years.

Even where there is currently no threat of eviction, we have officers whose role it is to ensure that property is in a suitable condition for the tenant. They inspect properties to make sure that risks are removed and take action where that doesn't happen. The recent closure of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) in Ilfracombe is a very good example of that. 

Temporary accommodation pods

We also have specialist housing officers who work with the street homeless, trying to find safe accommodation for them and ensuring that their health and social needs are adequately catered for. A good example of the type of interventions offered by this team is the temporary accommodation pods we have recently installed at the Freedom Centre in Barnstaple, alongside Freedom Community Alliance.

We directly run - or signpost people to - a number of schemes intended to make properties more energy efficient. With current energy prices, this is incredibly important and can make a significant difference for someone on a low income who is struggling to pay their energy bills. 

All of these council offers really want to help people; it's what drives them to work so hard every day. They have very challenging jobs but take great pleasure from being able to support people in difficult situations to find more stability and safety.

The Housing Benefit Accuracy Award Initative

Coins stacked up on table next to model house

Our Revenues and Benefits team have recently been highly praised by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) following an inspection under the Housing Benefit Accuracy Award Initiative. This is a national initiative intended to improve the accuracy of payments and ensure that councils are paying the correct amounts in a timely way.

DWP praised our team for the speed at which it turns around benefits claims, for its approach to detecting and reducing fraud and for the overall accuracy of payments.

It is vital that benefit claims are dealt with as quickly as possible and that payments are made in a timely manner to ensure that arrears are not built up, thereby putting a tenancy at risk. It is also vital, especially with the current cost of living crisis, that people do actually claim for benefits that they are entitled to and the team are extremely helpful in ensuring that happens.

The Household Support Fund

Woman holding head in hands - household support fund

Our Revenue and Benefits team, along with others such as our Customer Service team, have been actively involved in administering the Household Support Fund and similar funds during the pandemic.

Those funds have directly helped many people to buy essentials, pay energy bills, access transport for appointments and many other things needed desperately.

A new Household Support Scheme, supporting those most in need, will be available shortly. Please keep an eye on our website and social media pages for updates.

Energy efficiency grants and loans

Graphic showing home and lightbulb to represent energy

Energy efficiency measures can reduce fuel bills and conserve heat, giving you a warmer home.

You might be able to get help with your energy costs or to make your home more energy efficient. Grants and loans are available for homeowner-occupiers, landlords and tenants for insulation works and heating installations through a variety of schemes.

You can access home energy advice through a service we are running in partnership with 361 Community Energy, as well as a new webpage dedicated to home energy efficiency:

Energy efficiency webpage

Empty Homes Project

Empty Homes Project logo

We recently launched the Empty Homes Project, which sets out to reduce the number of long-term empty homes in North Devon, increase the housing supply in the district and tackle empty property nuisance issues.

We plan to achieve a reduction in empty homes by offering incentives to the owners of these properties, such as home improvement loans, the opportunity to lease their properties through the council and matchmaker scheme connecting potential purchasers, investors and developers with owners of empty homes. 

We also offer a wealth of advice and information on letting properties privately, the repercussions of leaving a property empty, turning a holiday home back into a permanent residential use property and how to gain planning permission to change the use of a commercial property to a dwelling.

Through information, advice, help and support, we hope empty property owners will work with us to bring homes back into use. Where they don't, we will seek to quickly escalate the use of regulatory interventions such as management orders, enforced sales and compulsory purchases if owners of empty homes do not bring their properties back into use.

Empty Homes Project

The Mortehoe and Woolacombe Community Land Trust scheme

View of Woolacombe

A Woolacombe development of 21 new social rent homes is one step closer to reality, thanks to gap funding from North Devon Council being added to the first Community Land Trust (Mortehoe & Woolacombe Community Land Trust) scheme in the district.

At a meeting of the council's Strategy and Resources Committee earlier this month, Members decided that a total of £630,000 (£30,000 per unit) would be added to £141,000 per unit of external funding to enable the delivery of the social rent homes, subject to planning permission. The external funding, from Homes England and Aster has drawn almost £3 million of government/Registered Provider funding into North Devon.

Read more about this on our website.

For more information...

You can read more about the services we offer on our website:

Housing Services webpage

If you'd like to contact our Housing Options team, you can do so by completing a form online:

Contact Housing Options

You can also contact us by telephone on 01271 388870.