Reading Borough Council recognises the importance of stable, affordable and decent housing in terms of health, wellbeing and narrowing the gaps in outcomes across the town between the most and least affluent.
With a strong and buoyant economy, Reading has been in a comparatively robust position to cope with the recent economic downturn. In 2016 Reading was again ranked top in the Good Growth for Cities index for the second year running, based on indicators considered key to economic success and wellbeing (including employment, health, income and skills) (PWC, 2016). In its report Cities Outlook 2016, Centre for Cities ranked the Greater Reading area as second in the UK for the economic contribution per worker (Centre for Cities Factsheet, 2016).
Reading’s appeal both to employers and employees is one reason that the local housing market is in high demand across all tenures. Demand for affordable housing in Reading significantly outstrips supply, due to a range of factors including a limited pipeline of new build affordable housing, reducing social housing stock through Right to Buy sales, high land prices, and a reducing supply of affordable private rented sector housing at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels.
At least every five years all local authorities have a duty to review homelessness in their area and publish a strategy that outlines how they intend to tackle and prevent homelessness.
Key housing data for Reading from the 2011 census data shows:
Number of homes: There were 66,328 residential dwellings in Reading Local Authority in 2011. Reading Borough Council is still a stock-holding authority and therefore both the largest landlord and social housing provider in the borough with 10% of overall dwellings. 6% are housing association dwellings.
55% are owned outright or with a mortgage, which is significantly lower than the National and regional averages. In turn, over 25% are privately rented which is higher than National average.
Affordability: Reading has twice the national average of properties that are privately rented. This is due to the high level of demand in the area created by the enduring economy, attracting young professionals to the town. Therefore, although cheaper properties can be found, the average rent for a private rented property is high.
The average price of a home in Reading is approximately 230K; this is in line with national averages (Shelter Housing Databank).
The Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) provides an up to date assessment of housing need in Berkshire and breaks that down for each authority area. The net estimated level of affordable housing need per annum in Reading is 406 dwellings. The SHMA shows that 76% of this need is for social rent and affordable rent dwellings with only 24% of the identified need being able to afford intermediate products such as shared ownership.
Social Housing: All Council and Housing Association properties in the borough are let through Reading Borough Council’s Choice Based Lettings Scheme. Applicants are awarded priority for housing based on their level of housing need, taking into account criteria such as overcrowding, homelessness, or medical or welfare needs.
Homelessness: Statutory homelessness refers to households meeting specific criteria set out in legislation, and to whom a homelessness duty has been accepted by a local authority. Such households may be homeless, but are more likely to be threatened with the loss of, or are unable to continue with, their current accommodation.
A “main homelessness duty” is owed where the authority is satisfied that the applicant is eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and falls within a specified priority need group. Such statutory homeless households are referred to as “acceptances”. Local Authorities have a duty to provide temporary accommodation for households who have been accepted by the Local Authority as homeless whilst settled accommodation is found. Temporary accommodations include Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs), hostels and night shelters.
Following a long term downward trend in homelessness since 2004, homeless acceptances have been increasing nationally and locally. Due to a shortage of affordable permanent accommodation, the use of temporary accommodation and B&B has grown – with an increase in the number of placements and length of stay over recent years. This is unsuitable, unsettling and disruptive for homeless households. The sharply increasing demand in Reading for emergency housing has also led to a need to make B&B placements out of borough in some instances, which creates further problems for households.
The figures emerging from the Berkshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) indicate an objectively assessed need for housing in Reading of 699 dwellings per year in the period to 2036. This represents a 22% increase over the current rate of provision. The Council is now about to start a review of its local plan which will primarily seek to set out a strategy to meet future development requirements.
In order to manage the pressure of increasing homelessness the Council has taken a number of steps to manage the use of Bed and Breakfast and to meet the needs of homeless households, including the following:
The Council’s Housing Advice team takes an active approach to preventing homelessness. Wherever possible the service will support and enable a household to remain in their home and, where needed, to gain the skills to effectively sustain their tenancy in the future. The Authority has reconfigured the way that front line services are delivered to provide a triage service to maximise opportunities to identify risks and prevent homelessness at the earliest possible stage.
The Council is providing additional advice and support to private sector landlords so that we create and maintain excellent working relationships with them in order to raise standards of practice and accommodation and maximise opportunities for preventing homelessness. The authority is active in tackling rogue landlords and driving up standards in the private rented sector.
The Housing Needs Service has commissioned a single provider, Launchpad, to provide housing related support to vulnerable individuals and families who may require assistance in maintaining a tenancy. Both the Council and other funded agencies offer money management advice and pre-tenancy training on tenants’ rights and responsibilities.
The Council has already taken steps to refurbish and increase the supply of temporary accommodation by re-modelling former temporary accommodation which had been unused for some time as they were not fit for purpose and were not required at the time. 18 self-contained units were opened in March 2014 and a further 17 units in June/July 2015. This is in addition to an existing block of temporary accommodation providing 50 self-contained flats.
The Housing Service has run a successful Deposit Guarantee Scheme (DGS) for many years which enables the Council to prevent homelessness by providing access to affordable and vetted private rented sector accommodation. Households can move into accommodation without the need for a deposit, as this is guaranteed by the Council. The Council only pays out on a deposit should the tenant cause damage in a property or abandon the property with rent arrears. The scheme has a facility set up to enable households to save for their own deposit during the course of their tenancy which enables them to be financially independent and self-sufficient moving forward.
Properties on the scheme are vetted and must meet required standards. The Council inspects every property before accepting it onto the scheme to ensure it meets legal, and health and safety standards. If work is needed on a property then the Council will advise a landlord on how to meet the standards.
The scheme creates a safe and trusted supply of private rented sector accommodation and the majority of tenants have chosen to remain in the accommodation they were offered even after they have saved their own deposit.
Numbers of properties procured on the scheme have been lower in recent years mainly due to the increase in market rent in relation to Local Housing Allowance. The Council therefore undertook a comprehensive review of the scheme and extensive consultation with landlords to develop a new offer to increase the number of units procured.
The new ‘Rent Guarantee Scheme’ took on its first properties in July 2015 and was launched formally in September 2015. This Council has listened to landlord feedback and the new more commercial scheme offers landlords a completely free service which includes the following benefits:
The scheme provides wider confidential support and advice to landlords with any tenancy issues and also provides support to tenants to ensure households are equipped with the skills to successfully maintain a tenant
Berkshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) identified housing demand:
In 2014 the Government announced that Crossrail will be extended to Reading and it has been predicted that this will further impact housing demand and costs. The Crossrail Property Impact Study 2012 predicted that property prices will rise 2% and rental prices will rise 1% in the first stage of the scheme (2012-2017) as a result of the west section of the line being developed, increasing from 2018 onwards to 3.5% for property prices and 2% for rental prices
Extensive examination and analysis of demand and trends in the causes of homelessness, opportunities for homelessness prevention, service provision and gaps in services has informed the basis for our priorities for Reading Borough Council’s Homelessness Strategy.
A number of workshops with those responsible for delivering the action plan for our previous Homelessness Strategy identified the key areas of focus for an initial round of consultation with key stakeholders via questionnaire. Residents who had used homelessness services were encouraged to contribute through workshops arranged as part of existing service user groups.
A final series of stakeholder workshops and review of the latest available data on homelessness in Reading (and the wider influences on the local situation) has led to the identification of three key strategic priorities for this Homelessness Strategy:
What are the unmet needs/ service gaps?
In terms of social housing there is a particular need for housing for families (defined as households with children living in overcrowded conditions) who are generally the highest priority for housing.
It its recognised that this need cannot be met only via the delivery of new homes; creative approaches are necessary to meet this need. Including the following:
Reading Borough Council sees the provision of affordable housing as a high priority and uses all available means to improve the supply of affordable housing in the Borough
Centre for Cities (2016). Cities Outlook 2016: Devolution, austerity and economic growth. Available at http://www.centreforcities.org/reader/cities-outlook-2016/cities-outlook-2016-devolution-austerity-and-economic-growth/ (Accessed 24th November 2016)
PriceWaterhouse Cooper (PWC) (2016). Good Growth for Cities. PWC, London.
Reading Borough Council (2015). Homelessness Strategy 2016-2021. Available at: http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/1235/Homelessness-Strategy-2016-2021/pdf/Appendix_1-_HOMELESSNESS_STRATEGY_2016-2021_FINAL.pdf (Accessed 24th November 2016)