Merthyr Council confirms housing support services set to be cut

By Anthony Lewis

Merthyr Tydfil council has confirmed that some housing support services are set to be cut or have their funding reduced next year due to a lack of eligibility for funding.

A report that was discussed by the council’s regeneration and public protection scrutiny committee on Tuesday, January 17, outlined the changes proposed to the Housing Support Grant (HSG) for 2023-24.

Two of the services to be cut are related to Citizens Advice Merthyr, with one worth over £200,000 being deemed ineligible for HSG funding because it needs to deliver “holistic support alongside the specialist service”. The report said it is only financially related and generally does not extend beyond this.

The report said the aim of the changes to the HSG spend is to enable the council to refocus its priorities and ensure it meets its statutory homelessness duties, reduce homelessness and ensure it increases the range of accommodation required.

The council currently receives HSG funding of £2.87m a year which has been guaranteed by Welsh Government up to March 31, 2025 but there will be no extra funding available for 2023-24 and the report said it is unlikely that other core council funding could be found to meet the extra revenue cost of £500,000.

The HSG is an early intervention programme to support activity which prevents people from becoming homeless, stabilises their housing situation, or helps potentially homeless people to find and keep accommodation.

Officers contacted Welsh Government to request that additional HSG funding be awarded to Merthyr Tydfil Council due to the unprecedented challenges it faces and because it has one of the highest levels of deprivation in Wales.

The report added that: “The amount of HSG funding we receive under the distribution formula currently used is nowhere near reflective of the high level of assessed housing need.”

But the request was declined and the report said the council has no option but to “refocus its priorities” and has had to undertake a review of all existing HSG-funded projects.

The projects that will be cut under the plans include:

Pilot Domestic Abuse Male Perpetrator Programme, worth £42,283.
Merthyr MIND Resilience Project, worth £38,006.92
Citizens Advice Merthyr (temporary funding during Covid 19), worth £76,013.86
Citizens Advice Merthyr financial support, worth £201,847.60
Cornerstone floating support for offenders (temporary funding during Covid 19), worth £38,006.92.

Those that will see a reduction in funding include:

Drive – Learning Disability Floating Support Scheme – reduced by £54,310.44
Platfform Mental Health Floating Support – reduced by £38,006.96
Adferiad Floating Support – reduced by £9,226.80
Hafod Older Persons Floating Support – reduced by £15,959.89
Care & Repair Target Hardening Equipment – reduced by £3,546.00
Homelessness Prevention Fund – reduced by £34,982
The committee report said discussions have been held with all support providers who face partial cuts to the existing services in 2023-24 and none expressed any significant concerns on being able to deliver the schemes.

The report added there will be no impact to those receiving support from these services.

Citizens Advice Merthyr Tydfil has expressed its disappointment in respect of its HSG contract coming to an end and further discussions are ongoing at senior management level to consider whether any funding can be offered from an alternative funding stream.

Subject to Welsh Government approval, changes to the HSG delivery plan will come in from April 1, 2023.

The background

The report said that over the past five to six years, frontline homelessness and housing services have seen increases in people coming to their statutory and non-statutory services, including those in housing need and those requiring support through the Housing Support Programme.

The number of people approaching the service for a homelessness assessment has increased since new housing legislation came into force in April 2015 and there has been a further significant increase following the changes made to priority need in March 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and numbers continue to rise due to the cost-of-living crisis.

The majority of homelessness presentations to the service are from single people, the report added.

The report said the HSG in Merthyr Tydfil funds many schemes that support early intervention services and many other projects, such as the Housing First projects, aim to support the most vulnerable homeless people.

Currently, there are more than 170 in temporary or supported accommodation, 117 of which are in B&Bs.

The projected cost for B&B accommodation for this year is about £2.9m and it is expected, but not yet confirmed, that the Welsh Government’s financial contribution to this via the hardship fund will stop or reduce significantly.

Legislative changes and new legislation will mean it will be unlawful for council to continue to use B&B as temporary accommodation at some point in 2023, with the exception of where a public health emergency has been declared.

Due to the lack of available move-on accommodation and the high demand, the numbers in temporary accommodation are steadily increasing and it is a priority for the council to increase its provision not only as a financial saving, but to avoid any legal challenge when B&Bs can no longer be lawfully used.

In response, the council has received £1.5m of capital funding for an extra 22-bed unit of supported accommodation for the lease of Marsh House (former Glan Yr Afon Residential Home). Planning permission has been granted and work was due to commence this month.

The housing service now has to secure funding of about £500,000 to
commission a support provider to manage and deliver the scheme, which is expected to be completed and ready for occupation by September.

The factors considered when deciding which projects would be cut included monitoring of individual schemes, outcomes achieved, service delivery measured against actual contracted hours, staff retention/recruitment issues within organisations and impact on projects, staff sickness rates and the resilience within organisations to continue to deliver support as well as continuity of service delivery and impact on service users

The council also considered alternative services available locally that would continue to meet specific need, housing need priorities, feedback from people who use the services and staff and the eligibility of projects following changes to HSG guidance in April 2020.

The views of councillors

The leader of the council and cabinet member for housing and regeneration Councillor Geraint Thomas said that in spring 2020 they answered the call of Welsh Government to get everybody in off the streets and into temporary accommodation.

He said at the time it was 12 then it quickly rose to 100 then up to where they are now with 170 people and now the call is to get them moved out of temporary accommodation.

He said: “Now we have to build and we have to staff the right kind of facilities. And it’s going to cost a lot of money. We’re going to have difficult decisions to make a long this journey.”

He said: “Citizens Advice offer a fantastic service to the residents of Merthyr Tydfil and as a council we support them as best we can.”

But he highlighted that the council has to save £11m this year and Welsh Government has said there’s no more money coming for HSGs.

“We are in a dilemma,” he said, adding that councillors need to get behind officers and support them to get people in temporary accommodation into tenancies.

Committee member Councillor Anna Williams-Price said: “Finding suitable accommodation is imperative to both the individual and also to the wider strategy of town centre regeneration and tourism plans.”

She added that her focus on Citizens Advice is “driven by the concern that in the current cost of living crisis we may have many more people who are just closer to homelessness than we would like”.

She said the conversation had shown the extent of the problem that they’re facing in Merthyr Tydfil in relation to homelessness.

She acknowledged that difficult decisions need to be made but her concern is that by withdrawing services from Citizens Advice they may see an increase in presentations of homelessness.

Fellow committee member Councillor Clive Jones said he thinks the loss of the two Citizens Advice Merthyr services worth £276,000 will have a a “devastating effect” not only on the 14 members of staff but on the public of Merthyr Tydfil.

He said in his experience, the first port of call for help nearly always is Citizens Advice and raised the importance of external funding for it which will be desperately needed.

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