Hub of hope

Glasgow City Council’s s Private Rented Sector Hub is a unique service to help families in the city’s private rented sector housing and aims to prevent homelessness and tackle child poverty.

The team at Glasgow City Council’s Private Rented Sector Support Hub – unique in Scotland – are part of the council’s wider housing team, and have the ultimate aim of preventing homelessness.  Their priority is to put people and their families on a stronger, more supported footing where they are able to self-manage and move out of poverty or crisis.

The Private Rented Sector Support Hub provides the focus for a holistic and multi-agency support service, clustered around the importance of an affordable and decent quality home.  The hub is being developed with partner organisations to support tenants, particularly families with children, residing in the private rented sector, many of whom are living in poverty which is exacerbated by the welfare reforms. 

The hub has main areas of work where it has achieved successful outcomes (preventing homelessness; improving people’s financial position; helping with mental health and wellbeing issues; and improving the safety and quality of accommodation) for people living in private sector rent housing.  This list is not exhaustive as they will strive to identify services in the city to support vulnerable families living in the PRS.  These will be added to the database going forward to ensure the full ‘customer journey’ can be tracked.

The team has a 100% engagement rate with the families, many of whom are at significant risk of homelessness, and clearly it is critical that support is offered to avoid this scenario if at all possible.  The team has a pro-active approach, one that has proven to be successful in working with previously hard to reach households (the PRS Hub team are often the first officers of any agency that the families have dealt with) are willing to engage with support and services, and that the considerable poverty being experienced by these families can be alleviated.  Around 250 families have been helped so far by the PRS Support Hub team.

This is an officer-led service, with referrals coming from across the council and a variety of other agencies (DWP, housing and homelessness organisations, health visitors, etc).  As well as looking at the tenants financial situation, they also look at housing and personal needs, to ensure families are enabled to either sustain their current private rented tenancy, or are offered advice enabling them to pursue other re-housing options.

What makes the PRS hub so successful is the robust case management approach undertaken by the team. Their one-to-one engagement and follow-up is what keeps these people on the pathway out of poverty, rather than just onward referrals and then falling ‘off the radar’ if they don’t make appointments or contact other organisations. Housing is at the heart of the matter but what the team does is much more encompassing – benefits entitlement, employability, child care, necessities, etc.  Some of the families contact the team again (once they had closed their case) as they face other challenges and are looking for support.

Another unique feature of the team is their inspection of the condition on properties to ensure that landlords meet their obligations in respect of the required repairing standard which includes adequate smoke alarms, heat detection and Carbon Monoxide (CO) monitors and any other repair issues/concerns raised by the tenant. They also ensure that the landlord’s registration is up to date and accurate.

The actions of the team – also known as the ‘Housing & Welfare’ team to show that the focus is on people as much as property – have made £3.6million in ‘preventative’ costs to the council’s Homelessness services, ie the costs that would have been incurred had the families we have supported gone on to present to HSCP as Homeless. A key point with regard to the £3.6million figure is that families have themselves been saved great emotional and financial stress from avoiding homelessness, have had tenancies secured and have been / are being supported out of crisis so that they can begin to rebuild their lives. In addition, the council has saved the above amount which it would otherwise have incurred if this team hadn’t intervened.

The majority of the families supported are already in crisis when they meet the team and as such, prior to our intervention, they assumed this would be their only option.

An increasing number of families are transitioning to Universal Credit, with the PRS Hub team now working “reactively” when this crisis arises to prevent escalation by landlords due to delay in rent payments caused by assessment period.

Landlords are engaging with the team, and welcome support to enable tenancy sustainment (see case study below).  Negotiations with landlords and agents have been successful, with one recent case having their deposit timescale delayed to accommodate support from DHP.

Councillor Kenny McLean, City Convener for Neighbourhoods, Housing and Public Realm, said: “Our PRS Hub provide a unique and invaluable service to families in private rented accommodation, many of whom are facing financial difficulties through no fault of their own.  While their priority is preventing these families from becoming homeless, the team also gives much more support in order to ensure that people are settled in their homes and can look to the future with much more confidence.  Their pro-active approach, and a strong working relationship with partner agencies, is a model that other local authorities are looking at closely.”

Case study

Benefit Cap case at high risk of homelessness due to accruing rent arrears. The council’s PRS Hub team arranged a visit to the property immediately to offer support.  The tenant and her four children have lived in their PRS tenancy for the last five years and her children attend the local schools and nursery.

The property has three bedrooms and the rent is £500pcm. The tenant is affected by the benefit cap and has a shortfall in her housing benefit of £45 per week. She receives Income Support, Child Tax Credits and Child Benefit. To date she has managed to avoid rent arrears by borrowing money from a friend to make the rent payments and her friend has been very supportive.

Her landlord has not yet threatened any action but is pressurising her to pay the rent. She finds this very stressful as he calls her constantly to remind her that that the rent payment is due and visits her home to collect the payments. He has also advised that he intends increasing the rent for the property to £600pcm and the tenant is worried about losing her home as she cannot afford to stay there.  Landlord has also threatened to sell the property and told her he was soon going to serve a notice to ask her to leave.

At the time of our visit, the tenant had no gas supply as she had no money to put in her meter. Her friend was on her way to visit and would bring a power card to help her over the next few days until she gets her next benefit payment.

We carried out a full property inspection and found no adequate smoke/CO detection in place as well as a list of other outstanding minor repairs.  The tenant has no major outstanding debt but has contracts for a TV package and mobile phone which she cannot reduce at the moment. Her mobile phone is essential to ensure that she can keep in contact with family members and friends who live some distance away. She is also tied into her TV package for the next six months. She also repays a DWP budgeting loan weekly which she borrowed to buy toys for her children last Christmas.

The tenant regularly uses the local foodbank as she is often left with very little money for food at the end of each week. She has a history of poor mental health and is medicated by her GP for this. Tenant feels that her financial situation is exacerbating her condition. She often feels she cannot cope with the ongoing challenges she faces.

We helped tenant apply for DHP and this was awarded to cover her full benefit cap shortfall for the next six months. This immediately helped her financially allowing her to meet her full rent payment.  The tenant was referred immediately to Scottish Fire & Rescue Service and temporary smoke detection was installed immediately.

We met with the tenant again to discuss both an imminent solution for the family to avoid homelessness and put in place a longer term plan to ensure she can sustain her tenancy or find cheaper, more affordable accommodation.  We made contact with her landlord and found that there were issues with late rent payments, internal repairs needed as a result of tenant damage and allegations that the tenant was refusing to engage with him. Landlord advised that he did intend to increase the rent as he has not done so for the last few years but agreed that this would be only a small increase at this stage. We asked the landlord if he would be willing to delay the sale of his property if the tenant agrees to make regular rent payments and we support her to sustain her tenancy.

After much discussion with the landlord and tenant the necessary repairs and new smoke and CO detection were completed. We also helped the tenant apply for help from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Landlord has retracted his intention to sell the property and the tenant is delighted that she has avoided losing her settled accommodation.

Our WRO has since visited the tenant and is supporting her make benefit applications. She also applied for Early Learning Payment (Best Start Grant) and has since been granted £250. We also made applications to various charities for help with furniture, clothing and toys for the family to meet their immediate needs.

Our support is ongoing and the tenant will be supported to make housing applications to various RSL’s in the city to find more affordable accommodation.  She has also asked that we support her to look at her longer term options in relation to employability.