Agenda item

Preparing Young People for Adulthood and Independence - Further Information

The Director of Children’s Care will be in attendance to provide the Panel with further information in relation to accommodation for care experienced young people.


J Savage, Head of Resident and Business Support, was in attendance at the meeting to provide the Panel with further information around the current and future support arrangements in terms of accommodation for care experienced young people.


The Head of Resident and Business Support advised the Panel that her responsibilities included the delivery of welfare support, collection of all of the Council’s finances and the Council’s Empty Property Strategy.  In addition, she was now leading on the work being undertaken in relation to accommodation within Children’s Services, in conjunction with the Children’s Services Residential Manager and Head of Regeneration, and in collaboration with Thirteen Housing.


By way of background to the project, the Panel heard that, historically, there had been difficulties in securing accommodation for young people with care experience which had resulted in the use of expensive placements.  The cost of a young person leaving care into mainstream accommodation was around £5,500 per week per placement, totalling approximately £14.4 million pounds for 50 young people per year.  The cost of rent in a normal tenancy agreement was around £430 per week. It was clear that a new menu of opportunity, particularly for cohorts of care leavers and children in care was required.


The project was an opportunity to respond to the challenges faced by Children’s Services by working collaboratively across several Council directorates and with external partners whilst also addressing the number of empty town-wide properties to provide a rounded offer.


In response to a query from a Panel Member, reassurance was provided that, in conjunction with Children’s Services, each property would need to be fit for purpose before being offered to a young person.  Key areas had been identified and presented to Thirteen in this respect and the Head of Service advised that she was also responsible for Section 17 payments enabling the Council to provide assistance in terms of goods and services.  This would include payments to help the young person setting up their own tenancy and would ensure there was a whole support package in place, including furnishings and food packages if required.


The Panel was informed that the main areas of focus for the project in its entirety were as follows:-


1)     Those with no recourse to public funds – families who were in the process of an asylum claim or had a failed claim decision.


Requirement – a number of home options for small families was required on a temporary basis where accommodation was needed pending a claim.


2)     Crisis situation: Crash pad – short term/temporary requirements which allowed a domestic or social situation to defuse prior to return.  Often required to be distant or out of area.


Requirement – two or three homes for short term lets.


3)     Looked after children: bespoke arrangements – Local authority was unable to source a regulated package through fostering or residential – need to put in place a staff package to look after a child for long term and for children with complex needs.


Requirement – three or four bed homes for children and a staff team for several weeks or months at a time.  Two staff required for up to four children = four placements = six bed home.


4)     Care leavers – children in residential care up to 18 – leaving care and transitional arrangements for young people, ie independent tenancies.


Requirement – smaller homes for care leavers to live alone and cluster flats for 2/3 young people.


5)     Direct Delivery of residential homes – avoidance of significant expense – local authority owned.

Requirement – larger properties up to six bedrooms which can be converted to care homes (subject to planning and consultations).


In terms of care leavers, the project would provide a good opportunity for some quick wins as well as establishing a long term strategy to ensure ongoing cost savings.


There were 50 young people approaching their 18th birthdays so being able to plan for this, in conjunction with Thirteen, was crucial in terms of tenancy agreements.  The Head of Service advised that she was also responsible for the take up of benefits and crisis payments so once a young person had a tenancy arrangement, it was important to be able to offer an holistic support package.  There was a framework of property with Children’s Services and detailed dialogue with Thirteen had begun in order to secure properties in the right locations to house care leavers.  All stakeholders had a responsibility to the young people of Middlesbrough which was why a collective offer with joint responsibility was key. For example, putting in place council tax exemptions, help with universal credit and other benefits and generally creating a one-stop solution as part of the strategy.


Thirteen group would seek security of tenure and income with the possibility of a Service Level Agreement for a number of properties exclusively for care leavers, progressing to a tenancy for the young person at the right time, to remove financial burden on the Council.   This would provide a life cycle solution for Middlesbrough’s young people.  It was acknowledged that it may be more cost-effective in the long term for the Council to purchase some properties and bring them up to date.


Two hypothetical scenarios were provided to the Panel demonstrating the potential cost avoidance to the Council that the new scheme would have. 


The first scenario highlighted the cost of placing two teenage siblings together with a private provider (due to no availability of in-house placements) for a period of five days following a breakdown of their placement with a family member.  This was approximately £8,460 per child.  The children then had to be placed in external supported provision at a cost of £5,000 per week.  The full cost of the placement per annum was around £269,160.


The second scenario highlighted the cost of placing a teenager with support needs in a regulated setting due to no in-house provision being available, following the breakdown of a placement with a family member.  The cost of this provision was approximately £4,500 per week with the full yearly cost totalling £234,630.


By comparison, the potential revenue costs associated with the rental of two flats (either let privately or with an RSL), staffing support costs and utilities, repairs, furnishings etc was approximately £101,009 per annum.  This could potentially provide a cost avoidance of approximately £402,781 to the Council.


The project had identified a range of other opportunities, including:-

·        Council agreement to restore and let properties, or to have other providers to restore properties on behalf of the Council, with an option to align with Children’s Services.


·        Individuals would be assessed to determine they were in receipt of the correct benefits and entitlements to minimise direct Council contributions.


·        Property availability could be increased by unlocking larger, available properties and seeking certain bedroom tax exemptions.


·        There were currently more than 1,800 empty properties in Middlesbrough and this project could be aligned to the empty property strategy (with Children’s Services being a priority).


The following actions had been identified, going forward:-


·        Options Appraisal with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), however, joint working with Thirteen to look at scenarios and working towards a menu of opportunities to address the issues was underway.


·        Active Nominations Strategy – solution to be developed that would align to all areas and maximise use of available properties for both new builds and existing stock.  This needed to be reactivated, particularly as there would be approximately 20 care leavers between September and November 2023.


·        Purchasing Opportunities – affordable solutions when external offerings were not suitable.


·        Empty properties strategy – bringing empty properties back in to use to address accommodation shortfalls.


·        All of the actions would also support other areas such as adult social care / homeless where accommodation was providing an increased burden to Council finances.


During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:-


·        A Panel Member commented that it was good to hear about the proposals and queried whether there were currently any young people that might be eligible to be moved to an available property under the new scheme but would incur a financial penalty with their current placement provider.  The Head of Service responded that it was likely that a notice period would need to be given to the current placement provider and that such issues would need to form part of the business case for the project.


·        A Member commented that it was good to know that a young person moving to their own property would not have to worry about paying council tax and that the proposed scheme would go a considerable way towards solving some of the accommodation costs in Children’s Services and hoped the Council would be in a better position to challenge placement providers who were charging expensive rates.  The Head of Service agreed that a cost-effective solution was needed with a framework for negotiation so that the Council was dealing with small numbers of people rather than ‘en-mass’ groups.  There would be opportunities for the framework to be extended where gaps were identified.


·        A Panel Member raised concerns over placing vulnerable young people in properties located in areas known to have high levels of anti-social behaviour and/or drug misuse.  The Head of Service confirmed that Children’s Services would need to have sight of the property and that she also had responsibility for problem properties and wanted to bring everything together to provide a single solution with a strong understanding that Children’s Services had the final say as to whether the property and location was suitable for a young person.


·        A Panel Member asked in what way young people were supported when they left care and went to live in social housing properties and commented that she had witnessed anti-social behaviour amongst young people in such properties.  The Head of Service responded that it depended on the type of tenancy.  If they were in a supported tenancy they would receive ongoing support and that Thirteen held tenancy reviews to check up on the property, however, this needed to be linked to the instances of anti-social behaviour when problems arose.  It was important to set the young people up in their own tenancies in the right way, so ensuring that they received the benefits they were entitled to, short term financial support where needed, help with the cost of furniture and white goods, etc.


·        The Panel Member stated she would like to see more support from the RSLs for young people.  The Head of Service agreed that it needed to be a corporate parenting solution as young people were everyone’s responsibility not just the local authority’s and all stakeholders needed to ensure the young people were ready for the responsibility of having their own  tenancy and to support them to ensure it was successful.


·        It was queried how long the local authority remained responsible for care leavers.  It was clarified that the local authority was responsible for a young person in care up until the age of 18 or 25 with a SEN.  If the young person remained in supported accommodation, the local authority remained responsible.  The most cost-effective way would be, pre-18, for the Council to pick up the cost of the tenancy with the young person taking possession of it and being supported.


·        It was queried whether the properties were inspected, and by whom, prior to a young person moving in.  The Panel heard that Children’s Services would need to be happy that the property was suitable for the young person and that Social Workers were very pro-active in ensuring properties were in a suitable location.  Properties would also need to be inspected by the relevant housing provider to ensure it was fit for purpose.


·        It was queried whether any consideration would be given to shared tenancies, with more than one young person living together.  The Panel was informed that it would be something that could be considered, for example, looking at single flats with support on site or two people living together.  This would need to be discussed with the young person and their family at the point they moved on to establish their wishes and what would work best for them.


·        A Member asked where a young person would go for help if they had moved into a property and then found that they were not managing well.  The Panel was advised that the young person could speak to their Social Worker or Personal Adviser, and could also contact her team (Resident and Business Support) to help with finances under the welfare strategy.  The Social Worker would signpost the young person to the Resident and Business Support team who would carry out a review and provide a solution to help.


·        It was queried how the Council could be sure that a young person could afford a tenancy.  The Panel was informed that, in accordance with the welfare strategy, the Resident and Business Support team would have a detailed discussion with the young person to look at their situation and establish whether it was a viable option.


·        Reference was made to the current cost of living crisis and it was queried whether the proposals included inflationary figures.  The Head of Service advised that the Government support fund would continue into 2023/24 with around £3 million available in Middlesbrough.  The Resident and Business Support team would provide advice and support regarding eligibility and it was highlighted that the team had circulated £16.5 million to residents across the town to date.  Everything possible would be done to make things easier and more affordable for the young people with their tenancy.


·        Once a young person had entered into a tenancy agreement it was queried whether they would know who to contact if something went wrong with the property.  The Panel was informed that there should be a link to a tenancy liaison officer and that consideration may need to be given to establishing high risk priority categories for care leavers.


·        A Panel Member suggested that some form of information pack could be provided by the Council to care leavers moving into their own tenancy.  The pack could include useful and emergency contact numbers and perhaps information about the location of the property such as nearest shops, bus stops, etc.


·        A Member suggested it might be worthwhile placing some care leavers in properties near each other to try to avoid feeling isolated.  The Panel was informed that wherever possible, care leavers were offered properties situated as close as possible to their support networks. 


The Chair thanked the Officer for her attendance and the valuable information provided.


AGREED that the information provided be noted and considered in the context of the Scrutiny Panel’s current review.

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