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We would like to reduce the number of families we have staying in B&B accommodation. Have any councils managed to s...
We would like to reduce the number of families we have staying in B&B accommodation. Have any councils managed to solve this problem?

Kath Smith and

Elaine Salter

Housing services managers, Wychavon DC

Two years ago our bed and breakfast statistics at Wychavon DC were not good.

The average number of households in B&B was 12 - with an average length of stay of 72 days. Our housing service was rated 'poor' by the Audit Commission. Now no families who are homeless through no fault of their own are in B&Bs for more than six weeks. Our housing service has now been rated double 'excellent'.

The three significant aspects of our strategy were: implementing a homelessness strategy; providing a customer-centred service; and seeking out new ideas and best practice to implement in our local situation.

Our action plan included the following:

>> Using government funding to improve our IT and our training for housing advisers.

>> Reorganising homelessness work with separate officers investigating to those making decisions, for balanced and effective judgements and to develop skills.

>> Working with registered social landlord partners we offer 11 self-contained units, offered under licence as an alternative to B&B.

>> Exit surveys to tell if we are getting it right.

>> Fast tracking of housing benefit

claims has been organised for homeless applicants and those threatened with homelessness and opportunities for discretionary housing benefit payments are maximised.

>> An early warning' system introduced with a wide range of partners for timely referrals for housing advice or intervention.

>> A prevention officer working closely with private landlords, offering rent deposits.

>> We act as a third party for rent payments and receipt of Housing Benefit, in approved cases.

We are restructuring departments to merge functions for children but are finding it difficult to deal with the culture change required from staff - they are still operating in silos. How have other councils managed?

BoB coomber

Chief executive, Southwark LBC

Change has costs and risks, and people are reluctant to embrace it unless they can be convinced at a fairly deep level that there is good reason. The way we are tackling this in Southwark is to build up commitment to the agenda, and start practical implementation in terms of whole-system planning and joint service delivery before getting into harder-edged organisational change. This involves:

>> Starting from a shared staff commitment to improve children's experience of services.

>> Widespread consultation in a way that encourages people from different services to work through the issues together.

>> Creating common purpose and principles.

>> Developing exemplars of people working. together in teams on the ground, facilitated by secondments and co-location.

>> Using partnership structures and multi-agency task groups to develop change plans.

>> Getting additional leverage from the new performance management and inspection framework focused on delivery of outcomes.

All of this can be slow. However, if people recognise the case for change, they become frustrated by organisational barriers and start to urge that the nettle is grasped.

Next week's questions

My council has restructured and is readvertising all director posts. Incumbents will be interviewed but not all will be successful. What is the best way to manage this?

Our council has changed control. We would like to offer training to new councillors. What should we offer and how can we access it?

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