On Tuesday September 5, the APG on Homelessness received a briefing from officials from the Department for Communities on the development of the Year 4 Interdepartmental Homelessness Action Plan (known as IDHAP).
The Action Plan is an important strategic document, seeking to foster partnership and collaboration across government to respond to non-accommodation related issues impacting on people experiencing homelessness and the services which seek to support them. The plan is designed to complement the Housing Executive’s Homelessness Strategy.
In their briefing, the two officials indicated that the Year 4 Action Plan has been completed and will be published shortly. The Year 4 Action Plan includes 13 actions being led by four Executive Departments: Communities, Education, Health and Justice.
Some of the key takeaways from the meeting included the following:
A consistent theme throughout the presentation was the importance of collaboration between Executive Departments, statutory agencies and the voluntary and community Sector if we are to prevent and reduce homelessness in this society. The officials were clear that they believed that the IDHAP had contributed to improved joint working and collaboration since it had been introduced. Particular examples cited of this working in practice included the development of the inclusion health hub in Belfast; progress in terms of supporting individuals leaving institutions such as prisons; the Complex Lives project; and the roll out of inclusion health nurses across the five trust areas.
Funding issues pose real challenges
However, the officials acknowledged that the action plan is limited in scope due to the challenging financial situation facing departments. The officials acknowledged that the sector would like the IDHAP to go further but this is what they believe can be achieved with the resources available.
As is well known, the NI Executive faces major financial challenges arising from the 2023/4 budget allocation. It was confirmed that the homelessness services budget- one of the key funding streams for homelessness services here- has not been confirmed for 2023/4 despite the fact we are a third of the way through the financial year. This results from the major pressures facing the Department for Communities and the Housing Executive at the current time.
The annual budget cycle- as opposed to the multi-year budgets in place in other societies- increases the challenges facing housing and homelessness services. It is very difficult to respond to a complex problem like homelessness without long-term and planned funding in place.
Loss of Private Rented Accommodation
Part of the discussion focused on households who are presenting as homeless due to the loss of Private Rented Accommodation. Over the last two years, there has been a notable increase in the numbers presenting as homeless due to the loss of private rented accommodation. While this trend has eased somewhat in the last six months, it remains an issue of concern for MLAs, the Housing Executive and the Department for Communities. The recently announced changes to the Discretionary Housing Payments system has made things more challenging in this regard as well.
The next meeting of the APG on Homelessness will take place in October.