SEDGEMOOR District Council is preparing for the introduction of new homelessness legislation.

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 comes into effect on April 3 and changes the way local councils provide services to those who have fallen on hard times.

Sedgemoor District Council's community scrutiny committee met to discuss the Somerset Homelessness Review and Strategy 2017 on Monday afternoon (February 26).

Members agreed to offer their support to the report. 

The strategy is a joint document between Sedgemoor District Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, South Somerset District Council, West Somerset District council and Mendip District Council.

Jerry Milton, housing advice manager for Sedgemoor District Council, outlined the 'action plan' to the councillors.

Mr Milton said: "Nobody needs to be rough sleeping in Sedgemoor, but they will be. But we have to make sure the services are in place for those that want to be helped.

"People are dying, rough sleeping is a serious problem. The figures aren't the big issue here, it's about providing a service."

The plan involves four 'priorities' to tackle the issue. The first priority revolves around supporting the transition of the new act.

This would include focuses on filling staffing and skills gaps and working with officers to deliver the best results.

"I don't see an early end to rough sleeping," Mr Milton added.

"We've got to recruit and retain staff on te front line to tackle the challenges in dealing with the complex problem.

"In Sedgemoor, far more work goes into preventing homelessness, we are in the top 25 per cent of councils for prevention. We label someone 'intentionally' homeless very sparingly.

"We want to help people.

"The Homelessness Reduction Act places an extra burden on us, but that's good news, as these people will come back to us for help anyway.

"We are one of the best councils to deal with it but we will face challenges in the next 18 months."

The plan also outlines intentions to develop protocols for public services, housing providers and other agencies, to refer people they believe to be homeless or at risk of homelessness. Mr Milton says doing this would 'shift the onus' back to others while developing a 'joint strategy'.

The second prong of the plan sees support given to clients to try and keep them in their current accommodation.

The third is to support clients to access suitable and affordable alternative accommodation. Ideas such as a bond or loan scheme is helping to bridge the impact of Universal Credit.

Within this priority the group will be working to continue the development of the 'tenant accreditation scheme'. They will also explore the option of increasing single-unit properties for single homeless.

The last priority plans to maintain 'strong working partnerships' to deliver cost-effective services.

Cllr Roger Keen expressed his concern for landlords, and said he wished the information was freely available on schemes that can help.

Mr Milton stated that an information pack was in the pipeline to be distributed soon.

Cllr Lance Duddridge questioned whether Sedgemoor's effectiveness might have some adverse consequences.

"Are other neighbouring authorities as far ahead in being prepared for the new act?" He asked.

Mr Milton agreed that people do come to Sedgemoor as they receive a 'better service', but that all councils should be providing the same service once the legislation changes.

He said: "Some councils are playing catch up, but we are ahead of the game.

"The act is coming in due to failures of other councils, ie. in London. Single homeless people have been left to their own devices.

"We react quickly to problems. The pressure will be there, but we will do some good stuff.

"When they come in the door, we will be ready."