Annual Report

Annual Report 2015/16

 CHAS (Bristol)’s vision

 CHAS (Bristol) has a vision of society where all members of the community have a place they can call home.  CHAS (Bristol) believes that everyone has a right to a decent home, based on the values of the equality and dignity of each human being.  We believe that housing is central to the development of individuals, communities and society as a whole.  We are therefore striving to ensure everyone has a place to call home, with a particular focus on those in the greatest need.

 Our service

 CHAS (Bristol) provides free, independent and confidential advice on housing and related matters, to anyone in housing need in Bristol and the surrounding area.   We operate our service by telephone, home visits and outreach sessions at Avon & Bristol Law centre. CHAS (Bristol) provides high quality casework that achieves positive outcomes for its service users.

CHAS (Bristol) currently has one full-time Housing Adviser/Manager (Mike Mills) providing the Advice Service. He is supported by a part-time administrator (Tom Gowling).  CHAS (Bristol) has a set of clearly defined policies and procedures and advice services are consistently provided to the highest standard and we hold the Advice Quality Standard at General Help with Casework level in Housing.

Our Advice Worker endeavours to work with people until the situation is resolved.  If CHAS (Bristol) is unable to resolve a particular issue we will help our client to access a service that can help them.  We help families and single people, young and old.

Our main focus is helping people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, or living in unsuitable / unsafe accommodation and in need of rehousing.  Although we help anyone in housing need, we prioritise those who are most vulnerable or who have had difficulty accessing other advice services.

We advise on issues such as homelessness and the threat of homelessness, housing benefit, rent arrears, landlord & tenant problems, private renting, possession action by landlords and security of tenure, housing conditions & disrepair, overcrowding, noise & neighbour nuisance, housing & relationship breakdown, domestic violence, racial and other types of harassment, applications for social housing and supported accommodation.

The need for our service has become even more acute in the last few years.  Contributory factors include:

– Housing Benefit cuts (e.g. the ‘bedroom tax’) and welfare reforms such as the benefit cap.

– Significant expansion in the private rented sector, where more than 28% of homes fail the decent homes standard (meaning that they are either in a poor state of repair, do not have modern facilities or are not adequately heated).  Overcrowding is common, affecting almost 10% of Bristol households.

– Private rents are high and rising (18% in Bristol over the last year) and Housing Benefit has been frozen for the next 4 years, adding to a desperate shortage of affordable, satisfactory housing, particularly for those on benefits or low incomes.

– Increase in the number of private rented Assured Shorthold Tenancies being ended by landlords serving Section 21 Notices.  CHAS (Bristol) receives regular calls from households in the private rented sector facing eviction because their landlords have decided to sell the property.

– The rise in the number of people who are becoming homeless.  Numbers of people sleeping rough is evident on our streets and has risen from under 10 to over 100.  Concern over the increasing numbers is regularly expressed by local community groups, councillors and in local media reports.

-Most housing cases are now outside the scope of legal aid, making it extremely difficult for people in crisis to get the specialist help they need.

CHAS (Bristol) is now the only advice agency in Bristol that has a Housing Caseworker who can provide both independent, specialist legal advice on all areas of housing law and sustained practical long-term support to anyone in housing need in Bristol and the surrounding areas.

 The following table illustrates quite clearly the increased demand for advice

and support from CHAS (Bristol) over the last five years:

 

CHAS (Bristol) Clients                2011/12  2012/13 2013/14 2014/15   2015/16
People helped (total)                      341 379 403 428           533
New Contacts                                 271 314 323 358           458
Existing Cases                                70 65 80 70               75
New Cases                                     106 121 128 102           102
Total Cases                                    176 186 208 172           177
Number of one-off advice cases    170 195 195 256           356

 

 Statement from the Chairman of CHAS (Bristol)

 This year CHAS (Bristol) celebrates its 50th birthday.  Following on from last year, on the funding front, we have finished with a substantial surplus which we have been able to earmark as essential reserves, as required.

As reported last year, we were invited by the Lloyds Bank Foundation to apply to their Enable Fund for a grant to carry out a sustainability review.  We were notified in May 2015 that our application was successful and since then we have been working hard to move everything forward within the prescribed time schedules.  With some helpful input from Louise Jones, our fundraising consultant, we appointed Julia Stafford, who lives locally and who has done work for Lloyds Bank previously, to carry out the review.

Julia went on to produce an excellent in-depth report and the trustees and staff then held a day-long workshop to discuss her findings.  As a result the Trustees have agreed a plan for a sustainable future for CHAS (Bristol), involving the recruitment of a Partnership and Development Manager.  The new role will move the charity forward by exploring, developing and establishing partnerships, collaboration and joint funding applications, as well as developing business opportunities.

This appointment of a Partnership and Development Manager will free up Mike Mills, our Advice Service Manager, to concentrate on the real work of CHAS (Bristol) – housing aid and advice.  Ultimately, it is hoped to secure funding to appoint an additional advice worker to relieve the burden on Mike and provide essential cover for holidays and sickness.  It is a very exciting and daunting time for CHAS (Bristol).

Our annual dinner in March 2016 was a social and financial success.  We had a change of venue to Ashton Gate football stadium, which proved to be a good move and we were able to accommodate more guests.

As can be seen from the statistics later in this Annual Report, the main work of CHAS (Bristol) continues and the demand for our services is still high.

Sadly, one of our Committee, Pat Powell, resigned this year.  Many thanks to her for her help and dedication.

Finally, thanks to the Committee and Mike Mills and Tom Gowling for all their hard work and commitment throughout the year.

 Una Di Mambro

Chairman of CHAS (Bristol)

  

CHAS (Bristol)’s aims & objectives

 CHAS (Bristol) aims to:

Prevent homelessness in the City of Bristol and surrounding areas.

Enable people to stay in their own homes by improving their current housing conditions and raising income levels.

Help people who are homeless or in unsatisfactory housing to find suitable accommodation.

 

CHAS (Bristol)’s objectives are to:

Provide a free, impartial, confidential, quality advice and advocacy service on housing and related matters to anyone in housing need.

  • Provide ongoing practical support to enable people to sustain their tenancies.
  • Raise public awareness of homelessness and issues of housing need and lobby decision-makers at a local level to influence policy and procedures.
  • Pursue all of the above objectives within the context of an equal opportunities policy and ensure the service is client-focused and accessible to all members of the community, irrespective of race, religion or other equalities background.

 

Housing Aid

Although CHAS (Bristol) provides quality legal advice, we are different from most advice agencies and solicitors in providing both legal advice and ongoing practical support, which legal aid funded services are unable to do.

“Housing Aid” encompasses advice and practical support and both are essential elements of our service.  As many of our clients are vulnerable they are often unable to understand or act on advice given.  We often need to assist clients to complete housing forms, benefit applications, financial forms and other letters.  We also accompany clients to important meetings e.g. with the Council, Housing Associations, private landlords, solicitors, court hearings etc.  Where legal remedies are exhausted we then help our clients to identify the practical options available to them and empower them to take action.   Where other support is needed we will refer to specialist agencies, e.g. Age UK, Bristol Mind etc.  Our work involves a lot of “hand-holding” and this is essential to help vulnerable people resolve their housing problems, which can often take many months, sometimes years.

The public face of homelessness is of people sleeping on the streets, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.  The legal definition of homelessness includes those who have no legal right to occupy their home or where it is unreasonable for them to continue to occupy (e.g. due to domestic violence)  Most homeless people are invisible from the public gaze, sleeping on sofas with friends or relatives, in B&Bs or hostels.

There is a common perception that advice on housing-related problems can be obtained from housing associations or government departments.  However, this advice is often very limited and not impartial.  CHAS (Bristol) provides independent advice and intervenes in cases where individuals have been misadvised, misled on the right course of action, or refused help by government departments.

 

Case examples from 2015/16 (with outcomes) include:

A single 26-year old man was homeless with no fixed abode since leaving prison on probation.  He was forced to sleep on the floor at a friend’s studio flat but as the friend was giving up the tenancy, he had to move out as soon as possible with no other friends or relatives to support him.  CHAS (Bristol) gave him advice on his housing options, Housing Benefit and the Council’s homelessness duties. He was successfully rehoused into private rented accommodation.

A 48-year old woman with third stage breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, found herself homeless and sleeping on a friend’s sofa after suffering domestic violence from her ex-partner.  CHAS (Bristol) gave her advice on the homelessness duties of the Council and helped her to secure emergency housing.  Successfully rehoused into Council accommodation.

Referral from a Housing Association: A single disabled man was living in a 2-bed house but was only eligible for the 1-bed rate of Housing Benefit (HB).  When his landlord put up his rent by £100 per month to £750 per month, there was a £50 per week HB shortfall, threatening him with homelessness. CHAS (Bristol)’s intervention saw his income raised and outgoings reduced.

Referral from Missing Link Housing Association: A single woman with mental health problems was living in a private rented 1-bed flat but could no longer afford the rent as her Housing Benefit (HB) was restricted to the shared room rate which resulted in a £215 per month HB shortfall and the threat of homelessness.  CHAS (Bristol) helped her to challenge the HB decision, with the result that her income was raised and outgoings reduced.

A single parent with 3 children was threatened with court action to repossess her home due to rent arrears of £800 which occurred due to benefit problems.  CHAS (Bristol) helped her sort out her Housing Benefit and negotiate repayment of arrears to prevent eviction and homelessness. 

A disabled woman with an elderly and infirm mother had just moved to a new disability-adapted Housing Association property. Delays in Housing Benefit (HB) led to £800 rent arrears at their new home, which put them at risk of notice seeking possession.  CHAS (Bristol) helped to resolve their HB issues with the result that their income was raised and outgoings reduced.

A single man with health issues was living in a 2-bed Housing Association flat. His wife had recently left him following a relationship breakdown and gave notice to quit to end his tenancy.  This resulted in a court hearing for possession as the Housing Association was seeking to evict.  CHAS (Bristol) helped to defend against possession proceedings on the basis that the notice to quit was invalid, thereby preventing homelessness.

A 40-year old man who was living in private rented accommodation received notice requiring possession because his landlord wanted to put up the rent over the maximum Housing Benefit levels and he couldn’t afford to pay, so was threatened with homelessness.  CHAS (Bristol) helped to get him rehoused.

Referral from Bristol Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB): A single parent with 2 children was working part-time and living in a privately rented house.  Her landlord went into mortgage arrears and there was a court order to repossess the house, putting her at imminent risk of homelessness.  CHAS (Bristol) succeeded in preventing homelessness and helped her get rehoused by the Council.

Referral from Church: A Congolese refugee was living in 1-bed Housing Association supported accommodation, seeking transfer to a larger property so her children could live with her after they were recently re-united, following their abduction by her ex-husband some years ago. Rehoused by Council.

A single parent, with a baby daughter and also suffering from depression, was living in one bedroom as a lodger with a resident landlord, but he gave her notice to quit. She was therefore threatened with homelessness and needed urgent rehousing.  CHAS (Bristol) advised her on the validity of her tenancy agreement and notice to quit as well as her rehousing options.  She was successfully rehoused into private rented accommodation.

A 24-yr old woman and baby were homeless following a relationship breakdown and were staying in overcrowded conditions at a friend’s house.  She was seeking a private rented home but did not have the money for rent in advance and deposit, therefore help was needed to secure accommodation.  She was rehoused into private rented accommodation.

Referral from Disabled Persons’ Helpline (WECIL): A mother called about her son with a mental health disability.  She was trying to find him private rented accommodation so that he could live independently and needed advice on Housing Benefit and landlord & tenant issues.  CHAS (Bristol)’s advice resulted in her son being rehoused into a privately rented flat.

Referral from a Bristol City Council Councillor: An army service family with 3 children were living in an overcrowded situation at their parents’ home, all sharing one bedroom.  CHAS (Bristol) gave them advice on applying for social housing, their rehousing options and the Council’s homelessness duties.  They were rehoused by the Council.

A 31-yr old Sudanese refugee with physical and mental health problems was living in a 3rd floor Council flat without a lift and he fell going downstairs and broke his leg due to mobility problems.  He was now trapped in his flat without support and sought an urgent transfer to level access accommodation.  CHAS (Bristol)’s help resulted in him being rehoused by the Council.

Feedback from clients and their referrers has once again been very positive over the past year and the following examples are typical:

Just wanted to say thank you so much for all your help.  [The client] told me it was quite tough going initially but that you knew exactly what needed to be said! She’s chuffed to bits and so am I!” Family Support adviser from a Bristol junior school who had been seeking help for a pregnant parent with two children.  She had been forced to flee domestic violence and ended up in an overcrowded one-bedroom flat with damp, mould and general disrepair.  Her Housing Benefit had also been stopped owing to rent arrears for the property she had to flee for the sake of her and her children’s safety.  With CHAS (Bristol)’s advocacy and intervention at tribunal her Housing Benefit was reinstated.

“I thought it was only right to update you as I’ve been pestering you throughout the process of getting a social place. I signed a tenancy yesterday and I now have a little flat which I’m very pleased about.  You have been very helpful” A pregnant 22-year old woman who had been threatened with homelessness.

“Great news, we had a phone call from the Housing Association and they offered us a 2-bed bungalow which we have seen and accepted.  A great big thank you for all you have done for us”  Referred by the Carers Support Centre, an elderly disabled couple had been told by the Council that they would have to be rehoused separately from their dependent disabled grandson.  CHAS (Bristol) challenged the decision and they were all successfully rehoused together.

“Many thanks for your help and support.  This is a very distressing time for the family and they appreciate any help that is on hand”.  Referred by the Carers Support Centre, a 25-year old man, who had been the full-time carer for his mother, was served notice to quit two weeks after her death.  CHAS (Bristol) advised him on his right to succeed to the tenancy and helped him defend possession proceedings.

Great news! I have been accepted for a council house, just seen it today.  Thank you so much for your help with everything”.  Referred by CAB, a single parent with 2 children had been threatened with homelessness when her landlord was served a court order for repossession due to mortgage arrears.  Successfully rehoused.

“Thanks for your advice.  It is hugely appreciated and invaluable as we were at a loss where to go until we contacted you”  A couple with a young child were living in a private rented flat and were suffering harassment from a neighbour.  On top of this their landlord had served notice, threatening them with homelessness.  CHAS (Bristol) advised them that their notice was invalid and helped them defend the possession proceedings.

“I really appreciate your help and I am grateful that a charity like yours exists in this gluttonous environment.  Thank you again for your amazing work”.  A couple living in a private rented property were served notice by their landlord that the rent would increase by £200 per month which they could not afford.  CHAS (Bristol) advised them that the notice was invalid and they did not have to pay the increase.

“Your help and support throughout this has been amazing.  Thank you so much”.  A Nursery Parent Support Worker who had been seeking advice on a couple with a 3-year old child, threatened with homelessness after their landlord issue notice requiring possession.  Delays by the Council regarding a deposit bond for a new property meant that they lost that property too.  CHAS (Bristol) helped the family complain and get rehoused.

 

We also received positive feedback from referring organisations:

“Your knowledge and level of tenacity are very impressive!” Gillian Douglas, Service Manager, Housing Options, Bristol City Council

Can I thank you for some advice you gave me regarding a young carer and her dad with a physical disability and living in a high-rise flat with no lift.  They have now been rehoused Joanna Sylvester, Carers Support Centre

“Thank you for all your expertise and hard work as always”  Tasmin, Bristol Hope Project

“You are a fountain of knowledge and resource” Agata Palmer, Polish/Eastern European Crisis Response Worker, Next Link Domestic Abuse Service

“Thank you very much – most helpful as always” Kerry Patterson, Resettlement Team, Missing Link

“This is amazing, you’ve gone above and beyond – thank you so much!” Nadia Drizi, Missing Link Housing Association

“What a great outcome for the family” Amanda Bennett, Support Worker, Knightstone Housing

“Thanks for the info.  You are always such a knowledgeable chap!”  Sarah Morgan, Reception Triage, St Pauls Advice Centre

“I think it’s fantastic and really inspiring how much goes into the files and the results you get for the clients” Kathryn White, Housing Solicitor, Avon & Bristol Law Centre

“You are the oracle! Thanks again” Fiona Marfleet, Recovery Navigator, Missing Link, Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership

“Your talk was very inspiring and it was great to meet someone so expert and committed to the cause!” Andrew Powell, Senior Practitioner, Bristol Autism Spectrum Service

 

CHAS (Bristol) Connections

 – CHAS (Bristol) receives referrals from Social Workers, Advice Services, Voluntary and Community Groups, Health Services, Churches, Schools, Disability Organisations, Bristol County Court and many other organisations and individuals.

– CHAS (Bristol) is a member of several local networks that work together to ensure the quality of advice services, campaign on advice issues and share good practice.  These networks include Advice UK, Advice Centres for Avon (ACFA), the Tenants Advocates Group (TAG) and the Council’s Revenue and Benefits Liaison group.

– We have formed a partnership with Bristol Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to work with their Good Tenants Scheme on homelessness prevention in the private rented sector and we have made several successful joint funding applications.

 

Looking Ahead

 As well as continuing to provide advice and support to our clients over the coming year, 2016-17, CHAS (Bristol) has also embarked on two new and exciting developments:

 Affinity Sutton Housing Association invited proposals to deliver a housing related advice service targeted towards South Asian communities living in Bristol and the surrounding areas.  A joint bid was put forward by a consortium comprising three Bristol-based advice agencies – CHAS (Bristol), St Pauls Advice Centre and Bristol Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).  Our proposal was successful and this work is due to start over the coming year.

 The consortium’s vision for the service is to provide a holistic delivery model encompassing general and specialist level advice with the aim of helping them to maintain or improve their housing situation and prevent homelessness.  So whilst housing advice will be a key element of the service there will equally be access to advice on the types of issues people face that can have a negative impact on their housing situations, for example debt, welfare rights and benefits, employment, immigration and relationship problems.

The service is aimed at households residing across Bristol and surrounding areas, but focussing on geographical areas where there are very high concentrations of South Asian households, namely Easton, Eastville, Lawrence Hill and Ashley wards. The service would not be restricted to particular types of housing tenure and would therefore include households residing in the social rented sector, private rented sector, owner occupiers, and homeless people.

 Secondly, in 2014 we applied to Lloyds Bank Foundation for a grant from their Invest funding programme, and although we were unsuccessful, the Foundation recognised the value and quality of our work. Their concerns were around the sustainability of our service, and so they invited us to apply for a development grant from their Enable programme to enable us to carry out a Sustainability Review. Our application was successful and thanks to funding from Lloyds we were able to appoint an independent consultant (Julia Stafford) to carry out and implement this review.

The review explored options for sustaining our service in the future and to make informed decisions about future growth and/or development.  It identified the need for us to focus on business development, including through collaborative working.

Following the review, the trustees made a decision to employ a part-time Partnerships and Development Manager for 2 days a week, initially for 12 months.

Key elements of the new role will include strengthening our governance, developing an income generation strategy, seeking out and developing business opportunities, including with partner organisations, the monitoring, evaluation and quality assurance of our services, and strengthening our infrastructure, including office and reception services.

 

We would like to thank the following for their invaluable and generous help in supporting the work of CHAS (Bristol) in 2015-16:

 Access to Justice Foundation

 The Burden Trust              

Bristol City Council       

 Guild of the 19 Lubricators

 Henry Smith Charity

 Hoddell Charitable Trust                       

John James Bristol Foundation

 Lloyds Bank Foundation

 Mayor’s Fund for Bristol

 Miss W E Lawrence 1973 Charitable Settlement

 Nisbet Charitable Trust

 Oliver Borthwick Memorial Trust

 P & FW Family Charitable Trust

 South West Legal Support Trust

 Third House Trust

 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust    

       

 CHAS (Bristol) would also like to thank the following churches for their much-appreciated donations and support:

 St Joseph and St Teresa’s Church, Wells, Somerset

Church of the Immaculate Conception, Stroud, Gloucestershire

St Mary’s Catholic Church, Chippenham, Wiltshire 

Special thanks also go to all those runners, in particular Marie-Claire di Mambro, Ella Pepperell and Ryan Mitchell, as well as colleagues from Bristol Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), who showed enormous dedication to the cause and competed in the Bristol Half-Marathon on 13th September 2015. Together they raised over £3,300 for CHAS (Bristol) in 2015/16.

 

Half marathon Ryan Mitchel WP_000432
Ryan Mitchell, relaxing after the race

 

Marie-Claire di Mambro - in action!

Marie-Claire di Mambro – in action!