Smaller homeless charities fear they ‘could disappear’ if Kent County Council [KCC] chooses to integrate services.

In launching a public consultation last week, County Hall has put forward three options for awarding their homeless support contracts, set to begin from September.

Two of the three options could result in major changes to the existing system with the possibility of one larger charity taking the entire contract.

John Handley, Chief Executive of The Bridge Trust, said this could be the ‘nail in the coffin’ for his Tonbridge-based charity, which has supported 6,000 homeless people with advice, accommodation and practical support since 1991.

“Commissioning services is costly for them so I can see they will want to commission fewer services. They may want to outsource commissioning work to one charity.

“They could even parachute in a (national charity) like St Mungo’s but by doing that they will lose the local knowledge. We know who is out there and who the rough sleepers are.”

At present County Hall has 29 contracts, through which it provides: Supported housing, outreach for rough sleepers and practical help in securing tenancy and benefits (known as floating support).

Complex

In the consultation paperwork, KCC states the existing model ‘lacks flexibility’ by not catering for those with ‘complex needs’.

It also spoke of an ‘overlap’ and leaves struggles facing a ‘postcode lottery’ with certain types of service available in some areas and not others.

As well as leaving services as they are (option one) the county council is also considering grouping services in Kent boroughs or districts together (option two) and integrating services into a single county-wide provision (option three).

KCC said these latter options would offer ‘fairer and more consistent support’.

The documents did state, however that option three ‘presents the possibility that the contract is awarded to a single, large organisation, which could impact on the work of smaller local organisations’.

Mr Handley continued: “It will need some fleshing out and it is a tough one to predict.

“It will undoubtedly mean we could lose out. I am expecting a reduction of 20 per cent to 25 per cent – around £2,500 a year.”

Mr Handley said that as prices have increased the charity has not seen a rise in County Hall funding for six years. In that time they faced a one-off cut of £7,000.

“I can see small charities being consumed by the larger ones. We are fearing for the future, but the prospect of this news has been hanging over our heads a long time.”

“It is certainly going to happen this year and it is almost a relief as we know where we stand,” he added, saying the charity could need to rely more on donations.

“I would encourage everyone to participate in the survey. If we do not show an interest charities could disappear.”

Chris Thomas, of Kent and East Sussex charity Porchlight, also said: “There is a real risk of vital homelessness services disappearing” (see panel for more).

Gillian Douglass, Chairperson of Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats, said: “Hopefully, with the integration of services, there will be some cost savings.

“That said, there appears to be nothing within the consultation to say whether the budget for homelessness will be impacted.”

Councillor Karen Constantine, part of the opposition Labour group, said: “It is time to fight for more funding and create a sustainable solution that meets the needs of the homeless.

Councillor Graham Gibbens, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, said: “The consultation we are presently conducting is to look at how we can use our resources more effectively to support vulnerable homeless people in Kent.

“We want to work with as many organisations as possible to deliver stronger and better services, whether it be for young people, care leavers or people who have been homeless for several years.

“We want to make sure wherever people are in Kent they have the same quality of service to help them gain the skills they need to recover from homelessness and move on with their lives.”

The consultation closes on March 4. You can share your views at www.kent.gov.uk/homelessnessconsultation