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Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) policy

1. Introduction

Since the Covid-19 Pandemic, the sovereign Council’s of Kettering, Wellingborough, Corby and East Northamptonshire, and indeed the new unitary Council of North Northamptonshire, continued to operate rough sleeping services based on the government’s ‘Everyone In’ directive.

This means that North Northamptonshire Council has a clear approach to tackling, preventing and reducing rough sleeping in its area, including delivering assertive outreach, collaborative multi agency working to ensure the wellbeing, support and accommodation needs of rough sleepers are met, and a clear Rough Sleeper Pathway including the provision of discretionary temporary accommodation for those found bedded down on street outreach sessions. As a result, genuine verified rough sleepers are helped off the streets and to access accommodation and support, as quickly as possible, and regardless of any weather conditions.

The results of recent rough sleeper counts which indicate the current levels of rough sleeping across the four locality areas in North Northamptonshire are as follows:

2021 Count

Kettering area

Wellingborough area

Corby area

East Northants area

Total

April

1

6

5

0

12

May

4

4

7

0

12

June

1

7

9

1

18

July

1

4

7

3

15

August

10

7

9

2

28

September

4

7

9

5

25

October

2

3

4

1

10

This table provides comparative data for levels of rough sleeping in neighbouring local authority areas:

2021 Count

North Northants

West Northants

Rutland

Peterborough

April

12

8

1

6

May

12

9

1

8

June

18

10

1

5

July

15

14

2

28

August

28

12

2

12

September

25

11

2

10

October

10

15

1

14

While the Council has an established year-round approach and commitment to ending rough sleeping in its area, there is an extra pressure on the Council in periods of severe weather (including extreme heat) to prevent the loss of life on the streets.

The provision of shelter for people sleeping rough in England during severe weather is not a statutory duty, even when conditions are life threatening. However, there is a humanitarian obligation on local authorities to do all they can to prevent deaths on the streets, and for their partners and the public to support these efforts.

Periods of severe weather may also provide increased opportunities to engage with entrenched rough sleepers and other so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ groups, who may be more likely to accept support, particularly in the Winter months.

North Northamptonshire Council was awarded almost £800,000 Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) funding (round four) for 2020/2021 to continue to provide and develop rough sleeping services in each of its four locality areas considering lessons learned from Covid-19 and ‘Everyone In’, and to start to transform rough sleeping services across North Northamptonshire.

This Protocol should be considered alongside:

  • Homeless Link’s SWEP Guidance 2020-2021
  • Homeless Link’s Hot Weather and Homelessness Briefing (supported by Public Health England) July 2020
  • Homelessness and Rough Sleeping in Northamptonshire – Update (November 2019) referencing the ‘Next Steps Strategy’ and detailed commitment across Northamptonshire as to how lessons learned during the Covid-19 Pandemic would be used to support rough sleepers and provide the opportunity to transform rough sleeping services.
  • The Council’s overall approach to tackling, preventing and reducing rough sleeping including the Rough Sleeper Pathway and provision of discretionary accommodation in some cases for those found bedded down during the night.
  • The Council’s Housing Strategy Lite 2021
  • The Council’s Homelessness Prevention Fund Policy 2021
  • The Council’s Private Rented Sector Access Fund Policy 2021
  • The Council’s Rough Sleeper Intervention Fund Procedural Framework 2021

2. Purpose of this protocol

Extreme weather (including extreme heat) increases the risk of death or serious illness to people who sleep rough.  This Protocol sets out the arrangements that the Council will put into place to ensure that anyone who is known to be sleeping rough in its area during periods of severe weather are not at even further risk.

It must be noted that any people known to be sleeping rough in the area will have already been offered advice and assistance and encouraged to engage with the support that is available.

SWEP is an extra layer of assistance to ensure that anyone sleeping rough, or anyone that is new to the streets, has access to shelter to prevent them being at even further risk during periods of severe weather.

For those identified as rough sleeping during periods of severe weather, the Council will utilise its discretionary powers under Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to provide suitable emergency accommodation (SWEP Accommodation) as quickly as possible to prevent harm and death due to severe weather conditions.

Targeted interventions during periods of severe weather will contribute to the Council’s overall aim of ending rough sleeping in its area by removing barriers to engagement and helping rough sleepers to access accommodation and support.

Every local authority should have a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) which is used when severe weather is forecast. In line with recommendations this Protocol sets out the Council’s flexible process for triggering and coordinating SWEP, based on empathy for people sleeping rough in severe weather rather than a fixed approach, and the Protocol will be implemented on the first night of a severe weather forecast. 

 The Council will not adopt the historical minimum SWEP response (implementation with a forecast of zero degrees Celsius or below, for three consecutive nights) but will adopt a common-sense approach considering weather warnings, near-freezing temperatures, rain, snow, wind chill, gales, or heat.

3. Severe Weather

There is no single definition of severe weather – any conditions that materially increases the risk of harm to people sleeping rough can be classed as severe. This includes extreme cold, wind, snow, rain and heat. The Council will not presume when, or in what form, severe weather will occur, and will be prepared each year to escalate responses as and when required. 

Many people sleeping rough will already have health issues caused or made worse by homelessness. They may also experience added complications due to drug and alcohol use, pain or medication and there will be no assumption by the Council that people sleeping rough will have become resilient to severe weather - if anything, the risk of harm and death from exposure is higher for people sleeping on the streets, as their health may already be suffering. In addition, people may also increase their substance use as a coping mechanism during bad weather.

Cold: extreme cold can cause serious health problems and death for those who are exposed overnight or for long periods of time. Historically, SWEP was triggered when the forecast was zero degrees Celsius or below, for three consecutive nights. It is now best practice to take a common-sense approach, where any forecast approaching zero is considered; the impact of rain, snow and wind chill will be considered; and the ‘feels like’ temperature will be checked, along with conditions underfoot (e.g., ice). The Council acknowledges the benefits to opening provision for temperatures that are above freezing but can be just as harmful, and for maintaining this provision over longer periods.

Wind: high winds can lead to an increased risk of injury through uprooted trees, falling walls, dislodged pieces of roofing and other debris. The Council will consider the location of local rough sleeping sites and the potential for harm from gale-force winds. This is a particular issue for rural areas where people are, for example, sleeping in tents.

Rain: heavy or sudden prolonged rain can lead to flooding and landslides. People sleeping under bridges, on riverbanks or near the sea, streams or canals may be particularly at risk, but there may be less obvious flood risks, for example drains or gullies. Standing water, puddles and flooding may continue to be a risk after rainfall has stopped. As well as increased risk of drowning, being stuck in the rain and unable to change out of wet clothes/shoes afterwards can lead to a range of health problems, including trench-foot. There is also an increased risk of loss or damage to belongings such as identification documents. 

Unsafe shelter: in addition to the direct risk associated with severe weather, the actions people might take to get out of severe weather can also increase the risk of harm and death. People might find cover in unsafe places e.g., large, lidded bins, which can result in crush injuries or death if the bin is emptied. They might enter buildings or property without permission, including derelict structures, with associated risks around fire safety and building collapse. Attempting to keep safe and dry in bad weather increases the risk of death and injury to people without shelter.

Heatwaves: temperatures around 25c and over are associated with excess summer deaths, but the UK does on occasion experience extreme temperatures of up to almost 40c triggering red alert weather warnings (risk to life). Deaths may be from underlying illnesses made worse by heat – primarily lung and heart diseases – or from heat specific conditions, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Mental ill health may also worsen during hot weather. People sleeping rough may find it difficult to source drinking water and sun protection, increasing risks around dehydration, sunburn, and sunstroke. As this will be a greater need during daylight hours, the council will mobilise its Rough Sleeping Team who will work with its partners to provide anyone sleeping rough with water, sunscreen, and guidance in relation to keeping safe and linking in with healthcare services if required. The council will also work with its partners to establish safe shaded or indoor spaces for Hot Weather Provisions across North Northamptonshire where people sleeping rough can access the same and take shelter from the heat if required.

For further information relating to heatwaves, please refer Hot Weather and Homelessness - Preventing illness and death in summer (July 2020).

If SWEP is implemented because of a heatwave, emergency SWEP Accommodation will not be provided as an automatic response, but anyone sleeping rough will be helped off the streets as quickly as possible in line with the council’s ongoing ‘Everyone In’ approach and Rough Sleeper Pathway.

4. Implementing SWEP

North Northamptonshire Council covers a large geographical area. Although the entire geographical area is likely to be affected by any periods of severe weather in the same way, the Council will implement SWEP on a locality area basis as follows:

  • Kettering
  • Corby
  • Wellingborough
  • Area formerly known as East Northamptonshire (Oundle)

The Council’s Rough Sleeper Coordinator will monitor weather forecasts on the Meteorological Office website www.metoffice.gov.uk using the above four locations.

The Rough Sleeper Coordinator will be responsible for activating, monitoring and ceasing SWEP, and will seek advice/guidance and a final decision on implementation from the Strategic Lead Housing Strategy and Solutions if required.

When it is decided that SWEP is triggered, the Rough Sleeper Coordinator will:

  1. Activate SWEP and notify by email relevant internal teams including Housing Options, Customer Services, Environmental Wardens, Out of Hours Service, elected members, and partner agencies including Northamptonshire Police, criminal justice partners, Accommodation Concern, and relevant voluntary/faith/community groups.
  2. The Rough Sleeper Coordinator will ensure that the Council’s Rough Sleeping Team is mobilised to alert all known rough sleepers that SWEP has been implemented in order that they can access shelter from the severe weather.
  3. Ensure that suitable provision is available
  4. Keep the weather forecast under daily review
  5. Cease SWEP and notify relevant persons, including rough sleepers, accordingly when the period of severe weather ends.

The Rough Sleeper Coordinator will also ensure appropriate record keeping relating to the provision SWEP Accommodation.

5. Eligibility

SWEP operates outside usual eligibility and entitlement frameworks that govern access to housing. SWEP Accommodation will be accessible to all rough sleepers including those with no recourse to public funds, not in priority need, intentionally homeless or with no local connection, or those who may have previously been excluded from services. 

Prioritisation of individuals for SWEP Accommodation will be based on need, not housing entitlement. The Council will work with its partners and services and organisations supporting people experiencing homelessness, to identify people known to be sleeping rough (e.g., as opposed to sofa surfing, where support is needed but there is not an immediate risk of harm). 

The Council will seek to verify (confirm that someone has been seen sleeping rough) to ensure that people who are most in need are prioritised for SWEP Accommodation, however a flexible approach will be adopted, and people will not be sent back onto the streets to wait for verification. The Council acknowledges that individuals often have good reasons for concealing their sleep sites, for example due to vulnerability to assault or fears of enforcement, and so verification of rough sleeping should not be used as a barrier to SWEP. 

To be eligible for SWEP Accommodation the rough sleeper must:

  • Be at risk if he / she continues to sleep rough during the severe weather
  • Have nowhere to sleep indoors during the severe weather (indoors does not include cars, sheds, or garages) 
  • Agree to the assistance offered by the Council (and its partners / support providers)
  • Abide by the rules of the SWEP Accommodation provider
  • Not be too high a risk, where that risk cannot be appropriately managed (see section 9 of this Protocol)

Rough Sleeping and Housing Options Teams should refer to SWEP Additional Guidance for Staff for further information is required.

6. SWEP procedure

Rough sleepers requiring accommodation during periods of severe weather will take part in a short initial assessment, including a SWEP Referral and SWEP Risk Assessment. The Rough Sleeping Team will send these to the Rough Sleeper Coordinator for review and placement approval, and the Housing Options Team will send these to an Authoriser (approved referrals will then be sent on to the Rough Sleeper Coordinator).

For those approved for SWEP Accommodation, it will be provided for the duration of the severe weather.

Insofar as is possible the circumstances of the rough sleeper asking to be accommodated under this Protocol will be verified, officers should be satisfied that the person is rough sleeping or at genuine risk of rough sleeping. Rough Sleeping and Housing Options Teams should refer to SWEP Additional Guidance for Staff for further information if required.

The Rough Sleeper Coordinator/Authorisers will seek advice / guidance and a final decision on whether SWEP Accommodation should be provided from the Strategic Lead Housing Strategy and Solutions, if required.

While accommodated under SWEP, all customers will be provided with advice, guidance, and support in relation to their wellbeing, support and accommodation needs. All entitled customers will also be offered the opportunity to engage in a full housing assessment, be provided with a personalised housing plan (under Part 7 Housing Act 1996 as amended).

The weather forecast will be kept under daily review and when the period of severe weather ends, SWEP will cease, and SWEP Accommodation will be withdrawn unless the following circumstances apply:

  • The customer is assessed as being owed the S189B relief and S188 interim accommodation duties because there is reason to believe the customer is eligible, homeless and in priority need for accommodation (Part 7 Housing Act 1996 as amended)
  • The customer is in the process of ‘moving on’ to alternative accommodation (for example, supported accommodation)
  • The customer is assessed as eligible for the Council’s discretionary Rough Sleeper Accommodation (established in response to Covid-19 and ‘Everyone In’)

The Council is committed to ensure that it maximises the opportunity to assist rough sleepers accommodated under SWEP, to ensure that where possible they are moved on to a suitable and sustainable housing solution and do not return to the streets once the period of severe weather ends.

The Rough Sleeper Coordinator reserves the right to withdraw SWEP Accommodation when SWEP ceases from any customer who is refusing to cooperate with the help and support that is available/any reasonable requests made by the Council.

The Rough Sleeping Team is already working with known rough sleepers in North Northamptonshire to try to engage them, address their health, wellbeing and support needs (including registering with a GP and accessing Covid-19 and other essential vaccinations) and secure longer-term housing. This Rough Sleeping Team will continue this work with known rough sleepers during any periods of severe weather and offer the same person-centred service to any new rough sleepers identified and/or accommodated under SWEP.

If rough sleepers refuse SWEP Accommodation during periods of severe weather, they will be provided information on the associated health risks which are exacerbated if they have underlying health conditions and/or are using substances.

If someone persists in refusing help to come off the streets, the Rough Sleeping Team will consider whether they have capacity to make such a decision and may contact mental health services / adult safeguarding for advice in line with day-to-day operational procedures.

7. Out of hours service

If a rough sleeper, or person assisting a rough sleeper, requires assistance outside of office hours they should contact the Council on 0300 126 3000 (and identify the appropriate locality area based service).

If a customer is accommodated under SWEP by the Out of Hours Service, they will be contacted by the Rough Sleeping Team by 10.00am the next working day to establish their housing and support needs in more detail and to agree next steps.

8. Accommodation

Rough sleepers approved to be provided with SWEP Accommodation will be placed into ‘Covid-Safe’ accommodation and will be referred to either:

  • B&Bs, hotels and hostels (including block booking)
  • Units funded through Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP)
  • Hostels and supported accommodation including ‘crash pads’ 
  • Placements across the supported housing pathway
  • Emergency provision which already exists due to Covid-19 and ‘Everyone In’
  • Self-contained temporary accommodation
  • Council owned self-contained units
  • Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

If placed in B&B / hotel accommodation, the customer must vacate the premises as required by the proprietor for any necessary duties such as cleaning etc.

Where appropriate the SWEP Accommodation provider will be contacted before 10am on each subsequent day after a booking has been made to confirm whether the accommodation is required on an ongoing basis in line with ongoing weather forecasts.

9. Managing risk and challenging behaviour

A SWEP Risk Assessment must be completed for each rough sleeper to be accommodated under SWEP for the purpose of identifying and managing risk.

A SWEP Risk Assessment does not need to be completed for each placement over a period of severe weather, but it should be reviewed at each point of referral to ensure it is accurate and relevant.

The SWEP Risk Assessment should be shared with SWEP Accommodation providers on request, and any internal or externals teams working with or providing support to the customer.

If any incidents of anti-social or unacceptable behaviour occur during the time that the customer is accommodated under SWEP, the Police will be contacted (if appropriate) along with any other services and organisations involved in assessing and supporting the customer.

The Council will review the situation jointly with relevant partners and determine whether any other form of SWEP Accommodation could be provided during the period of severe weather if possible and appropriate considering the presenting risk and if/how it can be managed.

Whilst every possible attempt will be made to find suitable shelter, in rare incidences, where the risk is unmanageable, some rough sleepers may have to be excluded from being provided with SWEP Accommodation until those risks can be mitigated in some way. All decisions to exclude someone from being accommodated under SWEP will be confirmed by the Strategic Lead Housing Strategy and Solutions.

10. Financial implications

The cost of providing SWEP Accommodation under this Protocol will be covered by any available external funding from Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) via grant or bid (for example Cold Weather Funding) and other existing financial resources including Homelessness Prevention Fund, Rough Sleeper Intervention Fund, and the Council’s General Fund.

Where a rough sleeper cannot source their own transport to access SWEP Accommodation provided under this Protocol, transport will be arranged. Please note that this will only be for one return journey for each period of severe weather, and not daily.  

In exceptional circumstances, when a customer cannot access essential items such as toiletries or clothing the Council will cover the cost for limited essential items with approval from the Rough Sleeper Coordinator / an Authoriser. 

11. Recording, monitoring and review

Details of each customer assisted through this Protocol will be recorded on the Council’s relevant software systems and used to monitor the extent of rough sleeping in North Northamptonshire. As a minimum, this will include:

  • Name and composition of household
  • Contact numbers/emails (if held)
  • Demographic data including gender, DOB, nationality, and ethnicity
  • Whether the customer is a verified rough sleeper
  • What their primary support needs are
  • The amount of previous contact the customer has had with services
  • Number of nights accommodated including dates of entry and departure
  • Location of SWEP Accommodation provided.
  • Cost per night and total cost of SWEP Accommodation per household
  • Where the customer moves onto after leaving SWEP Accommodation

Information obtained from this monitoring process will be regularly reviewed to ensure that arrangements in place remain targeted and appropriate for customers eligible for SWEP Accommodation. The data collected will also be incorporated in the review of the Council’s Homelessness Strategy so that changes to the Council’s wider approach to rough sleeping can be made to achieve better outcomes for those affected.

This Protocol will be reviewed annually or sooner if there are any changes to legislation or operational requirements that may impact on this Protocol and its delivery.

Any changes to this Protocol can be agreed by the Assistant Director Housing and Communities (or their duly delegated representative), in consultation with the Director Housing and Communities.

12.Complaints and appeals

The provision of SWEP Accommodation is at the discretion of the Rough Sleeper Coordinator/an Authoriser and there is no application procedure or appeals process.

The Council operates a Compliments, Comments and Complaints Policy so that everyone is clear about how to compliment, comment and complain about services provided by the Council and what will happen to those comments once they are received. 

13. More information

The whereabouts and identity of rough sleepers should be notified to the Rough Sleeping Team during office hours and to the Council’s Out of Hours Service at all other times.

Rough Sleeping Team

Rough Sleeper Coordinator (Sarah Laycock)

Out of Hours Service

Anyone concerned about someone sleeping rough or suspecting to be sleeping rough can also alert the Council using StreetLink.

If you would like further information about this Protocol, please contact North Northamptonshire Council’s Housing Options Service.

Area Offices

  • The Corby Cube, Parkland Gateway, Corby, Northants, NN17 1QG
  • Municipal Offices, Bowling Green Road, Kettering, Northants, NN15 7QX
  • 50 High Street South, Rushden, Northants, NN10 0LZ
  • Swanspool House, Doddington Road, Wellingborough, Northants, NN8 1BP

Telephone: 0300 126 3000
Email: [email protected]

Last updated 18 July 2022