WINCHESTER City Council has signed up to lead a government scheme to fight homelessness.

The council will receive a £1.7m grant over the next two years as part of Whitehall's Gold Standard for Homelessness Prevention programme.

The money will fund a specialist advisor for the next four years, provide more training for the council homelessness team and voluntary partners and support local work of national homelessness charity Shelter.

It is based around 10 challenges to local authorities including adopting a 'no second night out' model, creating a proactive homelessness prevention strategy, develop a private rented sector option and prevent mortgage repossessions.

Chief housing officer Richard Botham said: “The greatest benefit to the council is the immediate onsite access we have to good practice, knowledge and guidance the advisor will bring to us. We are going to be a lead authority in this programme and we need to make sure we are meeting standards ourselves.”

But Labour group leader Cllr Chris Pines asked how well the council's team would interact with other homelessness services in the city, particularly around mental health issues.

He said: “The housing service in Winchester is excellent in what it provides for the homeless but how well do they mesh with other services in assisting people with mental health problems?”

Mr Botham said the new scheme would not interfere with other services like Trinity Winchester and Winchester Churches Nightshelter.

He said: “Our officers work tirelessly with other agencies to help individuals as much as they can.”

Housing boss Cllr Tony Coates added: “We are looking very closely at 'moving on' issues and we want to be able to move people through the system and stop them being homeless by making sure they have support when they come out of the supported housing system.”

Michelle Gardner, director of strategy at Trinity, welcomed the news: “Trinity is delighted that the city council is signing up to the Government's Gold Standard for Homelessness Prevention; this can only have a positive impact on Trinity, our service users and Winchester as a whole.

“As a partner organisation, Trinity works very closely with the council and we have attended several meetings recently with different people considering all aspects of homelessness prevention in Winchester.

“There is much expertise in Winchester, which when coupled with funding of this level will surely have a huge impact on homelessness locally.”