A SURGE in new homeless cases is expected to see Stratford-on-Avon District Council spend around £450,000 more than anticipated tackling the issue this year.
Based on the first three months of the financial year, the council expects costs to rocket as extra resources are devoted to tackling homelessness.
The money will be spent on additional staff, who have been taken on to deal with the demand, plus the costs of accommodating those who have been accepted as homeless whilst a home is found.
The Herald has been unable to obtain firm figures from the district council this week that show the number of people presenting themselves as homeless.
But the council’s admission that it is a growing problem is backed up by figures from South Warwickshire CAB which has told us that the number of eviction hearings its staff have attended has trebled in the past year.
Stratford Foodbank has also reported a 27 per cent increase in requests for help, another indication of the level of people facing hardship.
Previously the council had been able to recover its spending on homeless costs, but the introduction of Universal Credit, which replaces six benefits for people who are looking for work or on a low income, currently makes it difficult to claim any of the money back.
According to the latest figures, the extra resources put into tackling homelessness in Stratford, are having an effect, with the time taken to process homeless applications dropping significantly.
Another positive trend appears to show that the number of families being put up in bed and breakfast accommodation after presenting themselves to the council as homeless is reducing.
This may be explained by more temporary accommodation being made available, but this also comes at a cost to the council.
The introduction of Universal Credit and the reduction in adult social care services have been cited as reasons for increased numbers presenting themselves to the council as homeless.
Cllr Peter Richards, the district council’s portfolio holder for housing, said: “This is a predicted end of year figure for the current financial year and so is not a real level of spend at this time.
“The council is responding to the challenge which increased homelessness is presenting with a range of service level changes which are aimed at reducing this spend over the rest of this year, however it must be realised that this trend is very much a national one.
“There are a number of factors which lie behind the increased homelessness and these will vary across the country. However based on the information collected from many who are interviewed by this council’s housing advisors, there does appear to be a connection between the reduction in the adult social care services and the increase in homelessness.
“It has been recognised by those councils which are already working under the Universal Credit regime that it has added to the financial difficulties for councils which provide services to the homeless. This is why the government has committed to reviewing certain elements of the new arrangement.”
Citizens Advice South Warwickshire has also noticed an increase in the number of people needing help with housing problems.
Court desk worker, Helen Knight, who attends court hearings with tenants, says she has seen a dramatic increase in hearings from 33 last year to 98 in the same period this year.
She said: “My workload has increased in line with the impacts of welfare reform measures such as the introduction of the bedroom tax, the imposition of the benefit cap and the rollout of Universal Credit.
“In the vast majority of cases we are able to work with housing associations, lenders, private landlords and Stratford District Council to find affordable ways forward so that people are able to maintain their tenancies.
“We help people to budget and maximise their income, however the challenges in social housing are increasing. We are also concerned that private rents locally are out of reach for many people.”
Cllr Peter Moorse, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the district council, said: “It is a significant sum (the £450,000 projected overspend). It would be much cheaper in the long term to provide more temporary accommodation that to use B&Bs and there are discussions taking place about that.
“When families present themselves as homeless, B&Bs are not the best solution for them and we are doing all we can to encourage the council towards providing more temporary accommodation because it’s better for the families and far more economical.”