At last night’s meeting of Kettering Borough Council’s Research & Development [Scrutiny] Committee, members were given an update into homelessness and the number of families in temporary council accommodation.
- The number of households now being housed in this way is now 211.
This is a new all time record which perhaps was not surprising given this figure has been rising month on month for the last three or four years!
The committee was given a verbal report with an accompanying power-point presentation which contained a great deal of information and a lot of facts. I complained that a written report, or at least a copy of the slides, was not circulated to members before hand. This would have allowed us to prepare our questions or discuss the matter with colleagues and would also be available to the public and press on the council’s website. It also means that of 36 Councillors in Kettering only six actually got to know the details..
This refusal to put things in writing and rely on verbal briefings on-the-night is standard practice at KBC and something I have complained about many times before.
- During the last municipal year 21018/19 the council has 1,100 approaches from people with housing needs who were homeless or in danger of becoming so.
- The cost of providing temporary housing last year was £1.25m (about £800,000 over budget) and this cost, unlike permanent council housing, is paid for by the general fund which includes local council tax.
- Wellington house has recently closed which provided twenty-one supported living places for single, vulnerable adults.
- The council are finding it difficult to find enough emergency housing locally and currently have 20 households housed outside the Borough which they accept is causing problems for people with family /work ties and school places.
- They have currently taken 120 council houses out of the council’s own housing stock to provide temporary accommodation meaning these houses are no longer available to rent to people of the council’s waiting list and by their own admission means people have to spend a lot longer in insecure and sometimes unsuitable temporary accommodation (this time last year the number was 33)
- They have bought 28 properties on the open market just to provide temporary housing out of a budget of £20m which they have had to put aside just for this purpose.
- There are still eleven households in bed and breakfast! (I questioned early reports where I am sure we had been told by the head of housing there were no longer any cases – apparently I was mistaken!)
- After many years of massive underinvestment in council housing (and a reliance on housing associations to do the council’s job for them who do not have the same responsibilities that council’s do), KBC are at last building some new council houses this year, but only 20 or 30 odd which will simply scratch the surface of the problem.
In response to this growing crisis the council are however doing things like reviewing their IT, reviewing the ‘Keyways’ allocation system (the recently tried to take a number of people off the housing list although this was rejected after complaints from councillors), introducing new forms of case management, having weekly meetings and sharing performance information within the housing allocation team (I asked if this information could be shared with councillors and the answer was no!), build new partnerships with other organisations and housing associations, and hope to use private landlords more in the future to help with demand.
Relying on the private sector was mentioned again and again, including by Conservative Councillors, a point I found ironic as we have been previously told time and time again that it has been a failure of the private rented market that has contributed to the crisis, a point I made which was agreed by senior officers.
The council are also “constantly reviewing policies and procedures”, including their eviction policies to make it easier to throw people out of accommodation (I’m not entirely sure how that helps the situation over then turning property around more quickly perhaps).
To me all of this sounds like simply tinkering around the edges and until the fundamental issue of there simply not being enough social housing in the Borough, due to massive underinvestment over a number of years, is dealt with the numbers of homeless families will keep rising and the financial pressure on local tax payers will keep going up. To my question what plans are there to address that fundamental point, the answer I received was there are ‘no plans’!
My concerns were seemingly shared by the whole committee as nobody objected to my suggestion that we formally send our concerns to the council’s ruling Executive Committee about the continuing increase in homelessness and in particular the loss of the supported living accommodation following the closure of Wellington House and I look forward to this being part of the next Executive Committee’s agenda and their response. ��h�V��m�