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EXCLUSIVE: Record rise in homeless applications in Wyre Forest

The number of families and individuals in Wyre Forest receiving homeless support has rocketed by nearly 300% since April when new regulations came into force, new figures obtained by Wyre Life show.

Data released following a Freedom of Information request show a record number of 164 households (including families) were eligible for help from Wyre Forest District Council’s homelessness team between April and July.

That compares to 58 households in the same period last year.

The numbers mark the tip of the iceberg in what will be a very challenging year for Wyre Forest’s housing team, who are under pressure to reduce homelessness by 2021.

Today concerned activists said the alarming figures revealed the real extent of homelessness and fear of homelessness in the district.

Stephen Brown, spokesman for Labour in Wyre Forest, said: “The staggering increase in homelessness in the district is disturbing, and should ring a loud and clear alarm bell.

“That bell should be loudest in the council Cabinet and in the offices of those in charge at Westminster of our social and housing policy. If they do nothing, this flood could turn into a tsunami of misery for vulnerable people in Wyre Forest, made homeless, many of whom are in work.”

He added: “I am deeply concerned about what’s happening in our communities, to our most vulnerable people, and to those most in need of help, especially in low paid jobs. They have an increased risk of homelessness and it’s supported by this evidence.”
He also turned his ire on Wyre Forest MP Mark Garnier and the Government.
“Their  austerity policies have led to rising housing costs, a boon for private landlords, lack of affordable housing, lack of social housing, savage benefit cuts, inflation, stagnant wages, insecure work, and a loss of support services. All of this financial pressure puts families under immense stress.
“Universal Credit in Wyre Forest (which will be fully rolled out later this year) will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, we’re already seeing the signs.”
A chief cause of the sudden rise has been the introduction of the new Homelessness Reduction Act in April, designed to prevent homelessness, which means more people who apply for help have to receive it. Previously anyone deemed intentionally homeless – for example, by leaving a tenancy, or departing a family home – was likely to be refused help. The council also now has an obligation to work with any applicant to work out an action plan.

 

 

 

However, the dramatic upturn in requests for help has been much higher than predicted and is certain to put exceptional pressure on already tight council finances.

Today the council’s Cabinet member responsible for homelessness, Councillor Ian Hardiman, responded to the following questions:

  • How is Wyre Forest doing in managing the costs of supporting homeless people and families and preventing homelessness? 

“We’ve reviewed and amended our budgets to meet the rise in homelessness support cases following the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017,”

  • What are the predictions for the rest of the year in terms of demand and the cost of meeting demand?

“The changes in legislation mean more people than before are eligible for support. With any statutory change it is difficult to accurately predict the full impact but we will be monitoring the situation closely and responding as required.”

  • Are there more cases of homelessness, or does the expansion in eligibility mean more families and individuals who were struggling are now getting supported?

“The number of people eligible for support has increased following the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act. The amended legislation means a wider group of people are now entitled to our help. We haven’t seen a dramatic rise in rough sleepers in Wyre Forest and we will continue to offer them the support they need.”

Speaking earlier this year, the council’s housing chief Kate Bailey said the council had been given “desperately inadequate” funds to cope with what she predicted could be a 20-40% rise in applications for help once the Homelessness Reduction Act was introduced.

She also said New Burdens funding provided by central Government to help councils cope with implementing the Act was around £90,000 over three years.

Speaking in January, she warned: “It’s not even enough to fund one entire post and we’re anticipating a 20-40% rise in footfall through the doors (from people requesting help) – that’s 2,000 to 3,000 people extra.

“The extra funds are desperately inadequate in terms of what the scale of need is and what we are likely to be able to meet. Only time will tell if it is enough.”

Another outcome of the new Act so far has been a rise in the number requiring temporary or emergency accommodation.

The council has previously made concerted efforts to reduce numbers placed in B&B, partly on cost grounds. In November it opened New Street hostel, newly refurbished accommodation featuring single and family en-suite rooms, with an on site homeless support worker.

However, the number of households sent to stay in temporary accommodation since April has also gone up considerably, from just 26 households last year (April to July) to 66 households for the same period this year.

 

 

There was an associated rise in the cost of providing temporary and emergency accommodation – from £33,315 to £47,095.

Just last week members of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee met to discuss Worcestershire’s new homelessness strategy for 2018-21.

The discussion focussed on rough sleepers, including how many were sleeping on the streets and whether they were getting help.

Councilllors were told that the housing waiting list in Wyre Forest is just over 3,000, of which around 40 to 50 households at a time are in the highest gold-plus banding, which includes those at greatest risk of homelessness or otherwise vulnerable.

The committee were also advised that official figures showed there were just  four rough sleepers in the district.

Councillor Fran Oborski cited local campaigner Dave Griffin, saying he had advised her there were “rarely more than four” rough sleepers still on the streets after midnight.

However, she said there was an issue of young people ‘sofa-surfing’, including those who have been kicked out of home, or had left.

“That’s something we have to be very aware of because those young people are the most vulnerable,” added Councillor Oborski.

Councillor Helen Dyke asked about what help was given to those seen on the streets and was reassured by officers that all are thought to be known to the authorities, and in some cases have been offered repeated help but refused it.

Councillors were also told there were new systems in place across the county to work with entrenched rough sleepers and persuade them to engage with charities, which can take time to be successful.

Wyre Life is an independent news website for Kidderminster, Stourport, Bewdley and Wolverley, run by volunteers.

 

Jane Haynes
Former newspaper journalist and news editor, turned public sector PR, now studying for a Master's in multiplatform journalism. Wyrelife is a new, local investigative news website for Kidderminster, Bewdley, Stourport and Wyre Forest. My aim is to hold people and organisations to account to try to make my little bit of England a better informed, better place.
http://www.janerockhouse.wordpress.com
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