Spike in homelessness in East Devon prompt council chiefs to take urgent action

Conservative district council election candidate Jill Elson.

Conservative district council election candidate Jill Elson. - Credit: Archant

A dramatic rise in homelessness across East Devon has prompted council bosses to take urgent action.

It comes after a report, put before East Devon District Council (EDDC), revealed that 261 people approached the authority in 2017/18 threatened with homelessness. The council accepted a duty to help 28 of those cases when it was unable to prevent homelessness.

And, by mid-April 2018, an unprecedented 51 cases had been brought to EDDC, within the first 17 days of the new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 - this places legal duties on councils to give meaningful help to those who are homeless or threatened with it, regardless of their priority status - as long as they are eligible for assistance.

Currently, there are 36 people in temporary accommodation in the district whereas in previous years there were none or very low numbers.

The report, by EDDC’s officer John Golding, highlighted the challenges with the rising levels of homelessness and securing temporary accommodation and long-term affordable housing, which is consistent with national trends. It said, in the past, the authority had relatively low numbers of homeless cases and minimal use of its temporary accommodation – which was thanks to early intervention and prevention. But now there were a lot more ‘complex’ cases than before. And this has only been exacerbated by the reduction in available accommodation, resulting in a build-up of homeless cases in temporary accommodation.

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Last year, a dramatic rise in the cost of temporary accommodation meant the authority spent £296,000 on short-term accommodation against a budget of £20,000.

Mr Golding’s report stated that they wanted to try approaches which had been successful in the past, such as leasing properties from private owners – like bed and breakfasts owners. The report called on the council to look at its housing stock and consider decommissioning sheltered housing for temporary accommodation.

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The council has agreed to a number of proposed measures, including the creation of a new ‘homeless accommodation officer’, a move to increase the amount of temporary accommodation and to hold an urgent meeting with local MPs, ahead of the Government’s green paper on housing.

Following the meeting, Councillor Jill Elson, who is responsible for sustainable homes and communities, vowed to tackle the growing challenges of people without a roof over their head.

Cllr Elson said: “We wish to ensure that we look after those who present themselves as genuinely homeless.

“Many of the new people coming to us are presenting themselves with complex needs and are unable to manage a tenancy without help, advice and, most essentially, support. Without that support they end up being evicted, which achieves nothing for anyone.”

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