Demand from rising numbers of homeless could swamp authority

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RISING unemployment could leave housing teams swamped with extra demand for help from homeless people, a local authority has warned.

East Cambridgeshire District Council says bed and breakfast use is already more than five times up on last year as people struggle amidst the economic crisis.

“There has been a sharp increase in requests for housing advice at the council’s offices and a significant increase in the complexity of the work required to help these people,” a draft report and development plan for housing services says.

“A further credit crisis, or a significant increase in unemployment and consequent financial difficulties may swamp the department and require increased staff resources.”

It adds that the problems are “directly related to the economic downturn” and that the issues are worse than predicted, as the increase in homelessness has “created pressure additional to the pressures identified in previous service plans”.

The council now recommends appointing a permanent development and enabling officer, paid for through the new homes bonus, to produce new affordable housing in East Cambs - or risk failure to meet its legal duties.

“From the summer of 2009 there has been an increase in requests for help from people threatened with homelessness due to difficulties in paying their mortgage,” the report adds.

“This has already increased the workload pressure on housing staff and will contribute to increased pressure on both permanent and temporary accommodation.”

Targets for new affordable housing are not set to be met for the second year in a row, exacerbating the problem.

And if the council doesn’t meet goals for reducing homelessness it could be given a financial penalty, such as removal of homelessness grants.

However head of housing Jane Hollingworth tried to reassure councillors, saying: “It is anticipated that the current crisis in housing and homelessness will not be a permanent one, and that changes, particularly in housing and mortgage markets, in the future, will reduce the pressure on East Cambridgeshire’s homelessness prevention services.”

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