Shelter boss hopes service cut will not be false economy

A NATIONAL homelessness charity has been forced to close its “value-for-money” Borders advice service after Scottish Borders Council pulled its funding, writes Kenny Paterson.

Shelter Scotland expressed its “deep disappointment” that the cash-strapped local authority will no longer provide £25,000 a year for the project.

The Edinburgh-based charity said that, during its four years running the service which provided information for households fearing eviction, it helped 430 people.

With Scottish Government figures showing there were 655 homeless cases in the Borders in 2009/2010, and with each case estimated to cost at least £5,000, Shelter Scotland director Graeme Brown questioned whether cutting the scheme will prove to be a “false economy”.

Mr Brown added: “Despite our best efforts to find a solution we are very disappointed at having to close down the Scottish Borders Advice Project.

“We acknowledge that councils face tough decisions regarding budget cuts, but it is still sad to have to lose a good value-for-money service that has advised more than 430 people over the last four years, helping prevent many Borders residents from homelessness and repeat homelessness.

“With the cost of just one case of homelessness conservatively estimated at £5,000, we just hope that cutting this advice service doesn’t turn out to be a false economy.

“People in the Scottish Borders who need housing advice can still visit www.shelter.org.uk or call our free helpline on 0808 800 4444.”

But Cathie Fancy, SBC’s housing strategy and services group manager, replied that trained officers within the council have been trained to standards approved by Shelter.

She told us: “Councils are under significant financial pressures to reduce budgets, that’s why we are drawing the contract for this specialist housing advice project to a close and will rely on our trained officers to provide a top-quality homeless prevention service to support and assist vulnerable people who may be facing a housing crisis.

“The council is presently implementing its dedicated Homeless Prevention Service to offer more comprehensive housing options and support to enable people to resolve their housing need.

“SBC thanks Shelter for the excellent service over the past few years and we look forward to continuing to work in partnership through officer liaison.”

Approaches to Eildon, Waverley, Scottish Borders and Berwickshire housing associations by Shelter Scotland failed to find an alternative backer.

Figures released last month by the Scottish Government showed there were 947 homelessness applications from April 2009 to March 2010 in the Borders.

Out of the 655 which were deemed homeless cases, 456, or 69 per cent, were assessed as a priority – one of the lowest percentages in Scotland.

There were 34 children living in 79 temporary accommodation households in the region as of December last year, while households at risk of eviction were halved in the final three months of 2010 to 50, compared to the previous 90 days.