Temporary housing demand keeps falling

THE number of people being housed by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) in temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfasts, has nearly halved in the past four years.

Separately, the council has heard of plans to offer people as young as 16 one-year tenancies, and has decided that helping younger people to sustain tenancies should be a priority.

In response to a freedom of information (FoI) request, SBC revealed this month that 195 people were thus housed in 2010-11, compared with 271 in 2009-10, 295 in 2008-09 and 374 in 2007-08.

The average length of stay was 63 days last year, compared with 54, 84 and 70 in the three previous years respectively.

The amount of cash spent by the council on temporary accommodation has also fallen. Although figures for 2010-11 are not yet finalised, expenditure on property was £926,000 in 2009-10, £1.63million in 2008-09 and £1,48million in 2007-08.

The reductions would appear to suggest that the council is, in conjunction with registered social landlords (RSLs), making inroads into resolving the problem of homelessness for which it has a statutory responsibility.

But the FoI response makes it clear that the number of tenants and the property outlay, while including B&Bs. do not include private sector leasing. Staffing costs and other overheads are not included.

The un-named questioner has drawn a blank in asking whether the council expects changes in housing benefit and a cap on payments will leave it with a funding shortfall for temporary accommodation over the next three years.

“This is not a valid request under FoI,” states the response. “This is merely a question and the council is not obliged to comply.”

Certainly, the number of homeless applications being received by SBC has fallen – from 1,100 in 2007-08 to 860 last year, according to a recent presentation from SBC’s homelessness services manager, David Kemp.

He told the council’s watchdog scrutiny panel that the service was now “much more focused” on preventing homelessness and providing support to tenants to sustain their tenancies.

Councillors heard all those presenting themselves as homeless were assessed to determine whether they had made themselves intentionally homeless – that is, they had not been asked to leave their property or were not facing difficult circumstances.

Of the 860 applications received last year, 663 were assessed as homeless, 480 were deemed in priority need and 440 considered entitled to permanent housing. A third of applications were the result of marriage breakdown.

Significantly, a third of applicants were 25 or less and the scrutiny panel agreed that encouraging young people to sustain tenancies should be a priority.

Councillors heard from Maria Lyle of the Scottish Borders Housing Association, the region’s largest RSL, about plans to offer people as young as 16 one-year tenancies. The tenant would earn stars to acknowledge levels of domestic and budgeting skills for presentation to a future landlord.

But Mr Kemp warned that from 2012, the priority need test would be removed and people who were not intentially homeless would be entitled to permanent housing.

He estimated that this could add up to 200 to the homelessness total in the Borders.