A 14-point action plan has been put into action by Northampton Borough Council to reduce the use and cost of temporary accommodation.
During the last three years, the number of households applying to the council for assistance under new homelessness legislation has more than doubled and, between March 2016 and February 2019, the number of households living in temporary accommodation more than quadrupled from 66 to 324.
One of the key reasons for this leap, the council says, is a ‘severe shortage’ of social rented properties in the town, as well as new legislation that gives them a duty to relieve homelessness for a wider range of eligible people.
During the past three years, the amount of money that the council has spent on temporary accommodation has increased from £673,000 to more than £2.5million.
In a bid to cut the growing costs, the council has drawn together an action plan, and wants to extend its Housing Revenue Account (HRA) borrowing by up to £25million in order to enable the acquisition of affordable housing.
Chief finance officer Stuart McGregor told the cabinet meeting on Wednesday (April 3) that they would not necessarily actually extend the borrowing, but they want the flexibility to be able to do it if needed.
More than three-quarters of the temporary accommodation the council uses is purchased on a nightly basis from private sector housing suppliers.
Of the 324 homeless households in February this year, 56 were living in HRA council homes, 244 were living in self-contained, nightly purchased accommodation in Northampton and 24 (22 single people and two families) were living in bed and breakfast accommodation.
The net cost to the council for those in the nightly purchased accommodation and bed and breakfasts was more than £33,500 per week (£1.74million per year).
Some of the actions the council is taking include asking full council for approval for increasing its HRA borrowing by up to £25million, which would allow NBC to acquire a significant number of new HRA council homes by purchasing properties through developers or Homes England schemes.
The plan also wants to make ‘optimum use’ of its current housing stock. This will include new policies that all households (single or couple) with a pregnancy are offered one-bedroom accommodation, and are only offered a two-bedroom property when the child is born.
Other proposals include all households (single people and couples) that contain only one child under the age of 12 months should routinely be offered suitable one-bedroom temporary accommodation and continue to reside in that accommodation until they are offered a two-bedroom affordable rented home, or the tenancy of suitable private rented housing.
The report states: “These arrangements will make optimum use of the one-bedroom HRA council homes that are used as temporary accommodation and ensure as few households as possible are accommodated in two-bedroom nightly purchased accommodation.”
Some of the homelessness preventative work to take place will include two specialist advisers who will engage with every private landlord and letting agent who has served notice on their tenants, with a view to persuading them to renew the tenancy for 12 months or allow their tenants enough time to find somewhere else.
A temporary ‘home visiting officer’ position, which helped 73 applicants find temporary accommodation with friends and family, will become a permanent position, while officers have agreed with Northampton Partnership Homes that when council tenants are being evicted, the eviction will be postponed for eight weeks to enable the tenants to continue living in the property during the period in which the ‘relief’ duty applies.
The cabinet member responsible for housing and homelessness, Councillor Stephen Hibbert, said: “We have to move quickly on this, and that’s why we are suggesting these proposals. We will come back with a report in October on how all this has progressed.”
The submission for the extra £25million HRA borrowing will, however, have to be approved by full council at a later date.