Annual cost of emergency housing for Lewisham homeless soars to £4m

Pic: Mattha Busby

Pic: Mattha Busby

The cost of housing homeless people in Lewisham has increased eightfold since 2011 to almost £4 million, now amounting to 2.5 per cent of all Lewisham Council’s outgoings.

The net cost of Nightly Paid Accommodation in 2015-16 was £3.9 million, up from £574,000 in 2011-2012,  out of an overall budget of £160 million – despite a slight fall in overall numbers in the accomodation.

“Supply [of housing] has decreased significantly whilst demand has increased,” Genevieve Macklin, Head of Strategic Housing for Lewisham Council, told Lewisham housing committee.

House prices in Lewisham are growing at a rate of 18.7 per cent against the London average of 4.6 per cent and show no sign of abating.

“Available affordable lets are down 40 per cent and the number of households in temporary accommodation is up by 91 per cent,” Macklin said, which represents a rise from 924 to 1768.

The combination of these factors means that the cost per homeless person for Lewisham Council has increased, as they are having to rely on the private rented sector to supply temporary accommodation.

With the median household income only just above the estimated income required to afford a living rent, the private rented sector in Lewisham is increasingly unaffordable, fuelling the demand for temporary accommodation – while fewer affordable homes are available as home building fails to keep pace with population increases.

Over 200 households in Lewisham remain in critical need of housing as a result of being ‘unintentionally homeless’.

Although local authority house building is at an all time low, numbers in Nightly Paid Accommodation have fallen steadily – from 569 in June to 509 in September.

This is due to Lewisham Council’s new initiatives, such as the conversion of a former care home Hamilton Lodge in Forest Hill to house 74 temporary beds and the new pop-up shipping container housing units in Ladywell.

Steve Bullock. Pic: WAVES Lewisham

Sir Steve Bullock. Pic: WAVES Lewisham

Mayor Sir Steve Bullock said that Hamilton Lodge “shows how the council is looking at new and innovative ways to help those in need stay within the local community at a time when the demand and cost of housing in the borough has never been higher.”

“It helps to tackle the problem,” he said. “But I acknowledge that we still need tens of thousands of new homes in London.”

46 per cent of all homes were state-built in 1980 but this has plummeted to less than 10 per cent today. With greater budgetary constraints than ever, local authorities must look at new ways to make up the gap.

In a statement, the council said they are “working to tackle homelessness by committing to build 2,000 new affordable homes by 2018, of which 500 will be council homes – the first to be built in a generation.”

According to Macklin however, if you’re on benefits you’re getting squeezed more and more. “With the reduction in the total cap it’s taking more and more and more of your benefit to be able to afford what the Local Housing Allowance rate is,” she said.

This private sector version of housing benefit is scheduled to rise to 68 per cent of total benefits when the new lower cap comes in, meaning homeless people will be worse off.

Outside Lewisham, 424 households are housed in temporary accommodation, mainly in Croydon and Greenwich, although some are housed further away in Bromley and Bexley.

The Government are aware of the increasing problem. Bill Blackburn MP’s Homelessness Reduction Bill is at the committee stage which means it is highly likely to become law.

This would require Lewisham’s Housing Needs Service to increase by at least 2,200 cases per year as it would expand local authorities’ statutory obligation to provide nightly accommodation.

The demand for emergency accommodation across London is at an unprecedented postwar high, with Lewisham receiving approximately 1,200 applications a year from homeless families and up to 750 being housed. They are increasingly using nightly paid accommodation as temporary accommodation at a greater cost to the taxpayer.

In total there are over 500 households in bed and breakfast accommodation and 1,700 in temporary accommodation.

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