Homeless families in Peterborough left waiting more than a year to receive a home

Residents of St Michael's Gate
Residents of St Michael's Gate

Homeless families in Peterborough have been living in temporary accommodation for more than a year as they wait to receive a home.

The city council has seen a 43 per cent increase in the number of households who are homeless or on the verge of losing their homes, rising from 1,109 in 2015/16 to 1,586 in the last financial year.

Council housing manager Sean Evans said at the end of August there were just over 300 households in Peterborough in temporary accommodation, compared to 97 this time two years ago.

He told the council’s Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee that rising rental costs, benefit changes - including the introduction of Universal Credit - and the so called ‘bedroom tax’ were major factors in this rise.

He said: “Local housing allowance paid to households is nowhere near covering what the rent is. Taxation changes to landlords means they can no longer claim tax relief on payments. Landlords are selling up.

“Landlords are very nervous around Universal Credit and not taking people on it.

“From speaking to landlords regularly, in some cases they are evicting tenants in receipt of benefits because they cannot afford the rents or there’s concern about upcoming Universal Credit payments and payments direct to tenants.

“They are protecting themselves from that position.”

Universal Credit sees the rolling of six benefits, including housing benefit, into one payment. However, the money is now being sent directly to tenants, whereas previously housing benefit would be sent to landlords.

On the spare bedroom subsidy, or bedroom tax as it is known, which sees tenants lose some of their housing benefit if they have a bedroom which is unoccupied, Mr Evans said: “The bedroom tax pushed people in three beds to two beds and we have more two beds than three beds. People in temporary accommodation are waiting over a year for a two bedroom house.”

Committee member Dave King said the year-long wait was “staggering.”

Last year the Peterborough Telegraph revealed that the council had spent £1 million on putting homeless families in Travelodges due to a shortage of temporary accommodation in the city.

The council then came under heavy criticism after it agree a deal to use more than 70 homes in the St Michael’s Gate estate in Parnwell as temporary accommodation after a private housing firm had evicted the existing tenants.

The authority said if it hadn’t taken up the properties, another council would have leased them for the same purpose.

Cllr Ed Murphy said: “You can’t calculate the misery it’s causing people. I do despair at you using B&Bs and hostels as temporary accommodation. I’ve worked in housing 25 years and this is the worst it’s been.”

The Labour group leader called on the council to borrow while interest rates are low to buy properties.

Mr Evans said the council is looking at securing new accommodation, which could include converting vacant units into properties. Two homelessness prevention officers are also being recruited.

He added: “We do not want to be in this position. We are in this job because we want to support people in a crisis in their lives. B&Bs are not suitable accommodation. It should be used in an emergency.”

The council is forecasting that by the end of this financial year there will still be a need for around 110 households to be accommodated in B&B.

It also believes that if there are no changes in current demand levels and the supply of available permanent accommodation this number will increase by between 90 and 100 households per year.

The committee on Tuesday agreed to set up a working group to develop a new draft Homelessness Reduction Strategy.