'˜Accept that your government is responsible' - Council leader fires back at Peterborough MP over £1m hotel bill for homeless families

Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson has been told by the city council leader to accept that the Government is to blame for a £1 million hotel bill for homeless families.

Tuesday, 27th September 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 2:33 pm
Travelodge, New Road, Peterborough EMN-160921-151459009

Councillor John Holdich has sided with the council’s officers in blaming the Government for the large rise in people needing temporary accommodation in one of the city’s three Travelodges.

The council blames the Conservative Government’s introduction of Universal Credit (merging benefits into one payment) and changes to the way landlords are taxed for the “unprecedented spike” in homelessness since April.

But Mr Jackson, North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara and the Government have instead blamed the council for failing to manage the situation.

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Cllr Holdich is now calling on the Government to change its policy, and he claims that the spare room subsidy (also known as the bedroom tax) is causing a backlog in filling social housing.

The Conservative leader of Peterborough City Council said: “One of these days our MP will accept some responsibility for the actions of his government which led to unintended consequences.

“I’m a landlord as well, and my officers in my view are 100 per cent right on this.

“And currently, because of the unintended consequences of the bedroom tax or spare room tax, we have 1,600 people on a waiting list for two bedroom properties.

“We can’t put them in three bedroom properties because they can’t afford to pay the additional benefit for the spare room.”

Cllr Holdich, who declared that the council will build more homes after setting up a housing company, said being in his position he would accept tenants on housing benefit in his rental properties.

This is despite the introduction of Universal Credit which means housing benefit is now paid to the tenant instead of directly to the landlord.

The council says this is causing some landlords to not take on people on housing benefit because they were “nervous” they would not get the rent.

Cllr Holdich said he could understand the “nervousness” among landlords who need to pay the mortgage on their properties.

Calling for a government U-turn, he added: “It think it will help if they were to reverse their policy on paying their rent directly to landlords.”

The council has predicted it will overspend by £1.8 million this financial year, with £1.2 million of that due to supporting people in temporary accommodation.

The authority has run out of hostel beds and B&B rooms to house people. However, the number of people presenting themselves as homeless has risen from an average of 60 to 90 in 2012 to 150 last month.

The Government has already hit back at the council for having to house people at a Travelodge. A spokesman said: ”There are many reasons for homelessness and to suggest that it is due to welfare reforms is wholly misleading.

“Councils have a responsibility to house families in settled accommodation as quickly as possible, which is why we have given them the tools to achieve this.”

Mr Jackson said Universal Credit will help get claimants into good quality work and that it would have teething problems, adding that the council needs to work harder to deliver more affordable homes for working people.

Mr Vara, a former minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, said he was not convinced that landlords were not taking on people in receipt of housing benefit.