Harrogate council says bedroom tax may help homeless

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THE Government’s controversial “bedroom tax” has highlighted social housing in affluent Harrogate that is ‘under-occupied’ and could be used to deal with the increasing problem of homelessness, council bosses have said.

Opponents have claimed the “bedroom tax” will make people poorer. But a report to be considered by councillors in Harrogate says encouraging people to move to smaller homes could free them up for larger families and they could be used to help the growing number of rough sleepers - sometimes sent to B&Bs or to Leeds as there is not enough temporary accommodation in the district.

Councillors are being asked to back plans to set up an £18,000 hardship fund to help those wishing to downsize because they cannot afford to live in their current properties following the introduction of the so-called tax – actually a cut in housing benefit for anyone who has a spare room.

A report to be considered by members of Harrogate Council’s cabinet member (housing) committee when it meets next Wednesday says: “There is high demand for larger general purpose properties in the Harrogate District, both from high priority people on the waiting list and from homeless applicants currently in temporary accommodation.

“There is therefore a need to encourage existing tenants to downsize to release more larger properties for priority waiting list applicants.

“Freeing up larger properties is likely to result in a savings elsewhere in the housing budgets that will be in excess of the £18,000 proposed in this report.

“For instance with the recent increase in homelessness the council has had to again place some homeless families in temporary accommodation in Leeds or in bed and breakfast accommodation. The cost of placing homeless people in Leeds is currently either £12.34 per night or £19.34 dependent on whether the accommodation is self-contained. The cost of the use of bed and breakfast to the council is £31.23 per night.”

Harrogate Council says average times in temporary accommodation for homeless applicants on the housing waiting list have increased from 29.84 weeks in 2011/12 to 38.34 weeks in 2012/13.

Earlier this month the Yorkshire Post revealed how homelessness is on the rise among Yorkshire’s middle classes as the unrelenting economic crisis creates an underbelly of rough sleeping in some of the region’s most affluent areas.

High property prices, booming rental markets and the stigma of housing benefit in areas such as Harrogate and York have led to a “real possibility” that residents who fall on hard times may end up on the streets, charities have warned.

Andy Kirk, leader of the Harrogate Homeless Project’s No Second Night Out scheme, which provides emergency shelter to those at risk, told the Yorkshire Post “shocking” number of people were coming through the doors of its hostel.

“We, of course, have a lot of people with issues historically associated with homelessness such as drug and alcohol dependency. But there is a real shift from this group to people who have found themselves homeless following relationship breakdowns, redundancy or being asked to leave by family and friends – basically through no fault of their own,” he said.

Currently the report says there are around 300 council tenants of working age and 700 elderly tenants who get housing benefit. Of the 300 working age tenants, 241 of them are likely to loose 14 per cent of their benefits as they have one spare bedroom, while 59 are set to loose a quarter as they have two spare bedrooms.

Councillors will be told that often tenants cannot afford all, or part of the cost of moving and says the £18,000 would help cover the costs.

However, in Yorkshire scores of charities are reporting soaring levels of debt and homelessness as the welfare cuts hit home.