West Suffolk councils to recruit extra staff to prevent and deal with homelessness

West Suffolk House
West Suffolk House

Councils in west Suffolk are to recruit extra staff to prevent and deal with homelessness in response to rising numbers as well as major changes to legislation and benefits.

St Edmundsbury borough and Forest Heath district councils plan to take on 6.8 full-time equivalent posts in their housing options and homelessness team.

A council spokesman said authorities across the country are employing more staff in response to the Homelessness Reduction Act which comes into force early next year.

It brings a number of changes, which includes requiring councils to start assessing someone at risk of being made homeless 56 days before losing their home instead of the 28 required currently.

The extra staff are needed to offer advice and prevention, landlord liaison, help with debt and money management as well as finding accommodation.

The increase in staff has been approved by Forest Heath’s cabinet and the plans will go before St Edmundsbury’s cabinet on Wednesday, May 31.

According to papers presented to the cabinet, the number of people accepted as homeless in west Suffolk increased from 328 in 2015 to 346 in 2016. There was also an increase in reported rough sleepers from 11 in 2015 to 21 in 2016. There have been 10 so far this year as of March.

Nationally the number of those accepted as homeless in the past year has increased by 10 per cent with a 30 per cent rise in rough sleeping.

The councils are also bracing themselves to deal with the impact of the universal credit benefit, which will be rolled out to all new claimants in St Edmundsbury from October 2017 and in Forest Heath from November 2018.

The report to cabinet cites national studies which show average arrears have increased to £615 for tenants on universal credit, primarily due to a six week wait for the first payment.

The cost of the extra staff is £230,354, which will be funded through the Government’s flexible homelessness support grant.

The council spokesman added: “Recognising some of the changes and challenges ahead, we know that we must grow our housing options and homelessness team so that we are best placed to continue to help people.”