Friday, 28 August 2015

Charity warns ending homelessness prevention work will hit social services

Bristol mayor seeks to raid homelessness fund

A west country council is considering axing its own internal homelessness prevention budget next financial year in a bid to save cash.

Bristol Council is consulting on a plan to axe a £200,000 pot for homlessness prevention it uses to provide rent deposits and rent-in-advance loans.

The council received £1.3 million grant intended to prevent homelessness for the current financial year and has been allocated a further £1.1 million for the next. It has spent the 2012/13 grant, which is not ring-fenced, on services around homelessness prevention, and set up a smaller £200,000 pot to pay specifically for homelessness prevention services.

Under proposals tabled by newly elected mayor George Ferguson, the council would scrap its own internal prevention pot. The mayor has tabled the plan as part of an attempt to slash £35 million from the council’s £365 million overall budget for 2013/14.

Umbrella organisation Homeless Link warned the move would lead to a rise in homelessness applications and use of bed and breakfast accommodation. It also said pressure on social services would increase as homeless families and vulnerable people would find it hard to access private rented sector accommodation.

The organisation stated: ‘Investment in prevention services produces direct cost savings for local authorities, for example, through lower use of temporary accommodation and fewer social services interventions.’ (See box: The cost effectiveness of homelessness prevention).

The council, which has a housing waiting list of 17,000, has helped 4,000 people requiring homelessness assistance and advice in 2012/13, a 25 per cent increase on 2011/12.

Although the cut is not a done deal, because a cross-party working group set up by Mr Ferguson to look at the budget proposals has recommended the plan to scrap the prevention fund is not implemented.

The group calculated the cost of preventing someone from becoming homeless was £1,700 compared with the £5,300 cost of dealing with someone after they become homeless. The latter figure was based on research from Heriot-Watt University.

A spokesperson for Bristol Council said the Heriot-Watt research indicated the average cost of running a deposit bond scheme, where the council lends money for a rent deposit, was 37 times cheaper than the average cost of dealing with a statutory homelessness case.

He said the group considered using the prevention grant as ‘a cost-effective preventative measure’.

A final decision on the budget will be made at a full council meeting on 26 February.

The cost effectiveness of homelessness prevention

An advice note from Communities and Local Government department, Demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of preventing homelessness, published in 2010, outlines the cost savings of preventing homelessness:

  • The cost of mediation - for example, resolving family disputes to avoid someone becoming homeless - is nine times less expensive than finding someone new accommodation
  • Advice on housing options, such as how to solve benefit problems or helping people to manage their finances, is also estimated at around nine times less expensive than finding someone new accommodation
  • The costs of a rent deposit scheme are estimated to be eight-and-a-half times less than the costs of providing accommodation under the main homelessness duty.

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