Homelessness crisis worsens as cost of temporary accommodation doubles
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
Conwy’s bill for placing homeless people in temporary accommodation has doubled in the last year.
Now there are calls for a change in the way homelessness is dealt with, both in terms of national policies and at council level.
Conwy currently has the fourth-highest number of people living in temporary accommodation in Wales and 1,643 waiting on the housing register.
A freedom of information request has also revealed Conwy spent £2.5m last year alone providing temporary accommodation to the homeless, a figure which doubled from the previous year’s £1.2m.
The council also says it has 547 people, or 285 households, in all forms of temporary accommodation, including 144 households in emergency accommodation.
All local authorities are required to find suitable long-term accommodation for anyone in temporary housing.
Aberconwy MS Janet Finch-Saunders said the problem is out of control, claiming many families were living in unsuitable bed and breakfast type accommodation for long periods.
“Temporary accommodation is supposed to be for eight weeks,” said Mrs Finch-Saunders.
“Do you know I have people coming to see me with children, with families, who have been in hotel rooms for months with no sign of them going into a house?
“In Conwy, the temporary accommodation spend has gone from £1.2m one year ago to £2.5m. The big issue here is children living in temporary accommodation don’t do well at school.
“They suffer from mental anxiety. I have people coming in who can’t get a mortgage. A lot of temporary accommodation sounds like you are in a nice house somewhere. Temporary accommodation can be a one-room flat with a family in it. It is a scandal in every sense of the word.”
Despite the claims, Conwy County Council revealed most people living in temporary accommodation were single people under 35.
A council spokeswoman commented: “We understand that Conwy currently has the fourth-highest number of households in temporary accommodation in the whole of Wales.
“This is largely due to a mismatch between demand and supply, i.e., we have 72% of single households with a lack of appropriately sized, affordable accommodation in the rented sector.
“Many of the single households are under the age of 35, which means that if they are on low incomes their Local Housing Allowance is not enough to meet the full cost of their rent leaving them with a significant weekly top-up. With the rising cost of living, plus the shortfall, it will mean that the private rented sector will become more unaffordable for this group of people.”
Conwy, like many authorities, is struggling to build enough affordable homes. In an economy reliant on the care sector and tourism, many jobs are low paid, yet the area is a popular holiday and retirement destination. This means younger people struggle to compete in the housing market.
And second homes are also a problem.
In December councillors voted to revoke an earlier decision to charge second home-owners a premium of 50% council tax on second homes; instead, they will pay just 25% extra.
Councillors feared losing money because of a Welsh Government loophole that has allowed second home-owners to convert their homes to holiday homes. When this happens, the holiday home business rates are then paid directly to Welsh Government, meaning local authorities lose council tax and get nothing.
Consequently, councils are reluctant to up council tax premiums on second homes for fear of losing more money, which means more second homes standing empty.
Speaking on behalf of Plaid Cymru, Llanrwst councillor Aaron Wynne said a new approach is needed.
“There’s an eye-watering 1,000 long-term empty properties in the county of Conwy, a ridiculously high number,” he said.
“Conwy has 891 households in housing need registered for social housing, with one in ten waiting three years or longer. We clearly need a new, bold and ambitious plan to make homes accessible to locals.
“I want to see the council, the Welsh government and Registered Social Landlords work with owners of long-term empty properties to bring these homes back into use, and add them into the social rented stock.
“This would be a huge undertaking, but as the building of social rented housing has stagnated for the last 20 years or so, we need to reinvent the way we add homes to the social rented stock, as demand continues to spike.
“Returning these long-term empty properties back into use would help relax the housing crisis in Conwy, without the need to build hundreds of expensive, out-of-reach homes on our precious green land.”
But Janet Finch-Saunders – who is herself a private landlord – agreed something needs to be done but instead blamed existing policies for driving private landlords into the holiday-home sector.
“The big argument I’m having with Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru at the moment is they are trying to go into coalition now with Labour,” she said.
“They want to start going after private landlords. Well, I know for a fact – you only need to call letting agencies up – people are moving from private landlords into the holiday let sector because they just feel they are under the cosh all the time.”
The MS said money paying for temporary housing would be better spent on housing.
“Four hundred and fifty private landlords have gone from Wales in the last year alone. Keep that up and you won’t have houses. Your (councils’) temporary accommodation budget will go up even more,” she said.
“Plaid Cymru don’t believe anybody should have a second home or a holiday home or that they should come and stay in holiday homes in Llandudno. It is a big political issue now. I’m trying to say to them, ‘with all the money you spend on temporary accommodation, you are better working with home providers and building housing’. The big problem is we’ve got a shortage of houses.”
She added: “Why haven’t we got people living in these houses, with some incentive for the people who own these houses to rent them out? You might need a new kitchen or a new bathroom, so why don’t the council get on to an initiative to support them so that will be one family who won’t be left in temporary accommodation?
“The problem they’ve got here now is they’ve dropped the priority need. So anyone can come here from Manchester, turn up at the council offices on a Friday afternoon, and they will be found emergency, temporary accommodation in a B and B. They can be there then for six months. So we are paying. The Travelodge is taking people in.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We want everyone to have access to a good quality, affordable and settled home.
“Our Programme for Government sets out a clear commitment to fundamentally reform homelessness services to ensure the focus is on prevention and rapid re-housing.
“Our approach during the pandemic to support people experiencing homelessness into temporary accommodation has helped more than 17,000 people and radically reduced the number of people sleeping rough.
“Our focus now is to support local authorities and partners to support those in temporary accommodation into long-term and stable homes through our rapid rehousing approach.
“Our draft budget provides an investment of more than £190m into homelessness prevention and housing support, and a record £310m for social housing – all of which support our ambition to end homelessness by making it rare, brief and unrepeated.
“We are focused on a prevention first approach, as outlined in our recently published Ending Homelessness Action Plan.”
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