Hastings housing service under pressure, councillors warn

Stock photo. Shutterstock PPP-180903-110706001
Stock photo. Shutterstock PPP-180903-110706001

Hastings councillors have warned of pressure on the town’s housing services due to high numbers of homeless people seeking help in recent months.

Members discussed the issue during a meeting of Hastings Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (September 4).

Discussion centred around a report on the council’s performance during the first quarter of the financial year, which showed it had missed several key performance indicators related to homelessness and housing benefit claims.

The missed targets included an increase in the number of people being placed into emergency temporary accommodation. The council had aimed to use temporary accommodation in less than half of its homelessness cases, but instead recorded a figure of 66.1 per cent.

Simon Hubbard, the council’s director of operational services, said: “Quite simply not only has the demand on services increased but the number of people presenting complex needs has [also] increased.

“That has resulted in additional demand and more people being put into emergency accommodation.  Nobody likes doing that, when that is an avoidable situation.”

Councillors also spoke of the pressures on housing services, with committee chairman Trevor Webb (Lab. – Central St Leonards) saying he felt the situation was the worst during his 20 years as a councillor.

Cllr Webb said: “At least twice a week we are meeting people who are talking about emergency accommodation.

“We might have had a situation that was worse 20 years ago but then we had places to put people – more social housing and more rented accommodations.

“I think now it is possibly the worst I have ever seen.”

The council was also reported to have missed targets related to the processing of new and amended housing benefit changes.

According to the report, new housing benefit claims were taking almost 18 days to process on average rather than the 15 days set as a target. Amending claims meanwhile took almost seven days on average, rather than the target figure of five days.

Officers said this was in part due to the higher demand on homelessness services, as well as the new legal duty to provide anyone living in temporary accommodation with housing benefits.

The report also showed there had been a 43 per cent increase in the number of new claims received compared to the same period last year – with the average of number of claims per month increasing from 42 to 60.

However the council also far exceeded its homelessness prevention target during the first quarter – preventing people from becoming homeless in 218 cases rather than the 75 it had originally set.

The pressure on the service is expected to have a significant financial impact, with the council estimating a year-end overspend of up to £97,000 on its homelessness services should demand remain at current levels.

Earlier this year the government announced plans to award Hastings Borough Council and Eastbourne Borough Council extra funding to reduce rough sleeping.

The project – which has received £664,000 – will include new accommodation and other support which is expected to alleviate pressure on existing services.