Tonight’s Scrutiny Committee revealed that Swale’s housing crisis is growing and that changes to benefits, like the benefit cap and bedroom tax are adding to rather than tackling the problem.
Cllr. Mike Haywood raised a number of issues at the meeting.
Homelessness is increasing at a worrying rate. There are now 75 families in temporary accommodation in Swale 25 of whom are in Bed & Breakfast. And because Swale lacks the properties, a number of local families have been placed in B&B in the Medway Towns and Canterbury. Those families in temporary accommodation can expect to be there for at least two years.
Meanwhile of the 857 famiiles affected by the bedroom tax (the so-call spare room subsidy) 400 have applied for a discretionary housing payment – which means they are in genuine need and qualify for the extra help. However, the DHP is like applying a sticking plaster to a deep wound. It won’t last. Astonishingly, of the 400 who have applied for DHP 220 have been successful. This rather defeats the object of the exercise. More information is unavailable at present despite the best efforts of Swale Council’s benefits team because the government failed to provide them with the specific criteria they needed to update their software in time.
And of those who are affected by the bedroom tax hardly anyone has been able to transfer out or downsize to smaller accommodation with fewer bedrooms because there are not the properties available which are provided by housing associations. Again, more specific information is unavailable because the software can’t keep up with the changes.
This begs the question: just what is available to rent? Swale has for many years has had 7,000 social homes – a mixture of housing and flats. However, we are now at a point for the first time ever in the borough where there are probably more people in private rented accommodation than social housing – and that’s a trend that’s set to continue as more and more people are unable to get onto the property ladder.
The only ‘silver lining’ exists in the fact that, so far, Swale hasn’t been inundated by families moving from London. However, this is only because the private rental market is saturated with local families trying to be housed.