Over the past few months First Housing has seen a significant increase in the numbers of young people and families approaching all of our services for support and assistance in relation to housing difficulties.
Our accommodation projects are being overwhelmed with people needing temporary accommodation.
As well as that, our floating support service for vulnerable adults and families are seeing an influx of people requiring housing advice as they are being evicted from their private rented properties because the landlord is having the property repossessed.
Looking at the reforms that are coming I predict more stress will be placed on families and, in turn, our services. As people find themselves in the situation where they will no longer be in a position to afford their current accommodation due to the changes in housing benefit rates, evictions will rise and more people will require access to temporary accommodation due to finding themselves homeless.
I am currently concerned about the number of young people approaching our Youth Accommodation Support Project as these numbers have increased by approximately 15 per cent since last year.
We have capacity to work with 75 young people at any given time but over the past few months this has increased to around 85 young people per month, with others on the waiting list for support. I believe that these figures may increase with the welfare reforms, as families will be more likely to suffer additional financial stress which can lead to strained relationships with the likelihood being that the young people will find themselves homeless.
Over the past few years we have been able to negotiate extended family placements for these young people, whilst mediating between the young person and their family to facilitate a move back home, rather than these young people entering formal care arrangements or seeking temporary accommodation within one of our young people specific projects, such as Frances St. or Jefferson Court.
But with many families facing a cut in their benefits I believe they will be less likely to take on what is essentially another mouth to feed. This will mean additional pressure will be placed on homeless services around the town and increased referrals made to social services.
These are challenging economic times where there is an increased risk of unemployment, which as a result will see more people depending on housing benefit to maintain their homes, it should be a safety net for people, to ensure that they do not become homeless.
I feel it is wrong to believe that these welfare reforms will achieve savings, as decreasing the support for people to access and maintain decent homes will have a considerable social and economic impact. If these reforms mean that decent homes become less accessible and sustainable to households, the reforms will actually contribute towards homelessness and housing problems which will in turn lead to increased public spending and additional pressure placed on statutory bodies and homelessness charities such as First Housing.
I also feel that the restriction placed on under 35s to a shared room rate of housing benefit will affect around 6000 people throughout the North with reductions in their benefit ranging from £20 – 40 per week. First Housing believe this will undoubtedly lead to an increase in homeless numbers as people will no longer be in a position to afford to pay their rent, this measure will also put pressure on the HMO sector, as more people will have little choice but to choose this type of accommodation.
Reducing the amount of housing benefit paid to someone by 10% if they remain on JSA for over a year stikes me as a very punitive measure that will do nothing to assist people in finding employment, but rather will punish people who may have lost their job due to the recession and are struggling to find alternative work in an economic climate that remains challenging.
Overall I believe that a ‘One size fits all’ approach is naïve, there are a number of issues that we believe still require clarity and the effects that these changes will have on already vulnerable people need to be examined as I have no doubt that Derry will see an increase in the number of homeless presenting to the housing executive and voluntary bodies such as First Housing over the next year, which will add to pressure on a housing sector that is already in crisis.