There has been some understandable comment in the press recently about the increase in the number of people registered as homeless in Elmbridge and the proportion of those who are currently in temporary accommodation outside the borough. I would like to use this post to set the record striaght and to underline my commitment to resolving the current difficulties.
The increase is caused by a number of factors. Firstly, there is the current economic climate. People are not being awarded inflation-matching pay increases. Some employers are laying people off and others have gone into liquidation. In the meantime, rents in the private sector have increased as fewer people are prepared to buy a house in a time of uncertainty. Next, the Government has reduced the maximum amount of housing benefit payable to each claimant. There is public support for this, as it is not seen as fair that someone who is dependant on benefits should be entitled to occupy a large house which would be beyond the means of a hardworking but low paid family.
Thirdly, there is the availability of affordable housing in this borough. We simply do not have enough homes available to meet the demand. We can house about 300 families in any given year, whilst at present we have about 2000 households on our waiting list. Elmbridge Borough Council does not own any residential property. All its stock was transferred in 2000 to Elmbridge Housing Trust, now part of the Paragon Group. EHT is our most important partner in providing affordable housing. Regrettably they have been let down in recent months by their repairing contractor and as a result a number of properties are vacant but presently not in a fit state to be re-let. They have terminated that contractor’s retainer and have secured alternative repairs provision. We hope that this will result in a number of properties becoming available soon and that this will ease the present bottleneck.
The Council is fully committed to reducing the number of homeless households in the borough. Elmbridge is a desirable place to live and as a result there is stiff competition for housing. Nevertheless over the
past 2 years 265 new, high quality affordable homes have been built in the borough. The Council also assists first time buyers onto the housing ladder under its home ownership scheme in partnership with Catalyst. We
have launched our “Perfect Fit” scheme which provides financial incentives to assist tenants who are under occupying their properties to downsize, freeing up valuable resources for those who are waiting for housing. We have also injected £180,000 into a scheme to bring empty homes back into use. As Cabinet member for housing, encouraging the provision of more affordable housing in the borough is my number 1 priority, particularly in these difficult times.
It will be cold comfort to those currently in temporary accommodation to know that this is a common problem across the South East, particularly in boroughs adjoining Greater London. But I can assure them that the Elmbridge housing team are working flat out to alleviate the present difficulties.