In October, temporary changes were made to the council’s allocation policy, so that 70 per cent of all council homes currently go to people who are homeless, an increase from the usual 45 per cent. But the problem shows no signs of getting any better – and there are now fears that with the cost of living crisis, more people will find themselves in rent arrears or unable to make mortgage payments.
Members of Falkirk Council’s executive were asked on Tuesday to keep the changes to allocations for at least the next three months. It means that council tenants looking to move – or get a council house for the first time – are unlikely to be given a place.
But councillors were told it was vital to help the area’s most vulnerable applicants.
Around 44 per cent of home seekers are fleeing domestic abuse, while half of them have a mental health condition and nearly 40 per cent a disability, a report to the executive revealed.
It also showed that before the Covid-19 outbreak there were, on average, 308 people who are classed as homeless looking for housing. However, that figure has more than doubled and there are now 754 urgent applications.
While 131 of those are currently being offered social housing, that still leaves 623 without an offer.
As a result of the change to the allocations policy, agreed in October, the council’s housing team was able to house an extra 62 home seekers.
There is still an unprecedented number of applicants in temporary accommodation, with time spent in it currently averaging around 144 days – an increase from 107 in pre-pandemic days.
As Falkirk Council has a legal obligation to house homeless people, it often has to resort to using bed and breakfast accommodation, which is not only unsuitable but also very expensive.
Housing manager Kenny Gillespie said: “Despite our efforts, we have not made sufficient progress in housing homeless applicants and we have concerns around future demands. We are also aware of rent arrears and an increase to the private rented sector and mortgage payments, which has all to do with the cost of living, fuel, food and other factors.
“This will result in additional homeless presentation and further demands on Falkirk housing.”
Councillor Gordon Hughes said: “This report shows that although there has been an increase in concentrating on those who experiencing the greatest housing need, the challenge facing housing is still formidable.”
His SNP colleague Gary Bouse urged members to continue with the allocations policy, reminding them that home seekers were “the most in need” and that cost pressures would affect more and more families in months to come.
Labour group leader Robert Bissett asked what measures were being made to tackle the number of voids – empty properties that need work before they can be re-let. He was told there are currently 250 voids, but the council is “making headway” getting this number down, although there are still issues with getting trades people.
The council is also continuing to buy back former council houses.