Falkirk Council takes emergency measures to cope with rising numbers of homeless people

Emergency changes have been made to help Falkirk Council cope with rising numbers of homeless people.

By Kirsty Paterson
Thursday, 21st October 2021, 1:27 pm
Emergency measures have been made to deal with the problem.
Emergency measures have been made to deal with the problem.

For the next three months at least, the percentage of council properties allocated to ‘home seekers’ – people who have been assessed as homeless – will increase from 45 per cent to 70 per cent.

At a meeting of Falkirk Council’s executive yesterday (Tuesday), senior housing official said that not doing this would mean the council would be forced to people into bed and breakfasts.

That would not only break government guidelines on suitable accommodation, it would also be very expensive.

Councillors were told that at the end of the first quarter of 2021/22 , more than 300 households had presented as homeless to Falkirk Council.

The rising numbers, along with delays caused by Covid, had caused a backlog that would take more than two years to get through.

Members heard that even before the pandemic, the council was already seeing an increasing number of households in temporary accommodation, at 34 per cent – far higher than the six per cent increase nationally.

Councillor Gary Bouse said he knew families who been bidding unsuccessfully for houses for a year but had had to go into privately let accommodation – and the high rents were forcing people into debt.

He said: “This was getting people off the street for which they were truly thankful but the unintended side-effect has been putting these people into significant debt as private lets are a lot more expensive.”

Councillors were told that there were many reasons for people to become homeless but the Falkirk area has high levels of domestic abuse, which is often a factor.

Others had lost their jobs due to medical conditions that meant they could no longer work, while several had been hit with the impact of the pandemic.

There are also people who have drug and alcohol issues, which can lead to relationships breaking down and homelessness.

Mr Bouse added: “My worry is that human beings mentioned could end up in bed and breakfast which I hope all members of this executive would agree would not be suitable for families and particularly vulnerable women.

“The temporary change to the allocations policy is essential and will give us the tools we need to help the citizens of Falkirk who are in the most need.”

Members of the Labour group, however, were concerned that the change would leave families in overcrowded accommodation with no hope of getting a move.

Councillor Allyson Black said: “I have regular and ongoing conversations with families who are living in difficult circumstances with no privacy and no space.

“I’m deeply concerned about the impact this will have on them without some sort of mitigation.”

They agreed, however, that emergency action had to be taken, but asked for it to be looked at again in three months.

In the longer term, the council is continuing to buy back former council houses to complement the new housebuilding going on.

This should see an increase of 1600 council homes over the next five years, although 8000 people are on the waiting list for a new council house.

They are also working with a contractor to speed up returning empty properties to the available stock.