By Jodie Nesling
A staggering 4,149 calls to Thanet District Council’s homelessness support line have been made since April, The Isle of Thanet News can reveal.
It comes as fresh homelessness applications to the authority for the same period reached a shocking 775 – which mirrors a national surge in figures.
Covid-19 redundancies and implications around self-isolating are key factors surrounding the alarming spike even though since then 220 applicants have been successfully rehomed.
People who’ve found themselves in an insecure situation, such as staying with friends or extended family, have also been significantly impacted, with 60% of those surveyed saying they had seen a rise in people sofa surfing needing help.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “The pandemic has made it abundantly clear just how important it is that everyone has somewhere safe to call home. We’ve made tremendous strides in the response to this public health emergency, with councils and organisations moving thousands of people living on our streets, in night shelters, and overcrowded hostels into hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation in record time. But as our research shows we still have some way to go before the job is done.
Despite a last-minute decision by the Government to extend a law which protects renters from eviction until September, 20 kworkplace redundancies have still contributed to the rise in figures.
In Thanet businesses including Dreamland, Costa, Your Leisure and Genting Casino have all suffered job losses or are currently holding staff consultations. Universal credit applicants have also increased.
In July the Thanet council published its Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy According to the report the loss of a private rented tenancy is the biggest reason for homelessness in Thanet with landlords able to select tenants that can afford higher rents and have access to rent-in-advance, deposits and guarantors.
Thanet property costs, both rental and mortgage, are rising due to a lack of supply and the high rate of second homes on the isle. Many families on universal credit/ housing benefit and/or low wages are struggling to top up rents not covered by the set amount of housing allowance.
The report says: “For those on low incomes, the housing options are scarce with a reliance on social housing for rent. New ‘affordable rent’ at up to 80% of market rents is increasingly affordable to those on low incomes and the council’s Tenancy Strategy limits ‘affordable rents’ for new build homes to the relevant Local Housing Allowance rate to assist with this.
“There is also a growing ‘affordability gap’ where middle income households are being squeezed out of the market; with limited housing options for low cost home ownership or the private rented sector.
“The difficulties in accessing home ownership and the increasing cost of rental accommodation, is resulting in more employed households making approaches to the council.”
According to figures in the report there are 19,471 households – 29% of the Thanet population – on a low income, defined as less than £15,988 per annum.
There are currently 1,946 households on the council’s housing register and 33 properties in Thanet District Council stock empty.
The number of properties in Thanet that have been empty for more than six months (i.e. classed as long term empty properties) is 1,273 which is an increase
A Thanet council spokesman confirmed: “We have been working to lower the number of long term empty homes in Thanet since 2004, when the first Empty Property Officer was appointed.
“Since 2005, we’ve worked in close partnership with Kent County Council’s No Use Empty initiative and as result have helped to bring 1,685 empty homes back into use.”
The number of households in temporary accommodation has reduced from 188 in April 2018 to 60 at the end of June 2020.
A national ban on evictions due to the pandemic has helped reduce the need for temporary accommodation but with this ending on September 20 the council says there is a significant risk of a spike in the number of applications as cases work through the courts.
A survey by Shelter recently revealed that as many as 230,000 UK tenants have fallen into rent arrears as a result of the pandemic.