By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Esson
The number of households in emergency accommodation in Thanet has almost doubled in the past year – and is “likely to get worse” according to a homelessness charity.
A staggering 542 individuals or families were placed in emergency accommodation in 2021/22, up from 273 the previous financial year.
Figures also show that currently more than 200 households in the district are in temporary accommodation – meaning they would likely be homeless otherwise.
Thanet District Council has more than 600 active ‘homelessness cases’, which includes those who are currently homeless, at risk of homelessness and being supported by rough sleeping services, or awaiting a council decision on whether to house them.
This comes after Kent County Council announced plans to axe its £5 million Homelessness Connect service in 2024.
The decision was branded “devastating” by local homelessness charity Porchlight, which is part of the Kent Homelessness Connect scheme.
TDC recently projected an overspend of £880,000 just on temporary accommodation needs, on top of an additional £400,000 this financial year allocated to deal with homelessness and fund related services.
In early October the local authority was awarded £3.8 million from the government to help rough sleepers over the next three years.
Currently 51 units of accommodation are provided by Kent Homelessness Connect in Thanet, but could be lost as the scheme ends.
A TDC spokesperson said: “We have managed to secure interim funding to keep these services running until March 2024, however after that period they are at risk.
“The loss of these bed spaces will lead to increased demand for the council’s statutory homelessness service.”
A spokesman for Porchlight – Kent’s largest homelessness charity – said: “It’s a perfect storm of issues that is likely to get worse over the coming months.”
A spokesperson for the charity added: “The cost-of-living crisis is pushing households on low incomes into homelessness.
“It’s not an issue that’s specific to Thanet – we hear from people across Kent who are struggling to afford the cost of housing, bills and food and are terrified of losing their home.
“Many landlords are selling their properties or converting them to Airbnbs, leaving renters with nowhere to go.”
The local authority concurs, saying that landlords serving section 21 eviction notices are one of a number of reasons for the increase.
Better known as no-fault evictions, Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 allows landlords to turf out tenants at short notice without establishing any fault on their part.
The government committed in the 2022 Queen’s Speech to develop a ‘renters reform bill’ to ban such evictions.
Both the local authority and charity agree they can’t fight the surge in homelessness alone, and that more support is needed from central government.
Cllr Jill Bayford (Con), Thanet District Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We will be lobbying the government to express our concerns around the demand for affordable housing in the district, and to ensure we have the powers and resources to be able to deliver what is needed.”
Thanet shadow member for housing, Cllr Helen Whitehead (Lab), added: “Temporary accommodation, and the lack of it, has been a constant issue here for years, due to consistent underfunding of council housing by central government.
“Our administration began our first in-house temporary housing, to try and ensure that families remained in area, in high quality accommodation and, although Foy House will be opening soon, it is only the very beginning of what is needed.
“I brought a Councillor Call for Action specifically to discuss this issue and our growing homelessness figures, and require the presence of central government representatives to address this. We were not even permitted to debate it at Overview and Scrutiny, because actually requiring people in positions of power to see directly what is happening here and to be questioned by our council was rejected in favour of writing yet another letter to central government, when they are simply not listening.
“I have written to central government, as Deputy Leader, and as Acting Leader, to explain that we are facing a housing crisis here, and that we desperately need more funding. I know that Councillor Jill Bayford has done the same, and central government is still not recognising that we desperately need funding to create genuinely affordable housing.
“Housing do an excellent job, under extraordinary stresses; but continual cuts in funding, at county and at district level, make their roles even more challenging, and residents lives so much harder.
“We cannot keep writing letters. Central government has to recognise the damage that is being done to our community, and the scale of funding required to even begin to remedy that damage.”
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council placed 143 households in temporary accommodation in 2021/22, down from 235 the previous year.
Dover, however, also saw an increase, with the council placing 451 households in emergency accommodation, up from 347 the previous year.