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St Edmundsbury: Council spends £215,000 on bed and breakfasts for the homeless

PUBLISHED: 10:05 27 January 2014 | UPDATED: 10:05 27 January 2014

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Temporary bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless people in west Suffolk is set to cost taxpayers almost a quarter of a million pounds.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council anticipates spending £215,000 on putting people accepted as homeless into B&Bs this financial year - more than six times the council’s £35,000 outlay two years ago.

The spending comes amid growing pressure on the council’s social housing system, with reliance on B&Bs - traditionally seen as a last resort - and other temporary accommodation on the rise.

Homeless charities have called on councils to do more to prevent people ending up in B&Bs, while councillor Frank Warby thinks St Edmundsbury should spend the money on better solutions.

He said: “We’d be better off spending that on buying houses for people to live in rather than wasting it on bed and breakfasts.

“They’re only there for six weeks, and then they move on. It’s an awful waste of money.”

St Edmundsbury spent £146,000 on B&Bs last year, with local and national organisations blaming the rising numbers of homeless people on changes to the welfare system.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the EADT found the number of households in temporary and either shared or bed and breakfast accommodation increased dramatically after the second half of 2012.

Anne Gower, the council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We have a duty to find accommodation for homeless people. Bed and breakfast is the most expensive solution of the range of options that we use.

“Since last summer, we’ve managed to reduce the number of people in B&Bs from 28 to eight.”

Councils are only allowed to place homeless families or pregnant women in B&Bs for up to six weeks.

Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Our welfare system must be fair, but these figures show that cuts to our housing safety net are simply a false economy, leaving more families stuck in emergency accommodation like bed and breakfasts while the cost to the public purse soars.

“The only way to bring down these costs is to protect the safety net that stops more of us spiralling down into homelessness, and to build the affordable homes we desperately need.”

Last month the EADT revealed that homelessness applications to the council had quadrupled since 2010, and that only a handful of one-bedroom houses are assigned every fortnight as around 750 people wait for such accommodation.

Mr Warby, who sits on a council panel looking at solutions for homelessness, also criticised the cost of private renting in Bury St Edmunds.

“A two-bedroom house in Etna Road is £1,200 a month,” he said at a meeting on Wednesday.

“How do they expect young people working, with the average wage in Bury, to be able to afford that? You might as well get a mortgage.

“I think we need to look at that before telling people ‘get yourself on the private housing list’.”

Liz Watts, one of two directors for the West Suffolk partnership between St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath, said the council is examining cheaper alternatives.

She said: “At the moment, if we can’t find temporary accommodation for them, we need to place them in bed and breakfast.

“Would it be a better option for somebody else, maybe a housing association or even the council, to rent a house and use it as temporary accommodation?

“That might be a better solution for the homeless, and also financially better for the council.”

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