Rise of 11% in homeless in Wales seeking council help

Swansea had the highest number of homeless as a percentage of its population

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More than 15,000 people sought council help for being homeless in Wales during 2011, up 11% on the previous year, figures obtained by BBC Wales show.

A rise in people asking for assistance was reported by 18 of the 22 councils.

Swansea had the highest number of homeless as a percentage of its population, with Flintshire the lowest.

The Welsh Local Government Association said a lack of affordable homes and a difficulty for young people in securing mortgages contributed to the rise.

Between April 2010 and March 2011, the bill for providing emergency accommodation for those seeking help was nearly £4m, although some of this will have been claimed back by local authorities in housing benefits.

The total amount being spent on temporary accommodation has dropped, however, despite an overall increase in the number of people claiming to be homeless.

The housing charity Shelter Cymru, which is conducting research into homelessness in Wales, said initial findings suggested people found the current system unfair.

Policy manager Jennie Bibbings said: "They feel quite strongly that the resources available need to be redistributed and used in a more intelligent way.

"For example, many of those people who present themselves as homeless very much feel that there is an all-or-nothing culture around homelessness.

'Crisis coming'

"Either you are priority need, in which case you get a full social tenancy, or you're not, in which case you fall outside and you don't get anything at all."

ONE MAN'S EXPERIENCE

Michael, who has been staying at a homeless shelter in Swansea, said:

"I became homeless after a family breakdown.

I didn't know what to do. I couldn't help that problem - I just basically went from there onto the streets.

I was working but the job didn't work out for me. I was working one day a week every Saturday.

I was getting paid every month but the money didn't seem to suit me or the job didn't seem to suit me.

It was scary to find myself on the streets.

I was on the streets asking friends and family to try to put me up.

I went to Shelter Cymru and to Housing Options [which helps people get affordable housing].

Housing Options couldn't hardly do nothing. Shelter needed evidence for me to get a place but it only went so far with them.

At the time I got a place with Cyrenians [a shelter which helps homeless people in Swansea]."

She added that in many cases those seeking accommodation simply needed help to obtain a place in the private rental sector.

John Puzey, director of Shelter Cymru, warned that the figures could get worse as housing benefit cuts come into effect.

"I believe there's a crisis coming," he said.

"We have already seen significant growth [in homelessness] and there's more to come."

He said the Welsh government needed to take action, adding there were not enough new homes being built each year in Wales to meet demand.

But he praised their plan to bring back up to 20,000 empty homes into use.

The council figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show while 1.27% of Swansea's population presented themselves as homeless last year, in Flintshire it was just 0.07%.

Dr Peter Mackie, from Cardiff University, head of the Welsh government's review into homelessness, said the statistics provided a "useful indication" of the problem across Wales, but must be interpreted with caution.

"Firstly, these figures represent only those households who present at the local authority - many more people become homeless and never approach their local authority for assistance.

"Secondly, there is some variation in practice between local authorities both in terms of the services they offer and the records they keep - particularly proactive authorities might work hard to raise awareness of their wide range of services and will subsequently have higher rates of homelessness."

Steady increase

The Welsh government said it was "committed to combating" the issue but was concerned at the increase.

Start Quote

In the current climate, young families are finding it increasingly difficult to get mortgages and buy their own homes with the average age of first time buyers now 37”

End Quote Welsh Local Government Association

"Whilst meeting the local housing need is the responsibility of local authorities, we are doing everything we can to alleviate the affects," it said in a statement.

"This includes prioritising the homelessness grant funding over the next two years to mitigate the impact of the cuts to housing benefit."

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said homelessness was also a priority for councils.

"Since 2004 local authorities have become increasingly effective at preventing homelessness, however over the past year councils have been reporting a steady increase in families approaching them for assistance who are at risk of homelessness," it said.

"The reasons for the increase in homelessness are complex and are fundamentally about the lack of housing, and affordable housing in particular.

"In the current climate, young families are finding it increasingly difficult to get mortgages and buy their own homes with the average age of first-time buyers now 37.

"There is therefore increased competition for both social housing and privately rented accommodation with over 90,000 people on council and housing association waiting lists.

"Welsh government funding for new affordable homes is being reduced by 50% over three years and this will have a dramatic impact on the number of new affordable homes that will be built."

HOMELESSNESS BY LOCAL COUNCIL AREA

Council Number seeking help 2010/11 Number seeking help 2009/10 % of population seeking help 2010/11

Figures supplied by each council under Freedom of Information

Anglesey

288

281

0.42%

Blaenau Gwent

265 (approx)

255

0.39%

Bridgend

501

665

0.37%

Caerphilly

484

392

0.28%

Cardiff

2,020

1,541

0.59%

Carmarthenshire

1,494

1,500

0.83%

Ceredigion

249

220

0.32%

Conwy

550

445

0.50%

Denbighshire

210

209

0.22%

Flintshire

105

101

0.07%

Gwynedd

611

545

0.51%

Merthyr Tydfil

455

426

0.82%

Monmouthshire

207

233

0.23%

Neath Port Talbot

1,720

1,692

1.25%

Newport

507

455

0.36%

Pembrokeshire

674

611

0.58%

Powys

564

318

0.43%

Rhondda Cynon Taf

428

276

0.18%

Swansea

2,945

2,743

1.27%

Torfaen

422

399

0.47%

Vale of Glamorgan

324

275

0.26%

Wrexham

657

301

0.23%

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