Rise of 11% in homeless in Wales seeking council help

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."

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.

"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."

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