Ipswich has one of the highest homeless counts, per head of population, in the country. This was highlighted in the national press last week as Ipswich had the 17th highest spend in the country on temporary accommodation, as a percentage of core budget in 2022/23.
As part of our strategy to invest in our own buildings, I was delighted to be shown round our latest homeless unit, which is an eleven-bedroom building for single people last week. This is cheaper long term than using bed & breakfast (B&B) accommodation, though B&B is still used. There is a specific Ipswich Labour direction that no families should be placed in B&B.
When Labour first took control of Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) twelve years ago, our temporary accommodation for homeless families was in a former Victorian workhouse supplemented by portacabins. We now have three modern units, converted from disused sheltered housing, which provide individual flats for families and single people. Our units give safe, warm and dignified temporary accommodation for people, until they can find a permanent new home.
The Labour run council has worked very hard on prevention, temporary accommodation and working with landlords to tackle homelessness. It is this ongoing work, day in day out, that is keeping the numbers lower than they would be otherwise. I’d like to send my heartfelt thanks to the housing options team for their hard work. Tenants threatened with eviction are supported and landlords engaged to explore every option to retain tenants in their current home. This includes mediation, financial advice and budgeting, paying off arrears and discretionary housing payments to give extra help with ongoing rent or paying down other debts to ensure a tenancy is sustainable.
Ipswich Lettings Experience Team (LET) has been developed by the housing team to increase access to good quality homes in the private sector for anyone in Ipswich faced with losing their existing accommodation. The LET provides landlords with a guaranteed rent, which is paid by the tenant, often via benefits. The LET now has around 180 properties across a Rent Guarantee Scheme and a Deposit Bond Scheme.
Unfortunately, some households are evicted and are forced into temporary accommodation. This is being made worse by the escalating cost of living crisis and the fact that the Tory Government, despite its promises, still hasn’t legislated to stop “no fault” evictions which are the major cause of people being made homeless. Theresa May – remember her? Announced an “end to unfair evictions” in April 2019. Four prime ministers later, Michael Gove kicked this into the long grass last week. Officially, this is because improvements to the legal system need to be made. I note that 68 Tory MPs are landlords, according to the register of MP interests.
The other Tory strategy to hit those who rent, is the freezing of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). This is the maximum amount of housing benefit that will be paid in a local area. Currently the 2-bedroom property rate is £140 per week or £606pm. This has been frozen since January 2020 – nearly four years. How much do you think rents have gone up in that time?
The long-term solution to homelessness is to provide more homes. IBC has a buy-back and acquisitions programme, which has bought more than 100 properties from the open market over the last five years. We are delighted to have built 260 homes with another 300 currently being built.
Ipswich Labour has overseen the creation of a range of measures, which has helped many people move to a better place. We will continue this work in the years ahead.