HOUSING costs have been blamed for homelessness in the borough – while a senior figure at the Town Hall says there is no ‘magic housing tree’.

Warrington Borough Council’s cabinet approved a five-year homelessness and rough sleeping strategy for the borough last month. It will run from 2020 to 2025.

In 2018-19, there were 3,239 applications for assistance from Housing Plus, which supports people in need of housing, or at risk of becoming homeless.

The number of rough sleepers in Warrington totalled five in 2016, four in 2017 and 21 in 2018.

The Labour-run council said local authorities are required to conduct an annual rough sleeper count every autumn.

It carried out its count in November before submitting the information to Homeless Link, the independent verifiers of the count.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will publish the verified figures next month.

There were 60 ‘statutory homeless decisions’ made in 2018-19 – but, of these, two people were found not to be homeless.

Warrington Guardian:

Town Hall

During last month’s cabinet meeting, Cllr Tony Higgins, cabinet member for leisure and community, questioned Cllr Maureen McLaughlin, portfolio holder for housing, public health and wellbeing, on the matter.

He asked: “When it says found not to be homeless, does that mean it was fraudulent and they had a home?”

Cllr McLaughlin told him she did not have the details on those two individual cases but said people often come to the council ‘in desperation’.

She added there is no ‘magic housing tree out there’ and that it is now ‘different’ from 10 to 15 years ago when there were ‘empty social housing people could go into quite easily’.

A council spokesman has issued a statement on the matter.

He said: “Out of the 60 statutory decisions, in these two cases, the applicants presented as being homeless but were able to obtain their own housing.

“We are required to make a formal decision and the decision was made that they were found not to be homeless.”

Cllr Rebecca Knowles, cabinet member for statutory health and adult social care, also shared her views during last month’s meeting.

She said: “I think it’s great we have got a strong local economy and that’s something for everybody to celebrate but this is the flip side of a strong local economy isn’t it?

“In fact, it creates extra barriers – people who find themselves on the verge of homelessness, or in homelessness, because of the cost of accommodation here.”

The council says it has had to ‘fundamentally change’ how it works since April 2018 due to new legislation under the Homelessness Reduction Act.

“We have to try to prevent homelessness and, if we can’t prevent it, then we have a relief duty,” added the spokesman.

“This increase in duties for local authorities around homelessness means more people qualify for our help than previously.

“Ultimately, if we can’t prevent homelessness or meet the relief duty, we have to make a statutory homeless decision for each case.

“In 2018-19, we were successful with 1,389 prevention and relief outcomes, which is an increase from 508 in 2017-18.

“This resulted in 60 statutory homeless decisions to be made, of which only 31 had full housing duty accepted. This is a reduction from the 267 decisions in 2017-18.”