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Pressures on housing in Poole and the southwest

Location: UK » South West » BH
Pressures on housing in Poole and the southwest

A housing officer in Poole:

Initially, the main criteria for our service is that somebody could become homeless because of their problems, but we [look at a range of issues]. We fill in a generic form with people that covers everything - from employment, to education to social [needs]. [The main thing for us is] we need to be working with them to saving their tenancy. The tenancy is the most important thing - keeping a roof over your head.

The majority [of people come to us] now because of cuts in benefits - because of the cuts in housing benefit, because of the cuts in ESA and it’s just all a big dominos effect…

Demand is going up massively. We’ve always been busy and even in the last year, we’ve had a significant change from people with just general housing problems to the majority of people [needing help] because of the reduction in benefits.

Sometimes, they are looking at homelessness. Unfortunately, because of the accommodation that’s on offer, a lot of the time people are being put into accommodation that isn’t suitable for them - whether that is because they have physical disabilities, or mental health issues. That is going to have a knockon effect, because their mental health will get worse, or their physical disabilities will get worse and they will have to be moved somewhere that is maybe more supported.

In the long term, you wonder where the government is going with all of this… the government seems to think that there are a lot more bludgers than there are. It’s the people who were already struggling who are now getting to the end of their tether and not quite knowing where to turn. They’re having to turn to foodbanks on a regular basis - rather than just every now and again when something crops up with their benefits [in the past, people used foodbanks in emergencies, when their benefits were unexpectedly delayed]. It’s now a regular event, because that’s the only way that they can feed their children.

The reallocation of housing benefits for the under 35s - [that has had a] huge, huge massive impact. The people that were already in a one-bedroom flat are now being told that they are no longer going to have benefits to fund that. Then you’ve also got people with mental health issues who can’t go into shared accommodation, but unless they’re on mid-rate DLA, or they’ve been in supported accommodation in the past, that’s all that they’re being offered. In their circumstances, it’s wrong.

Demand is outstripping supply, because we’re at the start of that big impact…we’re not going to see the full impact for six or 12 months. It’s just going to be a massive rolling problem with people getting more and more in debt and thinking that they’re going to cope as time goes on and then getting to the point where they think - hang on, I need some more support with this.

I know everyone is having to pull in their purse strings generally and nobody is getting the pay rises that we used to, but at least when you’ve got a job, you know that that salary is coming in. If someone loses a job, or you’re on benefits, it’s [uncertain]. A lot of people out there are so vulnerable. [In some cases] they can’t read and write and there’s a huge form that they have to fill in [for assessment for benefits] and they don’t know what it’s for, so it goes in a drawer and then - boom, their benefits are stopped.

We just try to set people [in housing] as best we can. You used to be able to sort it out and get them an outcome. Now you have to say - “this is the best we can do…” I think because of the economic status as well, creditors are being more and more harsh with what they’ll accept as payments for debts. Whereas before you used to be able to liaise with [creditors] and come to some agreement, it’s now the agreements are on their terms. We try and sometimes we do succeed, but quite often we don’t even manage that.

There are people who can’t pay… their money has gone for whatever reason… they had an agreement with that creditor to pay off that debt at that amount, but now they can’t afford it, because he’s lost his job or she’s lost her job. You go back to the creditors and they say - “Nope, that’s what the agreement was. They have to find the money from somewhere.”

It’s ridiculous because what happens is that people can’t afford to pay, so all they can do is offer an amount when the chap comes to collect the money, but that’s not enough, so then they send the bailiffs round and the bailiffs charge them an extra £250 on top. The bailiffs discuss their finances to readjust payments - so why not just readjust the payments in the first place? [I think they do it] because they’re hoping that so many of those people will find that money in some way…

If people can’t find somewhere [to live] they present themselves as homeless to the council…that’s the next step. After however long, the housing community will find them somewhere. Then we go in right from the start and set up their tenancy and set up their utilities and make sure that they are not going to get into the debt that they were in previously. It’s also looking at things like debt relief orders and bankruptcy to help, so that they don’t have to keep paying out that money each month, so that they can just start back on an even train again. It’s very difficult.

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