‘Broken’ housing market leaves Basildon with one of UK’s worst child homelessness rates, says council

BASILDON has one of the worst child homelessness rates in the UK, according to a report published this week by the council.

The document – to be discussed by councillors in a public meeting next week – revealed that spiralling house prices and rents are seeing working people fall into homelessness.

But the council is reliant on Government grants to tackle the problem and does not know whether the money will be renewed after 2020.

“With housing costs rising faster than wages, we now find that 27 per cent of homeless households have at least one adult in employment,” the report said.

“In line with national trends, Basildon has recently experienced a significant increase in the number of people sleeping rough.”

Most of Basildon’s homeless population do not sleep rough, with the council placing them in hostels, B&Bs and other temporary accommodation. The average number of rough sleepers in Basildon was listed as 12.

But 70 properties currently used as temporary accommodation are sent to be lost during impending estate regeneration works, which the council said it feared would result in ‘increased dependency on costly and unsuitable B&B accommodation’.

The report described the housing market as ‘broken’, with Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme depleting social housing stocks and so-called ‘affordable’ private housing still ‘too costly for the majority of households becoming homeless’.

An insufficient amount of truly affordable accommodation has been delivered each year which, said the report, “has worsened since the introduction of permitted development rights.”

Government’s ‘permitted development’ rules allow developers to convert office blocks into residential use without meeting certain minimum standards which apply to other developments, including the obligation to provide a certain amount of affordable housing.

These units are often then marketed to London borough councils to house their homeless populations, at rates far beyond what a non-London council would expect to pay. This has led to Basildon housing large numbers of other boroughs’ homeless residents, whilst finding it increasingly hard to house its own.

“Over the last four years, the borough, because of permitted development, has been in receipt of an entire primary school’s worth of children, coming to Basildon from London,” Labour council leader Gavin Callaghan told the YA.

Basildon Council announced via the YA yesterday that it was planning to crack down on this phenomenon by buying up office blocks around the town centre, including Acorn House, so it could take control of what happened to them.

But even if permitted development is tackled, said Cllr Callaghan, London boroughs are finding other ways to worsen Basildon’s homelessness problem.

“We have seen cases, in houses where Basildon residents were staying but there was a private landlord, where those residents were thrown out of those homes because the landlords were going to rent the properties to London boroughs instead,” he said.

“We have tried to incentivise landlords to rent to Basildon residents. We have offered incentives of up to £1,000. London boroughs, however, offer the landlords £6,000 – plus a higher rent every month, because the housing allowance for London boroughs is higher than it is in Essex by hundred pounds a month.”

The council report found a disproportionate amount of Basildon’s homeless ended up destitute after living in private rented accommodation; 38 per cent of the homeless population had previously privately rented, despite private rentals only making up 14 per cent of the borough’s property.

The first listed cause of homelessness in those previously renting was ‘significant rent increases’.

The report said: “Private sector rents have increased faster than local wages. A single parent with one child, who works 30 hours a week in a national living wage job, would have to pay over 43 per cent of their income to rent the average two-bedroom flat.”

The trend has left almost 700 Basildon children living in temporary accommodation – the eighth-worst child homelessness figure in the UK, excluding London boroughs.
The report was published as the council’s Homes and Communities Committee prepared to consider its new ‘Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Prevention Strategy’.

Government has pledged to halve rough-sleeping by 2022 and eradicate it by 2027 – but civil servants in Basildon warned that the borough’s ability to prevent and tackle homelessness was dependent on Government funding, whose future was not secure.

The report said: “The existing Government funding for this work ends in March 2020 and at this stage there is no indication of the amount of funding, if any,


will be awarded.”

The council’s report found one in every 100 Basildon residents was classified as at risk of homelessness each year.

Younger people are disproportionately at risk of homelessness, with people aged 16-35 making up just 31 per cent of Basildon’s population, but 59 per cent of its homeless population.

Just under two-thirds of Basildon’s homeless population is female and the report identified ‘a strong link between being a victim of domestic abuse and becoming homeless’.

The Homes and Communities Committee will discuss the borough’s homelessness strategy in a public meeting at the Bas Centre next Tuesday, September 17, at 7pm.

Charles Thomson

Chief ReporterEmail: [email protected]