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More people homeless in East Devon

Saturday, September 11th, 2021 8:19am

By Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Homelessness is rising in East Devon (courtesy: BBC Spotlight)

Extra housing officers to be hired

Extra staff are being recruited by East Devon District Council (EDDC) to help deal with rising homelessness caused by the end of the government’s eviction ban.

The council’s cabinet has agreed to hiring two extra housing officers for the next year to address a ‘second wave’ of homelessness which they say has been caused by the pandemic and is being exacerbated by the government allowing evictions to begin again. Councillor Megan Armstrong (Independent Progressive Group, Exmouth Halsdon) told cabinet that the end of the eviction ban was causing “horrendous problems” for many people in East Devon.

The moratorium on evictions, which began during the first wave of the pandemic, ended on 31 May. EDDC says this has fuelled homelessness in the area, with current housing staff unable to keep up with cases and some even having to take time off because of stress.

Homelessness was already rising because of the pandemic, as was domestic violence and rent costs. It is claimed that this is not helped by Airbnb and a growth in the number of holiday homes.

The legal definition of homelessness is that a household has no home in the UK or anywhere else in the world available and reasonable to occupy. Homelessness does not just refer to people who are sleeping rough. It also includes those in temporary shelter without permanent accommodation, those living in inadequate or unfit housing such as campsites, and those living in insecure housing. The last definition can involve people with insecure tenancies, or facing eviction ot domestic violence, or those forced to sofa surf.

An EDDC report says an “unsustainable” number of people are approaching the council for help. The housing options team, which assists those who are homeless or risk facing homelessness, says staff are struggling to keep up and are dealing with caseloads never before seen by EDDC. As of Thursday 5 August, there were more than 250 open homelessness cases, which is expected to rise as evictions by private landlords soar. 

It is hoped the two extra housing officers, which are expected to cost £67,500 over the next year, will help the council keep up with the rising need for help.

Speaking at cabinet, Councillor Jack Rowland (Democratic Alliance Group, Seaton) said: “It’s sad that we’re in a position that we have to consider this but the staff have been under such pressure and that pressure isn’t going to go away. 

“You can only see the situation becoming worse over the remaining months of this year.”

Councillor Steve Gazzard (Democratic Alliance Group, Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh) said he’d already seen an increase of people sleeping in shop doorways in Exmouth.

Councillor Megan Armstrong picked up the general mood of the cabinet when she concluded: “There are no easy fixes to this, but we will keep trying as best we can.

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