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Torbay won't throw out homeless after all

Saturday, June 13th, 2020 12:03pm

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Council's covid U-turn

Torbay Council has done a U-turn on removing a group of homeless men from emergency accommodation they were given during the coronavirus pandemic.

The seven were due to leave their rooms on Friday after the council decided to withdraw funding after the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Just two days after it said the men would have to go  because it no longer had a legal duty to carry on housing them, they changed their minds, saying that after discussions with the government and clarifying the law it would continue paying.

It is understood the group of mostly EU nationals cannot claim benefits and have no passports or other identity documents, which means they are unable to work. They are believed to be subject to the government’s “no recourse to public funds” rule which means they cannot normally receive any financial support.

In normal circumstances the council would have no legal duty to house them. But they were offered accommodation in hotels and bed and breakfasts under emergency measures in the government’s 'Everyone In' scheme which relaxed the rules to protect rough-sleepers.

Kath Friedrich, founder of the charity People Assisting Torbay’s Homeless, said the council had done a good job by getting all Torbay’s rough-sleepers into emergency accommodation in hotels and bed and breakfasts during the pandemic. She said the group had faced an uncertain week after being told they would be evicted and were likely to have returned to rough-sleeping, which could have put them at risk during the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.

It is understood that there are at least 12 homeless people currently sleeping rough in Torbay, including in a car and tents. They are believed to be known to the council’s homelessness team which is offering support.

Torbay Council is providing accommodation to an increasing number of people who have lost their homes due to the pandemic, including as a result of job losses and hotel workers who have lost accommodation due to closures. The council said it was trying to find accommodation for people to move on to from the temporary provision and had referred the seven to support services. It is continuing to provide shelter for more than 100 households under the emergency measures.

The government announced £3.2 million of extra funding to support rough-sleepers at the start of the lockdown, and has allocated £3.6 billion to councils during the pandemic to support services including homelessness.

In May the government announced an extra £6million of funding for frontline homelessness charities affected by covid-19, including for new or adapted services.

The Local Government Association said: “The Government should urgently outline a clear strategy for how they will support people currently being accommodated on an emergency basis to move into safe housing with appropriate support after the current measures have been lifted. This is needed so that councils can effectively plan their local provision.”

The homelessness charity Crisis is calling for the government to bring in and pay for a new duty on councils to provide emergency accommodation for a year for everyone who becomes homeless during the pandemic. It wants current rules lifted to see the right to be given shelter applied to everyone regardless of their immigration status, local connection or if they are considered “intentionally homeless”.

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