Plan to help households faced with losing their homes in Ribble Valley

Affordability of housing is a longstanding problem in Ribble Valley
Affordability of housing is a longstanding problem in Ribble Valley
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Enquiries about potential homelessness in Ribble Valley have increased by 50 percent since new legislation put a greater responsibility on local authorities to provide help.

The figure is revealed in the borough council’s new homelessness strategy, which shows that the increase followed the introduction of the Homeless Reduction Act last April.

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The new rules require councils to take “reasonable steps” to avert homelessness at an early stage and have doubled the length of time during which people should be offered preventative support. That offer now has to be extended even to residents not deemed to be in “priority need”.

The local strategy - to be presented to Ribble Valley’s Health and Housing Committee later this week - states that the council views every case of homelessness as being preventable. There were 26 cases of households facing homelessness in 2017/18.

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Councillors will hear that eviction by family or friends and relationship breakdowns are the most common causes of residents losing their homes in the area.

The document acknowledges that there is a limited amount which the authority can do to prevent many of these cases before they occur, but it does offer mediation and the facilitation of a “cooling off period” in instances where young people are unexpectedly leaving the family home.

The strategy also outlines how the council is attempting to reduce another major reason for homelessness - the breakdown of tenancies.

More than 350 households have so far benefited from a scheme to provide more secure tenancies in the private sector via the provision of bonds for landlords. However, the report notes that ongoing high demand means that landlords are less inclined to accept the £800 payment if it means offering properties to any tenants which they regard as high risk.

“The private rented sector provides very little for the households seeking assistance,” the report notes.

However, a repossession prevention scheme aims to help any mortgage-holders with dependants who face losing their home as a result of ill health or unemployment.

Affordability is highlighted as the key factor underpinning the housing challenges facing the borough. While the situation has improved slightly in recent years, the lowest house prices in the area are eight times higher than the lowest wages - double the ratio considered to be affordable by the government. The average house price is more than £240,000.

Other challenges include an increased reliance by the council on temporary accommodation to help households pushed into homelessness. Sixteen such cases were seen in 2017/18, although the average time spent in stopgap housing fell to 20 weeks. The authority has pledged to reduce the timeframe to an average of seven weeks as part of its new strategy.

As part of an action plan to be implemented over the next three years, Ribble Valley aims to improve support for residents whose housing provision is insecure, increase access to employment opportunities for those living in temporary accommodation and ensure the maximum number of affordable homes is secured by conditions placed on developers building the borough.

The borough met its annual target of 75 new, affordable homes in 2017/18, although that figure was down from a peak of over 110 three years earlier.