Council spending on emergency housing in East Devon rockets by 2,000 per cent

Spending on emergency temporary accommodation in East Devon has rocketed by more than 2,000 per cent in six years as the district council battles an escalating housing crisis.

The authority forked out more than £400,000 in the 2020/21 financial year compared to £17,699 in 2014/15, writes Local Democracy Reporter Joe Ives.

It is also a big increase on the £283,996 splashed in 2019/20.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) has already spent £155,000 on temporary housing this financial year.

The money pays providers of accommodation, such as private landlords, bed and breakfast owners and hoteliers to provide somewhere to stay for the rising number of people in East Devon who are homeless.

Exmouth Halsdon Councillor Paul Millar asked for the figures and said: “The sheer scale of taxpayers money going to private landlords, B and B owners and hoteliers to accommodate homeless people is terrifying and scandalous.”

He asked the council’s cabinet to look into borrowing money to build and purchase more properties to save cash

Cllr Millar added:  “Investing in owning our own stock would be preferable to frittering large sums of money away year after year paying commercial rates.

“Our lack of action is encouraging hotels, B and B owners and landlords to set up business models which profit from homelessness, a situation I believe residents of the district will find totally unacceptable.”

East Devon is facing a dramatic rise in homelessness the council claims is due to the Covid pandemic, government policy on evictions, and a lack of ‘affordable’ housing.

Seaton ward member Cllr Dan Ledger, portfolio holder  for social and affordable housing, said: “When this administration came to power in June 2020, the housing crisis was identified as one of the main priorities that needed an early intervention.

“In the last year, the council has purchased 12 self-contained units to add to its housing stock specifically to help with this issue.

“However, due to the pandemic and other recent unprecedented events, the demand for accommodation across the district has vastly outstripped supply and we have needed to use local B and Bs and hotels to house our residents who need our help the most.”

Cllr Ledger pointed to a plan adopted by EDDC at full council last week which prioritises affordable housing and temporary accommodation.

He added: “Plans to address this long-standing problem are being developed by officers as we speak.”

A recent report by EDDC officers said an ‘unsustainable’ number of people are approaching the authority for help.

Its housing team, which helps those who are or at risk of becoming homeless, says staff are struggling to keep up and are dealing with caseloads never before.

EDDC’s cabinet last month agreed to hire two extra housing officers for the next year to address a ‘second wave’ of homelessness.

And members agreed earlier this month to create an ‘affordable housing task force’ to help combat the crisis.

A report by Devon Home Choice revealed more than 2,650 households are in housing need in East Devon – the third-highest number in the county.

EDDC says it provides 200 – 300 new affordable homes per year, mainly by buying existing properties, but this isn’t enough.

East Devon affordable housing taskforce to tackle crisis as ‘grim Christmas’ is predicted