Only 87 households were in temporary accommodation in and around Oxford at the end of August this year, down from 96 recorded at the end of March 2017, and the lowest it has been for over 20 years.
Labour councillor Mike Rowley, Board Member for Housing, said: "This remarkable reduction in the number of households in temporary accommodation shows the effectiveness of our work with families to help prevent homelessness long before they’ve hit crisis point. Where there is a need to provide temporary accommodation, we prefer to house families in suitable, high quality homes.
“Unfortunately housing benefit rates, set by government nationally, are no longer enough to fund the rent of many homes in Oxford, meaning we sometimes need to look outside the city for accommodation in which we can place those in housing need. Concerning property purchases for temporary accommodation, therefore, our approach is: “As much in Oxford as possible. As much outside the city as necessary, and then as close to Oxford as possible”.
“Nearby towns such as Didcot and Bicester have good facilities and transport links and are within a reasonable commutable distance to the city. However, our new Local Plan proposes the creation of urban extensions with good infrastructure and transport links to the city to provide many of the additional homes that Oxford needs.”
The reduction is in sharp contrast to the national trend as revealed yesterday by the National Audit Office, which showed a 60 per cent increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation since March 2011.
The council’s highly successful record in driving downwards the number of households needing temporary accommodation in spite of a challenging housing and economic environment is the result of its consistent homelessness prevention work.
Just over a decade ago, in 2004, the number of households in temporary accommodation in Oxford stood at around 1000 a year. In 2016/17, the council and its partners prevented 1,107 households from becoming homeless. This work included:
- negotiations with landlords or other assistance to help people remain in their private rented property;
- assisting people to find private rented housing with the help of a deposit or bond; providing homeless prevention fund payments;
- helping to resolve housing benefit and rent arrears problems;
- providing a sanctuary scheme; and
- undertaking reconciliation work with families when they threaten to exclude family members.
Further actions to prevent homelessness have been made possible by the government’s £790,000 Trailblazer initiative to assist local authorities in Oxfordshire to tackle homelessness across the county. The funding will be focused towards helping vulnerable single adults under the age of 35, and households at risk of homelessness. Most importantly, it will bring agencies together to better identify, understand and reach individuals at risk of homelessness as far ahead of crisis points as possible.
The City Council has achieved almost total abandonment in the use of B&Bs to house families. “B&B” is a broad term that covers accommodation with shared facilities, i.e. families sharing a toilet / bathroom. Of the 96 households in temporary accommodation by March this year, none were in hotels or B&Bs. The council continues to invest in the acquisition of housing units to be used for temporary accommodation to ensure high standards and manage costs.
As part of its current budget commitment to purchase 39 homes for use as temporary accommodation, the council has purchased 20 new build properties in two blocks of 10 flats at Great Western Park in Didcot. However, because the council has been so successful in reducing the need for temporary accommodation, half of these properties will be transferred to its social housing stock to be let as permanent affordable homes for families on the city’s housing register.