Empty homes to be re-opened as part of new West Norfolk homelessness plan

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Dozens of empty homes should be brought back into use by the spring as part of a new strategy to tackle homelessness in West Norfolk, according to a new report.

The move is one of a range of measures contained in the document, which will be considered by borough council chiefs next week.

The four-year plan has been drawn up after figures published last summer showed the problem was on the rise in the borough.

A total of 106 households, referring to both individuals and families, were accepted as having full statutory homeless duty, meaning the council has to house them, during 2013-14, up 25 on the previous year.

A further 120, an increase of more than a third, were also classed as not being in priority need of housing.

And the total number of homeless applications soared from 213 in 2012-13 to 336 in 2013-14, while, in total, more than 1,000 individuals and families sought advice and support from housing officials.

The new strategy, which will be considered by the council’s ruling cabinet on Tuesday, is designed to tackle three priority areas: early intervention to prevent homelessness, ensuring an appropriate supply of affordable accommodation in both public and private ownership and working with other authorites to support families with more complex needs.

Lead officer Sheila Farley wrote: “Homelessness has the potential to have significant financial implications for the council.

“The aims of the Homelessness Strategy are to prevent homelessness and thus help minimise the costs of temporary accommodation.”

The strategy includes a proposal to set annual targets to lower the number of people being accepted as homeless and the number being house in temporary accommodation.

It is proposed that those targets will be reviewed quarterly.

Among the actions proposed in the strategy is a proposal for the authority to work with Freebridge Community Housing to bring 40 empty properties back into use by the end of March.

Other measures include a review of the demand for particular types of housing and a campaign to promote how the planned implementation of the government’s Universal Credit benefit payment will affect tenants.

The new payment is expected to come into force in West Norfolk during the 2015-16 financial year.

The proposals were subject to a public consultation in the autumn, which received nine responses.

One participant argued the council should not provide housing for migrants and illegal immigrants.

However, the authority insists that an applicant’s immigration status is checked and no-one who is in the country illegally is offered housing.

The report added: “Homelessness assessments and decisions are made in accordance with current legislation and government guidance.”