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Breckland Council reveals £700k housing overspend

A district council has overspent by almost £700,000 on housing and is facing “significant” and “unsustainable” cash pressures, a meeting has heard.

Breckland Council has revealed that it overspent by £690,000 on temporary accommodation and housing benefit in the last year.

The council used £500,000 that would have gone into reserves to cover costs, but was still £224,000 over budget at financial year end.

Breckland Council logo (9601268)
Breckland Council logo (9601268)

Housing director Rob Walker said they faced “unprecedented” levels of demand for services.

And councillors raised fears about the “concerning” overspend in the face of a predicted spike in the need for housing support.

Speaking during a cabinet meeting yesterday, Philip Cowen, executive member for finance, told the committee the overspend was “significant” but could be mitigated and managed.

He said the council had £7m in unallocated reserves but added: “We might have £7m but £2.5m sits there as your rainy day fund.”

A report described the situation as “not a sustainable position”.

Labour councillor Terry Jermy said: “It’s very concerning to see the level of overspend but the lion’s share is related to one topic.

“What’s more concerning is this is not an area which is likely to slow down in the next 12 months – it’s probably going to increase due to stress and family break ups.”

He added: “What is the cabinet going to do to address these housing costs in the long term, given they’re so significant?”

Mr Walker said: “The level of demand for emergency and temporary accommodation last financial year was unprecedented.

“A significant amount of work was done to bring down the amount of households- it was at the lowest it had been all year, pre-Covid of course.

“There was a requirement for us to accommodate all rough sleepers – as a nationwide instruction.

“Numbers have gone up again.”

He added: “This is a situation that every single local authority in the country is facing.”

And he said as Breckland did not own its own housing, “we have some challengers other don’t”.

The council is working on a new property to house 22 people, which Mr Walker said county-wide and district-level work was ongoing.

And Conservative councillor Paul Hewett added: “We have to acknowledge that Covid-19 has had a global impact and we as a district council are not immune.”

“We’ve got reserves for rainy days. It is raining but its not raining enough to utilise them.”

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