Homeless services under review as welfare reforms bite

Fife Council HQ, Fife House in Glenrothes.

Fife Council has launched a review of the services it offers homeless people amid rising need and plunging budgets.

The number of hostels under local authority management could be cut and other agencies asked to step in as business as usual is no longer considered a viable option.

Services including short-term housing support and temporary accommodation will also be reviewed to make best use of available resources.

Head of housing John Mills said homelessness services are facing “significant challenges” as welfare reforms continue to bite.

A cut to housing benefit imposed as part of the UK Government’s benefit changes means the council will lose £3.2 million by 2019/20.

On top of that, homelessness is beginning to rise, despite a 45% reduction in the number of cases between 2012 and 2016.

This has been put down principally to the impact of welfare changes and tax reforms for private landlords.

Mr Mills said it is vital high quality services are maintained but that some will have to be redesigned to adapt to the funding pressures.

“This includes proposals for housing support, temporary accommodation and homelessness prevention services,” he said.

He added: “It is important that support is focused on preventing homelessness and repeat homelessness and is targeted at those most in need.”

While the council will continue its policy of not using bed and breakfast accommodation other than in extreme cases, a review of the furniture provided in temporary accommodation will be carried out.

Short-term accommodation across Fife will be redistributed to meet demand.

Mr Mills said potential actions to mitigate the loss of rental income would include reducing the number of homeless hostels under management as “the current management arrangements where the council owns or leases hostels will no longer be viable”.

The voluntary sector could be asked to take over the running of some hostels.

In addition, the council is looking to create three specialist housing hubs in Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Cupar as one-stop-shops providing a range of options.

These would be in addition to the advice available at local offices.

Councillor Judy Hamilton, convener of the community and housing services committee, said the issue is very important.

“Homelessness changes all the time,” she said.

“This is about changing our services to suit emerging need and give people one point of contact.

“It’s really important we give homeless people the best service we possibly can.”