MERTHYR TYDFIL council has approved a plan to reduce its reliance on B&Bs for the temporary housing of the homeless.
The council has approved entering into a contract with D2PropCo or another private sector provider for at least two years to increase its use of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) from two to three or more.
Following changes in legislation as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the council now has a legal duty to offer and provide temporary accommodation to everyone presenting as homeless and then secure suitable, permanent accommodation.
Homelessness presentations in Merthyr for 2020/21 are projected to see a 39% increase from 2019/20, up from 754 to an estimated 1048.
Under the new plans, each unit of accommodation would not have more than five bedrooms, council officers would decide upon the location of each unit in consultation with the police and local councillors to ensure locations are safe and appropriate.
The premises will receive daily visits from a company premises manager and will have CCTV.
The council will pay £30 per person, per night which is 40% less than the current £50 per person per night that it currently pays for B&B.
The council report said there has been an “increasing use and over-reliance” on bed and breakfast accommodation.
On March 1, 2021, there were 83 placements in B&Bs out of a total of 137 placements.
The average length of stay in 2019-20 was 16 nights and the report said that figures for 2020-21 and 2021-22 are likely to be far higher due to a lack of movement on accommodation available.
The report said that there are three main issues with using B&Bs which include cost, how appropriate they are and the risk of using them.
It said: “Our expenditure on bed and breakfast accommodation has more than doubled within three years, even before the pandemic.”
In 2019/20, the council’s B&B expenditure was approximately £130,000 a year but in 2020/21 the council has spent over £921,000 to date.
The report said that dramatic increases in expenditure reflect the increasing number of cases requiring temporary accommodation with changes to homelessness legislation because of Covid-19 contributing to this.
In terms of more permanent accommodation, the report said that “move on” accommodation is extremely limited and there is insufficient registered social landlord (RSL) stock available to meet the current demand.
It said: “We envisage that many people will remain in B&B and other TA (temporary accommodation) for quite some time until permanent accommodation can be sourced.”
In 2019/20 there were only 47 units of single person accommodation available in total between all four RSLs.
The report said:
“Without direct action to find alternative sources of temporary accommodation, projected expenditure for B&B for 2021/22 is over £1.8 million based on current demand which continues to rise.”
The benefits of the new approach, according to the report, are that this option is 40% less expensive and is appropriate because this option meets the standards of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (Wales) Order 2015.
Currently, residents are in B&Bs for longer than the two weeks covered under the order and many are staying up to the end of the period where the council has a duty to assist or even beyond.
The report also said that the new option reduces the number of risks to those being housed by the council, other people and the B&B owner, as the council will have exclusive use of the premises removing the potential risk from unknown people residing in the room next to homeless people.
CCTV will assist in managing and recording behaviour in the premises and in the local neighbourhood and the council will have greater control over telling people to leave the premises if their behaviour is unsuitable.
The report said that B&B use will still be needed because of demand and lack of “move on” options.
Councillor Geraint Thomas said this is the short term solution, not the long term solution.
He said: “We really need more houses built in Merthyr going forward for the medium and the long term.
He later added: “We haven’t had a big social housing building programme in Merthyr for a long time. And we are overdue.
“When we’ve got 2,000 people on our waiting list and our children can’t get houses in this town, there’s something wrong.”
Councillor Andrew Barry said there’s an urgency to it because they’ve filled up all their hotels and B&Bs.
He said: “We’ve become an attractive area for visitors and all our beds are blocked through this housing policy.”
As councillor in Town ward, he said he understands it is complex but said that their experience has not been good.
“There is no easy solution for this. The one plea that I have is that if Julie James the minister will support us because £1.8m equates to 7% on our council tax.
“That is unsustainable. Completely unrealistic.”
Councillor Clive Jones said on HMO applications: “It’s a very delicate balancing act of finding a suitable location.”
Councillor Darren Roberts said: “I would be very disappointed if we didn’t get the necessary financial support post six months should things change.
He said it’s right and proper that they meet their statutory duties but they need to make sure they have the financial support to be able to do that.
Councillor Declan Sammon said he understands the difficulties faced by the housing team and the great work that they do but he said he had concerns about what happens to the properties at the end of the two-year cycle.