Families are “teetering on a financial knife-edge” with one in every 121 households in the North East at risk of homelessness, a charity claims.
Shelter says 140 children in the region will wake up homeless this Christmas, while 58 people are being put at risk of eviction or repossession every day.
“Imagine the panic of receiving a notice through the door saying that you could lose your home – that’s the devastating reality for thousands of people every week,” said Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter.
“The sky high cost of housing is making it harder and harder for families to keep a roof over their heads. And with the stakes so high, all it can take is one piece of bad luck to send a family spiralling towards homelessness.”
Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that in the 12 months to the end of September there were more than 7,250 possession claims – the first stage in a court process which can end with the loss of a home – issued in county courts for homes in the North East.
Of those the highest number – 1,853 – were for properties in County Durham, followed by Newcastle (1,230) and Northumberland (1,016).
However, the highest proportion of homes on which possession orders were sought was in South Tyneside, where 938 orders were applied for – one for every 72 homes in the borough.
Councillor Allan West, South Tyneside Council’s lead member for housing, defended his authority’s approach to dealing with homelessness.
“Following a review in 2013, South Tyneside Council developed a new homelessness strategy which made homeless prevention one of our key priorities,” he said.
“Our proactive approach means that we step in to prevent households becoming homeless before their case becomes critical.
“This is reflected in figures released recently by the Department for Communities and Local Government which highlighted that the number of times we intervened during 2013/14 was almost five times the national average.
“As a social landlord, we have an early intervention approach to rent arrears and nowhere has this been better demonstrated than in the award-winning work of our Welfare Reform Team which has enabled over 92% of tenants who wanted to keep their homes after the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ maintain those tenancies.
“Eviction is used as a last resort when all other methods of engagement and arrears collection have failed.
“Since quarter four of 2013 the number of mortgage possession claims in South Tyneside has reduced from 254 to 147 and evictions resulting from possession claims from Council tenancies have reduced from the same period last year.”
At the opposite end of the scale Sunderland had the lowest proportion of applications for possession orders, with 696 – one in every 172 homes – and Gateshead saw the fewest applications overall, with 652.
According to the MOJ, of the around 223,000 possession orders applied for nationally in county courts each year, just under 53,500 result in repossessions.
If the same was true on the regional level that could mean that around 1,740 North East families have had their homes taken off them in the 2013/14 period.
And as Christmas approaches Shelter is warning that continuing “sky-high” housing costs coupled to families having little or no savings to fall back on, mean that “just one thing, like a sudden illness, can be all it takes to tip a family into a downward spiral towards losing their home.”
“Our advisers will be working non-stop this Christmas to support families who find themselves battling to keep their home – but our services are already over-stretched and we’re struggling to meet the demand, ” said Mr Robb.
“We desperately need more support from the public to help us make sure no-one is left to fight homelessness on their own this Christmas.”
To support Shelter’s emergency Christmas appeal please visit shelter.org.uk or text SHELTER to 70060 to donate £3
Source – Newcastle Journal, 02 Dec 2014
Private landlords in South Tyneside are in talks with council bosses in a bid to cut the number of evictions in the borough
Landlords say a rule change could slash evictions in South Tyneside and make them hundreds of pounds a year better off.
Rents from people on Housing Benefit can now be paid directly to the landlord, as a condition of a lease.
In the past it was down to the tenant themselves to pay their rent from the benefit they receive.
This led to many tenants failing to pay their rents – building up debt as a result – and leading to some being evicted.
Social landlord Colin Campbell has long campaigned for a change to the rules.
Earlier this year he contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to raise his concerns and was told it was up to the leadership of individual local authority benefit offices on how Housing Benefit was administered.
Last week, Dawn Dennison, revenue and benefits manager at South Tyneside Council, outlined the new rule change to a meeting of borough landlords in South Shields’ Littlehaven Hotel.
Mr Campbell, of Cleadon Meadows, Cleadon Village, welcomed the new approach.
He said: “From this week it will be possible for private landlords to be paid the Housing Benefit directly if they make it a specific condition of the lease.
“This is in direct response to thousands of tenants nationally being evicted for rent arrears because they were paid the Housing Benefit and chose to spend the money instead of paying their rent.
“This will save landlords many, many hundreds of pounds a year in lost rent and court fees for evictions.”
He added: “It will also prevent some rogue tenant going from property to property, collecting rent from the government and not passing it on as rent.”
Coun Allan West, lead member for housing and transport at South Tyneside Council, said: “We are working closely with landlords to make them aware of flexibility which exists within current legislation regarding payment of Housing Benefit.
“We welcome all measures that support people to stay in their homes and avoid falling into rent arrears.”
A spokesman for the DWP said: “Although the Department for Work and Pensions has overall responsibility for the scope and structure of the Housing Benefit scheme, local authorities have full statutory responsibility for its day-to-day administration.
“This department cannot give an authoritative interpretation of the regulations; that is a matter for authorities to decide subject to any legal ruling and dependent on the circumstances of each individual case.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 06 Oct 2014
The number of households that North East councils prevented from becoming homeless has rocketed in parts of the region.
In South Tyneside the local authority stepped in on 3,208 occasions in the last 12 months, a 123% rise on the 1,437 figure for the previous year.
This works out at a rate of 47.07 per 1,000 households in the borough, almost five times the national average of 10.11.
Meanwhile, in the same period, Gateshead saw a 65% increase from 2,094 to 3,453, an average of 38.28 per 1,000 households.
Newcastle City Council numbers rose 23% from 3,673 to 4,529, which works at 37.89 per 1,000 households.
There was also a small rise in Northumberland and Durham, but falls in North Tyneside and Sunderland.
Figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government show preventions and relief in England rose nationally on average 12% from 202,900 to 227,800 between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Prevention includes things like resolving problems with housing benefit, advice on debt or rent and mortgage arrears, or mediating with families to stop family members being kicked out.
Relief is when a council has been unable to prevent homelessness but helps someone to secure accommodation, even though the local authority is under no statutory obligation to do so.
Coun Allan West, Lead Member for Housing and Transport on South Tyneside Council, said the figure revealed how a policy initiative it took last year was working.
He said: “In 2013, South Tyneside Council’s Place Committee undertook a Commission scrutinising how homelessness in the Borough was tackled and how well the Council was equipped to deal with future demand.
“This led to the development of our new homelessness strategy which made homeless prevention one of our key priorities.
“This is reflected in our updated allocations policy, which gives priority to people at risk of becoming homeless before their case becomes critical.
“We have introduced a Homelessness Forum with representation from key partners including landlords, Public Health and the third sector.
“The forum ensures a collaborative partnership approach to tackling homelessness, sharing good practice and maximising opportunities for early intervention and prevention for homeless households.
“The review established a post of ‘Homelessness Prevention Lead’ within the Council to continue to develop housing and support options for people at risk of homelessness.”
My life on the streets of Tyneside – by homeless man ‘Carl’
Graduate ‘Carl’ has been homeless, on and off, for 16 years now.
He came to the region from Berkshire to study politics and economics at Newcastle University.
By the time he graduated aged 23 with a 2:1, he was in a secure unit at St Nicholas’ Hospital where he was being treated for Bipolar Disorder.
“They let me out for the day for my graduation ceremony and that night when the other students were out having a drink celebrating I was back in the unit pumped up with drugs,” he said.
He describes himself as a ‘hand tapper’, someone who walks the streets asking for money, making anywhere between £25 and £100 a day.
“The beggars are the ones who put signs around their necks and wait for people to come to them,” he said.
Carl said at the moment he sleeps rough in a city centre car park. “It’s best to sleep somewhere with CCTV as it gives you a feeling of security that someone might see if you’re in trouble and help.”
Over the years he has ‘sofa surfed’ with friends, and stayed in hostels, but nowhere permanent for long.
The money he makes he spends on food, tobacco and drink.
“I don’t drink that much,” he says.
He was a heroin user for six to eight years but has been ‘clean’ since June.
Carl is currently taking heroin-substitute buprenorphine, its trade name is Subutex.
“It’s better than methadone, like Peaches Geldof was taking. You can take other drugs as well as Methadone but not with Subutex.
“You’re supposed to crush it and place it under your tongue. I crush it and snort it like snuff.”
However he added: “I’ll probably have a relapse soon.”
His condition means he’s hyperactive.
“I walk the streets all day. Sometimes I don’t sleep.
“It’s OK at the moment with the hot weather. When its cold you keep moving or you die of hypothermia.
“People in the North east are friendlier than down south so I don’t get much grief.”
He says he stays in touch with family down south. His father is the Governor at a primary school, his three sisters and brothers hold down full time jobs.
“Some of us are just different. I’ve had a few jobs but I’m just not reliable.
“Also, my specialism is international politics and economics. I can’t see many employers in that field offering me a job.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 July 2014
A South Tyneside Council leader has denied double standards after the authority launched a crusade against payday lenders.
At a meeting of the full council last week, a motion was passed to introduce a series of measures against high interest lenders.
Action includes blocking access to lenders’ websites from council computers, working with partners to stop the promotion of such firms and to lobby for an extension to planning and licensing powers to prevent them locating in South Tyneside.
But one of the motion’s signataries, Coun Allan West, has now been forced to defend the move after it emerged the authority, along with the four other Tyne and Wear councils, pays into a pension fund which has £233,000 invested in Wonga shares.
Today Coun West, the council’s lead member for adult social care and support services, said legal regulations prevent the authority, which administers the fund, from cutting its “indirect” ties with the payday lender.
He said: “We are raising the issue of payday lending because it is the right thing to do.
“At times of financial pressure, it can feel like payday lenders are the only option, but their extortionate rates can trap people in a vicious circle of increasing debt and interest payments.
“The council administers the Tyne and Wear Pension Fund on behalf of 140 different organisations and we are bound by some very clear legal restrictions as to how the fund is allowed to operate.
“Case law and local government pension scheme regulations specifically require the fund to seek the best possible return on its investments and only allow us to consider social and ethical issues when they have a financial impact.
“The Pension Fund has no direct investments in payday lenders, but does have a very small indirect holding via Pooled Investment Vehicles as part of its global private equity programme.
“This is similar to a private individual investing in a unit trust and having very limited influence on how those investments are made.
“These indirect holdings represent a tiny proportion of the fund’s investments – about 0.005 per cent of its total value, which currently stands at £5.6bn.
“We are very keen to invest as ethically as possible, but the pension fund issue is extremely complex, and something that all local government pension funds are grappling with on a national level.
“There is a lot we can do on a local level to make a difference and ensure that people have an alternative. We have recently reorganised our welfare rights service to ensure it can help more people with financial problems, and The Bridges Community Bank in South Shields is a non-profit service that offers far lower rates.
“There are also encouraging signs that the new Financial Conduct Authority is ready to cap the cost of loans and provide increased protection for vulnerable borrowers.
“In the long term these things will either encourage payday lenders to improve their practices or it will impact on their profits, which in turn would make it easier for pension funds to invest elsewhere while staying within the law.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 17 March 2014
Council leaders in South Tyneside are being asked to launch a crusade against high-interest rate lenders.
The move comes as the Citizens Advice Bureau in South Shields says the number of people approaching it with debts resulting from payday loans has doubled in the last two years and the average amount owed is £1,610.
A motion, to go before a full meeting of South Tyneside Council council later this week, calls for a series of measures to clampdown on lenders like Wonga, The Money Shop, Quickquid and Payday UK.
The recommendations are:
* Blocking access to loan company websites from council-owned computers.
* Issuing public warnings about the dangers of payday lenders.
* Work with partners to stop lenders locating in South Tyneside and prevent them promoting their businesses in the borough.
* Try to get licensing powers extended to limit the expansion of lenders in the borough.
* Provide debt advice to people affected by lenders.
* Promote the Bridge Community Bank in South Shields as an alternative lender.
> If it’s any incentive, I’ve got an account with The Bridge !
The Money Shop, which has an outlet in Fowler Street, South Shields, offers an annual interest rate of 390.94 per cent and an annual percentage rate – the rate for a payment period, multiplied by the number of payment periods in a year – of 2,962 per cent.
Anyone taking out a £200 loan would face repaying – in a single payment, within 28 days – £259.98.
Coun Allan West, the council’s lead member for adult social care and support services, is a signatary to the motion, and says he is concerned that the most vulnerable people in the borough are falling foul of the lenders.
He said: “It is easy to understand the financial pressures that lead people to rely on payday lenders, but their excessive interest rates mean there is a real risk of a short-term financial issue turning into a long-term spiral of increasing debt and interest payments. A national cap on the cost of lending would go a long way towards protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens from the dangers of payday lending.”
He added: “In the meantime there is a lot we can do locally, by letting people know about options like The Bridges Community Bank, which offers much lower rates, as well as keeping money in the local economy.
“I would encourage anyone who has financial problems or concerns about the Government’s changes to the welfare system to contact the council’s welfare rights service on 424 6040.”
The full council meets at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday.
Payday lending firms have become a major political issue in recent years.
Many councils already block access to lenders’ websites from libraries and other public buildings and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, last year, signed a national charter – supported by some of Britain’s biggest debt, consumer and anti-poverty organisations, including Which?, Citizens Advice, StepChange Debt Charity and Church Action on Poverty – calling for tougher regulation of payday lenders.
In October 2012, Newcastle United sparked a storm when the club announced a four-year sponsorship deal with Wonga.com.
The payday loan company now has its name on the club’s shirts.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery labelled the company “morally bankrupt” on social networking site Twitter.
Before the start of this season, the club’s star striker, Papiss Cisse, said he would not wear the club shirt bearing a Wonga logo on religious grounds, but the row was resolved in time for the club’s warm-up match against St Mirren.
Source – Shields Gazette, 11 March 2014