Benefit cuts ‘will increase homelessness’

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Town Hall bosses have approved a plan to tackle homelessness in Preston, amid fears the problem is “only going to get worse” because of benefit changes.

The council’s cabinet agreed their homeless prevention strategy and action plan until 2019, including projects with youngsters across the city.

But despite being widely recognised as having “one of the best homeless strategies” in the region, Preston services have seen a surge in the number of vulnerable people seeking help.

Deputy council leader, Coun John Swindells, said: “We tend to find we pick people up who hear Preston is doing well and come to be homeless in Preston rather than anywhere else.

“Often these people move around and start to tell people where the best services are.”

Coun Swindells said: “I think it is a problem we feel is going to become even bigger because of changes to welfare benefit rules. Universal Credit will be a real worry because when people are given direct access to their money rather than it paying rent, some of them are not used to spending money so may spend it straight away and end up in arrears.

“It’s usually the most vulnerable people with chaotic lives who may suffer the most, who have never had to do it for themselves before who have always had housing benefit paid.”

Coun Swindells said he thought the problem was “something that’s only going to get worse.”

He said one of the strategies was to work with Year 10 and 11 pupils to explain about the credit system and budgeting.

He said: “If we can work with families to explain it’s not quite as rosy as you think out there, (young people) might choose to stay at home.”

Rev Tim Keightley, director of Preston’s Foxton Centre said: “We saw an increase in individuals who came into our day time services in 2013 - a 23 per cent increase on 2012.

“They won’t have all been homeless necessarily, but we went from 230 in 2012 to 284 in 2013.

“That would indicate a rise in the number of people who were feeling vulnerable to becoming homeless.”

He said some people may have accommodation but be struggling to make ends meet, or may find other services weren’t available.

Rev Keightley said: “If we are hearing that there’s still more austerity to come and we perhaps haven’t even got half way through yet, then it would be sensible to assume that’s going to carry on affecting vulnerable people.”