FENLAND'S HOUSING CRISIS: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ROCKETS AND ADDS TO THE PROBLEM

PUBLISHED: 15:15 11 August 2008 | UPDATED: 08:35 02 June 2010

housing feature for JE

housing feature for JE

SPECIAL REPORT By JOHN ELWORTHY DOMESTIC violence in Fenland is spiralling with number of reported incidents rocketing 50 per cent in the five years to 2007/8 – adding strain to the district s growing housing crisis. A shock report shows that a quarter o

housing feature for JE

SPECIAL REPORT

By JOHN ELWORTHY

DOMESTIC violence in Fenland is spiralling with number of reported incidents rocketing 50 per cent in the five years to 2007/8 - adding strain to the district's growing housing crisis.

A shock report shows that a quarter of all serious violent crime in Fenland - which is well above the county average- is down to domestic violence.

"There are particular problems with violent crime, 16.42 violent crimes per thousand in Fenland compared to 10.3 violent crimes per thousand in Cambridgeshire," says the report from Fenland District Council.

"It is shocking to note that 25 per cent of serious violent crime is domestic violence."

The figures are contained in the council's newly approved homelessness strategy for 2008-2012 which highlights the problems facing many thousands of people in the Fens.

The council has produced tables showing the year on year increase since 2003/4 and says it "clearly demonstrates an increase in reported domestic violence. In response, the county council is considering a domestic violence co-ordination unit. Part of the unit's role would include an enhanced outreach service for the Fens as a way of making it easier for victims of domestic violence to seek help."

The report adds: "One of our most common issues is women fleeing domestic violence." Staggeringly between 2005/6 and 2006/7 the council says cases of domestic violence doubled, from 805 incidents to 1221.

COPING with victims of domestic violence is not the only issue facing the district council for the report highlights many other areas of concern which are causing difficulties right across the board.

The council says there has also been an increase in the number of 16 and 17 year-olds presenting themselves as homeless -in just two years the number has doubled.

"There are clearly barriers for young people whose only option either by choice or necessity is to leave home," says the report. Last year 76 youngsters presented themselves to Fenland Council as being homeless compared to just 44 the year before.

"Young people approach us either when they decide they wish to leave home or more commonly when parents/relatives/friends can no longer accommodate them," says the report.

FENLAND Council says its new strategy for tackling housing problems will be "a significant shift in emphasis away from a reactive homelessness service to a preventative one."

Early intervention to youth homelessness, more mediation, work with private sector landlords, discussions with families, raising awareness of the limited options to young people, and greater use of the Citizens Advice Bureau are all included.

The council says its finders' fee initiative has been its most successful form of homelessness prevention but of late has suffered as private landlords show greater reluctance to accept individuals claiming help with their rent from local housing allowance. The fee is used to pay for a deposit for landlords, fast tracks local housing allowance, and gives 12 month security.

The council has also operated a 'saved tenancies' scheme where it has intervened with social housing landlords where eviction has been threatened because of rent arrears.

Pro active work from the housing options team has meant the tripling of preventions since 2005 and "the strategy has a key focus to maintain this by a variety of innovative techniques."

But the council fears it may struggle to maintain its services for "whilst homeless prevention is instilled within our service, we currently struggle to resource prevention due to the increase in the volume of calls."

Migrant workers also put pressure on the housing service with four out of every ten inquiries at the Wisbech CAB coming from this sector of the community.

The council has seen "a steady stream increase in the number of migrant workers presenting as homeless."

HISTORICALLY, says FDC, there has not been a significant rough sleeper presence. Until now the council has assessed there being between 0 and 10 rough sleepers.

However in recent months the council "has received information that this picture may be changing. We cannot move to the next category of rough sleepers, 11-20, without a formal rough sleeper count."

That count takes place next month.

MARCH is set to get a Foyer Project comparable to the scheme in Wisbech which provides temporary housing for young people, a social centre and training opportunities.

FDC says it has ordered a feasibility study to look at the possibility of expanding the Foyer scheme to March which will enable young people requiring housing to take up training and employment in a supported environment.

The council is also working with the Ferry Project in Wisbech and has helped secure £700,000 of Government funding to provide additional housing support for young people.

TEN CRITICAL FACTS ABOUT FENLAND'S HOUSING CRISIS

1: FDC has applied for £10,000 worth of funding to support the CAB's plans for a court desk- a system that will help provide legal assistance to those facing eviction for either mortgage or rent arrears.

2: A third of all households in Fenland do not earn enough to buy on the open market. The district has the lowest average annual earnings in the Cambridge sub region (£23,930 at the last count).

3: A quarter of the population of Fenland cannot afford private sector housing, according to recommended scales set out by the Government.

4: Growing numbers of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and especially in Wisbech are adding to the pressure on the private rented sector "and it is likely that the price of private rents will almost certainly rise." There are 11 licensed HMOs in Fenland but another 500 which do not need licensing.

5: In 2003/04 the council handled 1,113 inquiries about housing- by last year that figure had grown to 2,075. Improved access may have partly increased the number but also the "upward trend in homelessness."

6: Numbers of private rented homes may also drop in Fenland because landlords either want to sell them or move back into them. "The impact of the credit crunch may significantly increase homelessness presentations in this area in the future," says the council.

7: At the latest count Fenland had 2,200 applicants looking for social housing- an increase of 168 on the same time last year.

8: Supply and demand is expected to widen. Although the Housing Corporation has allocated Fenland nearly £5 million for 115affordable homes as part of a an allocation for the next three years, this is nowhere enough. "There is an increase in homelessness and housing need due to repossessions and people not being able to access the market.

"However there is already underlying increases in demand as insufficient affordable homes are being built to meet existing need."

9: In Fenland the majority of those presenting themselves as homeless are lone female parents, closely followed by lone females.

10: All those going into hostel and temporary accommodation get asked to complete a "customer satisfaction survey" from Fenland Council. Exit surveys are also undertaken.


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