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Thursday, 27 November 2014

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Council seeks to end the trials of the sofa-surfer generation

AN increasing number of Copeland residents are in arrears with their mortgages, councillors were told.SINGLE men under 35 needing Copeland’s help numbered 87 from April to September this year compared to 55 in the proceeding six months. These are mainly down to relationship breakdowns and being given notice to quit by private landlords.

A rise in repossession letters has been received by the council’s housing options team over the past six months.

Figures from April 1 to September 30, showed the council received 41. The number for the whole of 2011/12 was 69.

George Clements, portfolio holder for housing and planning, said: “Mortgagers tell us whenever they are about to take someone to court for arrears.

From April to September 2012 we had 41 notifications. This is a significant increase. When this happens we contact the person and offer support – we can talk through their housing options and find the best answer for them.

“Preventing homelessness is just as important for us as finding people emergency accommodation when they do become homeless.’’

Councillors were presented with the report at Copeland’s Full Council meeting last Thursday.

They were also told officers had recently inspected 40 local properties to ensure they didn’t have any health and safety rating hazards so rent deposits can be given to tenants who are either homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Figures in the report also show that homelessness was halted on 23 occasions during the first six months of the year, up from last year.

Coun Clements said: “One way we do that is through our homelessness prevention fund. We use it to help people who can afford rent (or are entitled to housing benefit) but not the deposit or the advance rent needed to secure a tenancy. These people are unable to move on from, for example, sofa surfing, because they simply don’t have a lump sum for a deposit.

“That’s when we can step in, look at their situation and, if appropriate, pay the deposit. The person will be expected to pay it back, but only at a rate they can afford. We see this as a good investment if it stops someone becoming homeless and needing emergency accommodation and other support. We also inspect the home they are hoping to move into, making sure it meets legal requirements.’’

Coun Clements also said Copeland had safeguards in place for rough sleepers during the cold weather. “If the forecast is for three or more consecutive nights of sub-zero temperatures then we will offer those sleeping rough emergency accommodation. Luckily we have very few rough sleepers in Copeland – a recent spot check revealed none on that particular night,’’ he said.

Members of the Full Council were also told the number of referrals for disabled facilities grants had also increased. This was money for people to make changes to their homes and includes stairlifts, widening doors for wheelchairs, putting in ramps or handrails, accessible showers and kitchens.

During the first six months of this year, there were 66 grant referrals compared to 66 referrals over the whole of 2010/11. The increase in grants – which allow people to stay in their homes – could be due to Copeland’s increasing elderly population.

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