As the amount of temporary accommodation dries up and becomes more expensive in Milton Keynes, the council is considering who among the city’s rising tide of homeless people they will have to send to other parts of the country.
Milton Keynes Council can see a crunch coming as the number of available properties falls and has this week decided to launch an eight week-long public consultation on a new policy on temporary accommodation.
“We maybe at a point now where we have to place some people outside of Milton Keynes,” said Cllr Nigel Long, the council’s Cabinet member for housing and regeneration at a meeting on Tuesday. “It is an incredibly difficult problem.”
Until now, the council has been able to house most families in the city, although it does on occasion pay for housing outside of MK. Now, however, it says there is a need to set some ground rules.
The council currently pays for more than 800 families to stay in temporary accommodation, an increase from 646 in April 2018.
It has also witnessed a burgeoning of homeless applications since the law changed last year allowing more people to apply for council help.
A report to the Delegated Decisions meeting said the number of homeless applications received during 2018/19 was 3,436, an increase of 140 per cent on the number of applications received in 2017/18 (1,349).
The council’s draft new policy sets out a series of rules for people to get temporary accommodation in Milton Keynes. It also sets out rules for being able to turn down an offer of a home. The general rule is that people will receive a take-it-or-leave it offer, even if they aren’t happy with the accommodation.
The policy says households in temporary accommodation will often be placed into units with one bedroom less than they would be entitled to on a permanent basis.
And they will be expected to use a living room for a sleeping area.
They’re also proposing to expect people with certain medical conditions to take up offers. “Problems such as depression, asthma, diabetes or back pain would not normally make a property unsuitable,” the policy states.
Children’s attendance at school is also not a good enough reason to reject an offer of property, although “some priority will be given to special educational needs and students who are close to taking public examination.”
People will be given priority for homes in Milton Keynes if they have “a severe and enduring health condition requiring specialist medical treatment” where a move would disrupt treatment. People with a “severe and enduring mental illness” and are already receiving treatment will get temporary accommodation if the transfer of case would “severely impact on their well-being.
The policy also gives priority to certain children in care and with special educational needs.
Family carers are also to be given priority in MK temporary housing.
But even in these priority cases the council says placements in MK are “dependent on such accommodation being available.”
When people fall through that net, they may be offered accommodation in “nearby boroughs” and if that isn’t available they could be sent even further afield.
Cllr Allan Rankin (Cons, Bletchley Park) said he was concerned that if people were sent many miles away “we would forget about them.”
He added: “I would like assurances that we are not going to be heavy handed.”
But Cllr Long, speaking at Tuesday’s Delegated Decisions meeting, said: “Not long ago we were placing people in places like Great Yarmouth. We make an effort to place people in MK but this paper recognises the difficulties. I wish we weren’t having to do it.”
Cllr Long used powers delegated to him to authorise a public consultation on the new policy. It will be subject to a call-in period before being published.