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Number of homeless children in Norfolk reaches record high

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The number of children who are homeless has almost doubled in some areas of Norfolk in the last year amid a worsening housing crisis.The latest figures show the number of children living in temporary accommodation (TA) in the country has reached the highest number since records began in 2004.It has left councils under immense pressure to place families in suitable homes with the cost of fulfilling this duty pushing them to the brink of bankruptcy.

The number of children who are homeless has almost doubled in some areas of Norfolk in the last year amid a worsening housing crisis. Picture: iStock/ideabug

The scale of the problem means families are living in unsafe and mould-ridden homes due to being unable to afford to live elsewhere.Councillors have described the situation facing families as “appalling” and have called for urgent action to address the crisis. Record highThe latest figures have shown a huge increase in the number of children in temporary accommodation in the last 12 months, with some areas, Broadland and South Norfolk, witnessing an increase of more than 80%.North Norfolk has had the third highest increase of 68% while in Great Yarmouth, the number of children in TA has risen by 40%.While Broadland and South Norfolk have seen the highest percentage increase, Great Yarmouth has the highest number of children living in temporary accommodation in Norfolk – 109 – followed by Breckland (75) and North Norfolk (74). Elsewhere, West Norfolk Council is housing 64 children, while Broadland has 40, South Norfolk has 28 and Norwich City Council has just six children.Overall, of the 1,030 people living in temporary accommodation arranged by Norfolk councils, 40% of them are children. Nationally, there are 139,916 children currently homeless – the highest figure since records began in 2004.“We were desperate” A family of six, who have not been named to protect their privacy, lived for several years in a two-bed home in North Walsham that became ridden with mould, faulty electrics and had no central heating.The family put up with the poor condition of the home due to being unable to afford to rent privately anywhere else but wanted to stay in the area as it was close to the children’s schools and employment. “We were desperate to get out of there, we dreaded coming home but did the best we could to maintain the place,” said the mother of the family. “The house was crumbling and had so many problems.“We are a low-income family and couldn’t afford to rent anywhere else – prices keep going up and up.“We had been on the waiting list for council housing for more than a year but we were low priority and the few places that become available are quickly snapped up.“It was very stressful for all of us and affected our mental health.”North Norfolk District Council became aware of the living conditions and a housing inspector visited the home at the end of last year, during which the officer found a litany of problems ranging from excess cold, damp and mould, faulty heaters, electrical hazards and structural problems including subsidence.In total, 12 hazards were identified and the landlord was instructed to remedy the problems, which required the family to be evicted for the work to be carried out.They have since been housed in temporary accommodation by North Norfolk District Council after they were evicted by their landlord.“It is appalling”Like many towns in Norfolk, North Walsham is facing a shortage of affordable housing while there is a growing number of people applying for council housing as households struggle to make ends meet due to the rising cost of living.Recent figures have shown over a 12-month period, only 27 affordable lettings have become available, whereas currently there are 384 households on housing waiting lists.The average income of households in the town is just £35,000 while a two-bed property can cost as much as £850-£900 a month to rent – about 40% of the monthly income after taxes.Private rental properties are also few and far between, with only five two and three-bed properties available for rent in the town currently on Rightmove.

Councillor Lucy Shires. Picture: North Norfolk District Council

Lucy Shires, North Walsham district councillor and portfolio holder for finance, estates and property services at NNDC, said: “This is the biggest town in North Norfolk but for a town this size there isn’t the private rental market to cope with the number of people – availability is non-existent.“North Walsham is a fantastic town but it is poorly resourced when it comes to affordable housing.“It means families are living in overcrowded properties and many are scared to raise issues with the condition of the property to landlords if it would mean they would have to move out or rental prices would go up.“People are sacrificing living conditions in order to be near their support network of family and friends.”How this is affecting children?Children can be at great risk of harm due to being at risk of homelessness or being placed in temporary accommodation.A recent report by an all-party parliamentary group found that as many as 55 children – mostly aged under one – have died in recent years where living in temporary accommodation has been recorded as a possible contributory factor.The extra stress caused can also have a huge impact on children’s mental health and cause barriers to success at school.Councillor Shires also worries about the effect the lack of housing will have on future generations who will struggle to afford to live away from their parents.“The instability of not having a roof over their heads can cause huge harm but this is increasingly happening due to the gap we face in affordable housing,” she said.“It is not just about now, it is about children of our town in the future when they want to move out from their parents and gain their own independence.“Adult children are desperate to start their own lives but due to the property market being so unaffordable, three or four generations are living under the same roof and can’t make that step.“I am hopeful things will improve for families and the community through new housing but the biggest fear for many local families is they will not be able to afford these properties.“This is a country-wide problem and the government really needs to do more to help families facing homelessness. It is appalling.”Lesley Burdett, strategic lead for Shelter services in Norfolk, added: “Sky-high rents, rising evictions, and a severe lack of social homes are leaving too many families in Norfolk facing homelessness.“While temporary accommodation, like emergency hostels, may keep a roof over families’ heads it is often cramped, in appalling conditions and deeply unstable because they can be sent miles away and moved around without notice. But councils are struggling to find families anywhere else to go.“To eradicate homelessness and stop families ending up in damaging temporary accommodation, the government must invest now in a new generation of genuinely affordable, quality social homes that families on lower incomes can afford to live in.”Thousands waiting for homesFigures revealed at the end of last year showed there were more than 11,800 people currently registered on council housing waiting lists in Norfolk.A Freedom of Information request revealed in North Norfolk there were 2,499 people waiting for a home.Elsewhere, there were 4,300 people in Norwich, 1,625 in Breckland, 1,021 in Broadland and South Norfolk, 1,469 in West Norfolk, and 1,909 in Great Yarmouth.People are waiting anywhere between six months and four years for a home, depending on the property type needed.When people are in need of emergency accommodation, hundreds have been moved outside the district they live in, with some being moved as far away as Ipswich.This has cost councils hundreds of thousands of pounds.In North Norfolk, the bill for temporary accommodation has risen to £1.2m.Norwich City Council has spent £103,983 last year.In Great Yarmouth, the annual cost of providing temporary accommodation has reached about £500,000 annually.Council finances are being pushed to the brink due to a number of factors, including a real-term cut in funding for the last 13 years, but the growing cost of temporary accommodation is a major factor.More than 50 councils have warned they could go bankrupt this year due to this financial burden.What has caused the housing crisis?Social housing has become increasingly scarce while the private rental market has also been squeezed after a number of landlords sold property following the pandemic.The root of the issue is simply not enough affordable housing has been built for decades while the introduction of the Right to Buy scheme in 1980 – which gives tenants the opportunity to buy their home at a discount – further depleted council housing stock.In recent years, there has been a huge drive to build more homes to cope with the growing population, both private and social housing, but it is too little too late, say critics.Michael Gove, levelling up secretary, admitted that successive governments have failed to build enough homes over the past decade, meaning the UK was suffering from an acute shortage.Pollution laws to protect rivers from being harmed by house building have also stalled the rate of new properties being built, with hundreds of homes in the county stuck in limbo.And with the Right to Buy scheme still enshrined in law, it means that even when new homes are built they can be bought by tenants after just a few years.This has been highlighted this month after it was revealed there are seven applications to purchase the award-winning council homes in Goldsmith Street in Norwich – just five years after they were completed in 2019.The issue is incredibly complex and there is no quick fix to solve this crisis.

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