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Fears city could struggle to keep families off the streets if funding does not continue

PUBLISHED: 16:30 27 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:30 27 June 2019

A homeless person sleeping rough on a bench outside Norwich City Hall.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

A homeless person sleeping rough on a bench outside Norwich City Hall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

New laws which say councils must intervene sooner when people face homelessness have piled pressure on case workers - and there are fears it will soon become unsustainable.

Gail Harris, Labour councillor for Catton Grove in Norwich City Council elections 2016. Pic: Norwich LabourGail Harris, Labour councillor for Catton Grove in Norwich City Council elections 2016. Pic: Norwich Labour

Government legislature introduced last year changed the point at which councils are duty bound to step in when people are at risk of becoming homeless, from 28 days to 56 days.

Geared at lowering the number of people who do end up without homes, the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force in April 2018 and called on councils to intervene sooner.

But it has seen councils faced with a greater workload, which to date has been eased by additional funding.

However, the funding is due to expire in 2021, and Gail Harris, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for social housing, said she fears the workload could become unsustainable.

She said: "People facing homelessness is a tragic but preventable consequence of the government's austerity programme, so I continue to support the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

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"The impact of the act has been to increase the number of people eligible for housing assistance and for a longer period of time.

"Funding currently allocated to address this impact is only confirmed to 2021, making it difficult for us to resource and plan effectively beyond that."

Since the introduction of the act, the average number of families the city council has been required to support has increased by more than 55pc.

In 2017/18 City Hall was dealing with an average of 290 cases a quarter. This figure is now 454.

A city council spokesman said it was a result of the increased number of people needing help, the rigours of providing personalised housing plans for everyone and the requirement for them to run for 56 days, compared with 28.

And with the future of the funding unclear beyond 2021, Mrs Harris admitted to being anxious about what the future holds.

She said: "I am concerned as to how we could sustain even current workloads without a continuation of the additional resource provided by the additional burden funds.

"The additional burden fund is providing £272,902 to the city council until the end of the current financial year, which is ring-fenced to provide officer staff to cope with the extra strain."

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