Suffolk's social housing problems revealed in new figures from district councils
The lack of decent affordable homes across the country continues to dominate the headlines as the cost-of-living crisis hits those who are struggling day-to-day.
New figures, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, have revealed that 10,000 households are looking to be rehomed in Suffolk alone.
Across the county, there is an average 12-month wait to be allocated a new house, with the longest standing at two-years-and-a-eight-months.
We have taken a look at the problems that households in the county are facing, and how each district is faring.
What is social housing?
Housing for those in need can vary with social or affordable rents. Social is around 50 per cent of the rent, while affordable sees people pay up to 80 per cent.
Statistics from the Regulator for Social Housing show there were 4.4 million homes across the sector in 2022 - a net increase of 31,000. However, while the number of affordable homes being built across the country rose, the number of social rent homes fell.
Furthermore, rent prices for social housing rose by 1.6 per cent, while the average rent price across the sector was £94.31.
Local authorities across the county also use different providers to help supply their homes. Havebury Housing Association and Flagship Group are partnered with West Suffolk Council, while Ipswich Borough Council, Babergh, Mid Suffolk and East Suffolk Council’s are partnered with Gateway to Home Choice.
As part of applying for a social house, residents are prioritised into a ‘Band’. Officers assess each individual's needs, and they are then categorised depending on whether they have an urgent need or a low need.
Band A is for those with the highest priority. These households may require a transfer from one property to another due to urgent repairs, medical needs or are at risk of homelessness. Documents from West Suffolk Council show households with multiple needs will also be deemed as the highest priority, as will those with lacking two or more bedrooms.
Applicants with a high health and safety risk, high medical need, victims of harassment or abuse, sleeping rough or lacking one bedroom are deemed as Band B, the second highest need.
Band C is for those with a medium medical need, may need to move for social reasons, housing conditions or may have a reasonable preference but no local connection to the area.
Those with the lowest need to move will be categorised in Band D, as they are likely to have sufficient financial needs to resolve their own needs. Documents from West Suffolk Council state: “These applicants will only be considerefor an offer of a property once all other bidding applicants who do not have sufficient financial resources to resolve their own housing need have been considered.”
East Suffolk Council
Suffolk’s coastal district is the largest council authority in the country, and also has the highest number of people looking to be rehomed.
A total of 4,479 households are looking to move, with the average wait for a property currently 10-and-a-half-months.
Cllr David Beavan, who represents Southwold and Reydon on East Suffolk Council, said some residents were sleeping on sofas as they could not find a place to live.
"You can't really compare it with another district," said Cllr Beavan, referencing the fact that East Suffolk is the biggest district authority in the country.
"But it is a particularly appalling situation. It is basically not enough houses.
"In my ward it is terrible. I have got families living with their parents - there is 300 people in temporary accommodation. There is one young family with two young kids. It is just ridiculous."
A spokesman for East Suffolk Council said there had been a sector-wide increase in registrations for housing over the last five years as a result of social economic changes, such as refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine and Covid-19.
Figures provided by the authority show it let 833 properties through Gateway to Homechoice, its letting agents partner, in 2020/21.
Cllr Beavan continued: "The housing department has got to bring in more people to deal with the people applying for temporary accommodation.
"If they're accepted as homeless then they have got a legal obligation to house them.
"The reason why we are getting so many more homeless people is there are not enough houses to put them in. If you want to solve the problem, just build more houses.
"This is just sticking plasters over the problem."
The East Suffolk Council spokesman added: “We work hard to prevent homelessness wherever possible and encourage applicants to source accommodation in the private sector where it is reasonable and affordable for them to do so.
"We operate an ‘open’ waiting list, meaning that people with no identified housing need can apply, and this may result in active applicant numbers appearing higher than other parts of the country.
"Anyone who currently resides in the UK and is not subject to immigration control can join the register."
West Suffolk Council
The overall number of people looking to be rehomed in West Suffolk has fallen since 2020, when there were 2,057 households on the register.
As of December 1, 2022, a total of 1,976 households were on West Suffolk Council's records, with building works on track for 288 homes in 2022/23.
“The council consistently meets the government's housing delivery targets and is responding proactively to its affordable housing need," said Cllr Sara Mildmay-White, West Suffolk Council’s cabinet member for strategic health and housing, and Cllr David Roach, cabinet member for planning.
"The council has in place a policy requiring developers to deliver 30 per cent of new homes to be affordable housing on developments of 10 homes or more and we continue to achieve this policy.
"This includes a mix of affordable rent and shared ownership properties. We ensure through the planning process and working closely with housing associations that the right type, mix and size of homes are delivered to meet those in need of homes on our housing register at the time of building.”
A spokesman for Havebury Housing said: "Since April 2022, we have let 378 homes to people in housing need; this includes 51 new build homes. Alongside this, we have completed 52 new build sales through our shared ownership scheme.
"Our aim is to build 1,050 new homes over the next five years."
Labour Cllr Diane Hind, who represents the Tollgate ward in Bury St Edmunds on West Suffolk Council, believed more needed to be done.
"Repeatedly the Labour Group has raised questions about the council building more homes for social rent but having divested its stock to Havebury 20 years ago, the current administration on West Suffolk Council will not even consider it.
"A secure home is essential and the basic block to a happy life, and instead of focusing on home ownership we need to build more social and truly affordable housing."
Ipswich Borough Council
While Ipswich Borough Council has 2,745 households on their register, the wait for people in Band A, deemed to be the highest priority, is just 4.9 months.
However, the authority does have the highest number of empty homes of all Suffolk district councils with 64, although 12 are under offer.
Councillor Neil MacDonald, Ipswich Borough Council's portfolio holder for housing, said:“The development of new affordable housing remains a priority for Ipswich Borough Council. I was delighted to be at the official opening of 16 flats in Grimwade Street recently, with residents very pleased with their new homes.
“Ipswich has an increasing demand for housing, and we’re pleased that over the next three years we will see a further 300 new homes being developed, so I’m looking forward to several more official openings.”
As of April 2022, there were 107 households categorised in Band A by Ipswich Borough Council, while there were 525 in Band B and 625 in Band C.
Babergh and Mid Suffolk
Over 800 people are still looking for a social house in Babergh, while Mid Suffolk has the fewest number of people looking to be rehomed with 617.
However, 11 of Mid Suffolk's properties have been empty for over two years, although a council spokesperson said some of these are hard-to-let homes.
They said: “We believe everyone should have a safe and secure place to call home, and support our tenants to find the right type of housing in the right place.
“Of course, we don’t want anyone waiting longer than necessary, so our teams work hard when a property becomes vacant to carry out any work required so they can be re-let as quickly as possible.
“However, we’re obviously not immune to the supply issues that are affecting the whole construction industry at the moment. Nor are we prepared to re-let properties until all statutory checks have been carried out and we know they are safe for our tenants.”
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