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An unfair homeless charge in the Highlands may stop people from being able to access permanent accommodation

By Louise Glen

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Emma Roddick. Picture: James MacKenzie
Emma Roddick. Picture: James MacKenzie

That is the view of MSP Emma Rdddick, Highlands and Islands, in response to a charge made by local authorities that sees homeless people pay a surcharge by Highland Council of up to £54 per week on top of rent for temporary housing.

The charge which , which covers administration, furniture leasing, property management, tenancy management and garden maintenance can add huge costs on top of the cost of temporary housing rents.

There is no let up from the fee, as the Homeless Service Charge is charged weekly over 53 weeks.

Over the past five years 7760 people have been homeless people have taken on a tenancy in the Highlands, 36 per cent of them pay the bill themselves.

Charges can be added to the cost of rent for garden maintenance of £4.22, tenancy management at £10.66, property management at £13.31, and charges are also added on for furniture of up to £29.05 - depending on the size of house and if there is a stairway inside. The costs are set each year.

A spokeswoman said: "Highland Council provides homeless accommodation in a variety of ways – using our own properties as well as leasing from our housing association partners and the private sector.

"This determines the rent charges as we set rents on a “full cost recovery” basis and means that there are a wide range of different rents depending on the type and size of a property.

"Rents are set as follows:1. council owned flats and houses – the normal rent for the property plus a service charge which covers the cost of furnishing the unit, cutting grass and the extra staff costs of booking homeless households in and out, ensuring the unit is clean for the next household etc.

"A typical rent for a two-bed council owned flat being used as temporary accommodation is £74.89 plus £43.35 which equals £118.24 – this would be fully covered by housing benefit if the homeless household qualified.

"The household would be responsible for their own heating/lighting charges, Council Tax etc."

She continued: "Leased flats and houses – we lease properties from both our housing association partners as well as the private rented sector.

"We re-charge the current housing association rent as well as negotiating an affordable rent with the private landlord where possible, using our own rent levels as a guide.

"This allows us to then charge a rent similar to those in council owned units. Some units are locked into higher rents because of historic contracts but these are re-negotiated to an affordable level as the contracts end.

"The average weekly rent is currently £143.79 plus the Homeless Service Charge."

She continued: "Leased units in Houses of Multiple Occupation – we contract this type of unit on an “as needed” basis from providers in the private sector. We only pay for what we use. The average rent is £192.32 – there is no service charge applied and heating and lighting is included in the rent."

"Again, this will be covered by housing benefit for those households which qualify although a non-rebateable deduction of £10 is applied for heating and lighting as Housing Benefit cannot be used to cover this type of charge.

The council does however have a maximum rental charge for any property for people paying their own bill, but the Homeless Service Charge is not waived, unless they are in a leased unit.

To the end of November there were 645 occupied temporary homeless units across Highland, and 413 households in receipt of housing benefit.

MSP Emma Roddick said: "The cost of being homeless is something most people will never be aware of. You can end up paying hundreds a week, essentially trapping you in temporary accommodation as you can't save for a deposit even if you are working.

"Folk will tell you to get a better job or take out credit - those people have never tried applying for either with a temporary address.

"Most of us are just a couple months' pay or an unlucky event away from being in this position."

She added: "There needs to be much more support for people struggling to find a secure place to live, and much more understanding shown."

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