Bogumil Kusiba is a 54-year-old ambulance worker. A few weeks ago he fell on hard times and was left homeless.
KentOnline’s readers have been following his story, from living in his car to finally finding a home with some Aalpacas, and have asked why more couldn’t be done to help him. Alex Langridge answers some common questions on temporary accommodation.
What is temporary accommodation?
When people find themselves homeless, the council will help in any way it can.
They are immediately owed a relief duty which means the authority must help them secure accommodation, according to the Homelessness Reduction Bill. This could mean providing a rent deposit.
The duty lasts up to 56 days and is available to anyone eligible, meaning they have the right to stay in the UK and are homeless, regardless of if they have a priority need.
However, if they do have a priority need, as explained below, temporary accommodation will be offered while the local authority continues to work on finding them more permanent homes.
Temporary accommodation is short-term housing and can be either emergency accommodation, such as B&Bs, hostels, and hotels, or long-term temporary accommodation, like a room in a shared house, privately rented flat, or council-owned property.
The government recognises emergency accommodation is not suitable housing as it does not have cooking facilities or living space for example so those who are placed there will only be so for up to six weeks.
Temporary housing should be available where the person already lives and travels to work, is in education, has caring responsibilities and support networks.
But in some cases, the council may have to place them elsewhere if there are not enough homes, with the intention of moving them back as soon as possible.
For example, Newham council is set to place around 80 homeless households in Anchorage House, Chatham, due to an “increasing shortage of suitable homes” in the London borough.
Although it is only supposed to be a temporary solution for a few weeks, more commonly homeless people are facing months, or in some cases years, before long-term housing is found.
Who is eligible?
Not everyone who finds themselves without a place to live is eligible for temporary accommodation so decisions are based on three criteria.
As the number of people approaching councils looking for help rises, officers have to make tough decisions and need to be satisfied the person has the right to stay in the UK, is homeless and has a priority need.
A priority need is a special reason why the local authority is obliged to give you more help if you are homeless or facing homelessness as outlined by the Housing Act 1996 (amended 2002).
Pregnant women, those with dependent children, people who are vulnerable due to old age, mental illness or disability, someone who is made homeless as a result of an emergency such as flood or fire, care and prison leavers, or a victim of domestic abuse, have the priority need for temporary accommodation.
Everyone who meets the three criteria is treated the same but this means people like Bogumil who are single and do not have any dependents are classed as not a priority need and would not be offered temporary accommodation.
What options are available for those who are not a priority need?
If people are not deemed to have a priority need but meet the other two criteria they are still entitled to help from their council under the 56-day relief duty.
This could include referral to the council's rough sleeping team, help with applying for housing benefits, or a discretionary payment all while officers still try and help them find a home.
Bogumil, for example, said he was offered a discretionary payment to help him pay for a deposit in a flat once he had secured a tenancy and continued to look for spare rooms as the local authority could not house him temporarily.
After reading his story, the NHS worker was offered a long-term place to stay on an alpaca farm but without the kind offer, he said he would still be in his car.
And like the 54-year-old, homeless people who cannot be offered temporary accommodation through the council will have to look elsewhere such as at a friend or relative's house or a place at a refuge or hostel.
What pressures are local authorities facing?
The number of people turning up on councils’ doorsteps asking for help is rising for several reasons such as hikes in private rent costs that people cannot afford with the ever-rising cost of living.
Figures released by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils across England, last month, revealed 104,000 households were living in temporary accommodation by the end of March 2023.
This is the highest figure since records began in 1998 and has cost the authorities at least £1.74 billion in 2022/23.
Last month, KentOnline reported more than half of the county’s councils have seen temporary accommodation costs double between 2018 and 2023.
While only two saw less than a 50% increase, Gravesham council has funded the largest rise in percentage terms, with an increase of 348.6%.
Cabinet member for housing services at Gravesham, Cllr Jenny Wallace, explained they only have a finite number of council-owned homes so have to look for temporary accommodation elsewhere, such as private landlords who usually charge an expensive nightly charge.
Although tenants can claim housing benefits to pay the council to live there it is not enough to cover the entire bill so it is up to the local authority to foot the rest causing huge financial pressures.
Cllr Wallace added: “It is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking because these are people who are having to relinquish their homes.
“If you have two parents, one, two, three children, it does not take much to imagine what the upheaval is and if they had to move into temporary accommodation.
“That is why, as a council, we are trying to make it easy….it is not easy...but as easy as we can to help them because your heart goes out to them.
“It is not just Gravesham. It is across the country. Every local authority has this enormous pressure.”
What can councils do to try and relieve the pressures?
It is down to individual councils to come up with solutions and there are no set rules on what they can or cannot do as long as they have the budget for it.
This could include building new council-owned homes, purchasing properties in the borough to use for short-term housing, or working with private sector landlords to get people in temporary accommodation into permanent homes.
Swale Borough Council has recently offered to buy out homeowners to help them meet demand for temporary housing.
Can't housing developers help with the lack of social housing?
Housing developers do not have to provide social housing but if required by a section 106 when planning is approved they could be made to build several affordable units.
What’s next for people living in temporary accommodation?
During their time in temporary accommodation, it is expected that the person has been actively trying to find a long-term home and working with the council so when the 56-day relief duty period lapses they have somewhere with a 12-month tenancy.
If they do not, they will stay in temporary accommodation until a suitable and affordable solution is secured.
Most people who leave temporary accommodation will be moved to private rented housing due to the lack of council homes in many areas, according to homelessness charity Shelter.
But some will be put on the local authority’s waiting list and be given a home if one becomes available.