Richmond Council has refused to roll back a new system for charging homeless families to store their belongings which could see fees “run into the hundreds, if not thousands”. In the old system, a homeless family in temporary accommodation was charged a one-off up front payment of £50 to store their belongings. Now homeless families in need of the service will have an account set up, through which they will pay instalments. Each family will be assessed to see how much they can pay and the average will be £100-150 per month. Those on very low income or benefits will have to pay around £5 a week.
On average 20 households per year require the service, which costs the council just over £30,000, but last year people needing the service doubled, which cost £65,000. However, Councillor Geraldine Locke, who called-in the decision with Councillor Suzette Nicholson on the grounds it was “against the public good” said the money recuperated by the council would be “such a small amount”. She said: “We understand that the council is under budgetary pressure, but this will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in society- £5 a week might not be a lot to some people but it is to others.”
Richmond Council cabinet member for housing, public health and community safety Mark Boyle admitted that “in the long-run the charges will potentially be higher” but “it’s about balance”. He said: “We have huge pressure on our budget. The new system gives everyone access to the service. Councils have a statutory duty to protect the personal property of homeless applicants when it is at risk of damage or loss and the applicant is unable to protect or deal with it themselves. The council provides people with furnished temporary accommodation, therefore we’re incentivised to get them into permanent accommodation as soon as possible. I believe when it’s been done in other boroughs people have found ways store their belongings with friends and family much more readily.”
Commenting on the move, Polly Neate, CEO of homeless charity Shelter, said: “Being made homeless is traumatic enough, but having to pay to keep your belongings safe is yet another strain on a family’s finances. To stop even more families from becoming homeless in the first place, the government must end the freeze on housing benefit in the autumn budget. And in the long term, it must build far more homes that are genuinely affordable to rent or buy.”
Liberal Democrat leader of the opposition, Councillor Gareth Roberts, described the move as “yet another blow to the most vulnerable members of our society”.
We'll mail you about once a month with Green Party news and updates for your area. We'll always keep your details safe, private and secure.