Temporary accommodation in Southwark is at crisis point and the situation is set to get worse, the council’s overview and scrutiny committee was told on Monday (January 25).  

The council has overspent by more than £8.9 million this year in homeslessness services, while the number of homeless applications has surged by 51 per cent compared to this time last year.  

The details emerged during an all-day scrutiny meeting on the council’s upcoming budget. 

Southwark Council is proposing £14.7 million in budget cuts next year, £2.7 million of which will affect services. 

It is also planning to take £5 million from its around £21 million reserves to balance the budget.  

Part of the cuts will include job losses in senior management and elsewhere, as well as closing an adult day centre for good.   

Cabinet members were quizzed by committee members throughout the meeting.  

Concerns were raised about food insecurity, reluctance to take the Covid-19 vaccine among Black and ethnic minority communities, young people’s mental health amid the pandemic, service fees, and pressures on temporary accommodation. 

See related: Southwark to tackle reluctance to take Covid-19 vaccine

The council is injecting £4 million into temporary accommodation. 

Cllr Helen Dennis, cabinet member for social support and homelessness told the committee: “The situation this year has been pretty bleak and I would go as far as saying there’s a bit of a crisis in temporary accommodation.  

“We overspent more than £8.9 million on our homelessness services. A lot of that is directly related to Covid pressures and so can be covered by some of the additional funding that we’ve received from the Government.  

“But it’s important as we look ahead to the pressures that that service is going to face [and] that we don’t take those lightly and that we plan for [them].” 

The council has committed to 5.5 extra staff in homelessness services.  

“The situation going forward once the evictions ban ends is going to be quite different, so I would expect us to see a further increase in homelessness, including homeless families coming forward,” Cllr Dennis said.  

Following questions from committee members, she agreed that the council needs to take a holistic approach. 

“This isn’t just about providing funding for homelessness and rough sleeping, it’s stemming the flow of people into homelessness in the first place, which is resulting from a lack of available, affordable and sustainable accommodation,” she said.  

The council is working on tackling issues in the private rented sector (PRS), such as affordability, the local housing allowance, and “the benefit cap that has such a big impact on families who want to stay in the borough”.  

Cllr Dennis said the council is planning a new licensing scheme within the PRS, a private renters union, and said a PRS forum has been established.  

“We’re also trying to do as much as we can to incentivise private landlords to work with us in the provision of temporary accommodation for homeless families,” she said.  

Speaking earlier in the day, Cllr Rebecca Lury, cabinet member for finance and resources, said the council had received less grant funding from Government overall compared to the year before.  

“Since the December cabinet report, Government published the provisional local government settlement. 

“Despite the headline announcement of an addition £2.2 billion for local government nationally, there was little in the way of new money, with the largest part of the increase in spending power coming from the permission for us to raise both council tax and the social care precept.  

“In fact, overall the council will receive less core grant funding in 2021/21 than it received in 2020/21.”  

Cllr Lury said the council would continue to try to decrease the £5 million in reserves being used to balance the budget.  

“But in these exceptional and unpredicable times, we’re conscious of the need to keep some flexibility in our capacity to spend over the coming year,” she said.  

The committee is set to meet again on Tuesday evening (January 26) to set out its recommendations on the budget.