£1m to put up homeless in Northern Ireland hotels and B&Bs 'shows we need more social housing'
More than £1m was spent lodging homeless people in specialist accommodation such as hotels and guesthouses in a three-year period.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive made 1,600 placements in what the organisation described as "non-standard" premises - at an average cost of nearly £630.
The majority of cases involved those left homeless following severe flooding in the north west in 2017.
Homeless charities have long raised concerns about reliance on accommodation such as B&Bs, saying it highlights the lack of social housing here.
A Freedom of Information request shows that from April 2015 to April 2018, the Housing Executive spent £1,036,334 on stays in "non-standard" accommodation, typically hotels and B&Bs.
In that three-year period some 1,652 placements were made - meaning an average stay costs around £627.
A breakdown shows:
l In 2015/16, the Housing Executive spent £287,105 on 629 placements.
l In 2016/17, the figure dropped to £158,207 spent on 349 stays.
l And in 2017/18, it rose substantially to £591,023 on 674 placements.
The Housing Executive said the significant number of placements in non-standard accommodation during 2017/18 was the result of floods in the north west.
Some 400 homes were impacted by the flood waters following nine hours of heavy rainfall in August 2017.
One of the worst affected areas was Eglinton, where dozens of families remained out of their homes for several months.
In exceptional circumstances, Housing Executive tenants who require temporary emergency accommodation due to issues such as flooding or fire may also be housed in non-standard accommodation. The majority of placements are applicants presenting as homeless who are awaiting the outcome of the Housing Executive's decision on their application, or applicants who meet the criteria but for whom no immediate permanent accommodation is available.
In some cases an individual or family was responsible for more than one placement.
Tony McQuillan, director of charity Shelter NI, said placing homeless people in bed and breakfasts or hotels should be a rarely used housing solution confined to certain emergency situations. "The lack of social housing is a major contributing factor for the current record levels of homelessness," he said.
"In a few months, we face the end of welfare mitigations which will turn the housing and homelessness crisis here into a total catastrophe."
He added: "We need, right now, an all-encompassing comprehensive solution to end homelessness, fully resourced by all the relevant responsible bodies to deliver the services and levels of social housing we urgently need."
The Housing Executive said non-standard accommodation is used in exceptional circumstances and for as short a duration as possible.
It added: "We have a statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation as required by legislation.
"We have a range of temporary accommodation options, including hostels for families and singles with high, medium and low support needs and we can also use single lets in the private sector.
"While the Housing Executive will, in all circumstances, attempt to place a household in the most appropriate temporary accommodation in the most suitable location, the often 'crisis' nature of homeless presentations means finding a suitable placement on the day of presentation may not always be possible.
"In these circumstances, our statutory duty remains and therefore it may be necessary to use non-standard accommodation such as hotels or B&Bs to ensure the household is not left on the street or without a roof."
It said that once someone has been placed in non-standard accommodation, staff attempt to find a more appropriate placement as quickly as possible.