Belfast Telegraph

Spiralling homeless issue costs £300m in five years in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

The cost of dealing with Northern Ireland's homeless problem has topped £300m in the last five years.

The number of cases has surged by 32% since 2012.

In the last year, a further 12,000 cases were accepted as homeless.

A strategy to address the issue has had limited success, a report published by the Northern Ireland Audit Office concluded.

Since 2005, around 20,000 cases - described by auditors as households - have presented themselves as homeless each year. Around 50% have been accepted as homeless.

However, the report notes that only a handful of people sleep rough each night on the streets.

In many cases people deemed homeless were either living with friends, in temporary accommodation or in properties which are not suitable for their needs.

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said: "Contrary to popular belief homelessness is not restricted to people who sleep rough, it encompasses a much wider range of individuals in a variety of circumstances."

In the 12 months to April, nearly 12,000 new cases were accepted as homeless in Northern Ireland, part of the 32% rise in cases since 2012.

The report reveals homelessness has cost £300m since 2012.

Expenditure last year alone was £62m, with more than 70% (£44m) of this spent on temporary accommodation services, including housing benefit.

There are wider unquantified public sector costs with increased use of the health service and repeated interaction with the criminal justice system.

Mr Donnelly added: "There is no doubt that the social costs of homelessness are significant but would be far greater without this public expenditure."

In most cases the Northern Ireland Housing Executive deals with those who are homeless by providing social housing.

Around 80% of available social homes are allocated to households deemed homeless.

However, today's report notes that the Housing Executive has been unable to fully demonstrate the impact of its work in reducing the problem.

It stated: "We found little first-hand evidence or published statistics to show how many households have been prevented from becoming homeless by the work of NIHE and its partners."

A Housing Executive spokesperson said: "Actions to address some of the recommendations within the report are included in our current homelessness strategy, Ending Homelessness Together, which was published in April of this year."

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: "The department continues to work closely with the Housing Executive and other key partners across government and within the voluntary and community sector on preventing homelessness, and tackling homelessness where it occurs.

The spokesperson added that the department has received the report and will consider it in full, but said it was inappropriate to comment further at this stage.

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