In the second part of his investigation into homelessness in Swindon, CHRIS HUMPHREYS looks at how a shortage of social housing is forcing the council to shell out millions to private landlords.

SURGING levels of homelessness are being made worse by a crisis in council house building and a private rental sector out of reach to those in need.

Yesterday, the Adver revealed that the number of Swindon households now considered homeless has risen by 78 per cent in the past five years and that families with children have been particularly affected.

Today we can report that a shortage of local authority and housing association properties is forcing councils to rely on private sector accommodation and hostels for temporary accommodation, at a huge cost to the taxpayer.

Five years ago the council was able to find places in local authority accommodation for 110 homeless households and only had to rely on the private sector for 16.

But a snapshot of the picture in July this year shows that balance is now reversed, with 249 households temporarily accommodated in the private rented sector and just 32 in council or housing association properties.

A further 66 were in hostels and six in bed and breakfasts.

Figures released following a Freedom Of Information request reveal the financial impact of the change.

Last year Swindon Borough Council spent £3.8m on securing temporary private rented accommodation. A further £229,000 was spent paying for bed and breakfast places and £94,315 on council properties.

In total, the amount spent on putting a roof over Swindon’s rising statutory homeless population was £4.1m. That represents a 275 per cent increase since 2012/13 when the total cost was not even £1m.

Labour’s housing spokesman in Swindon, Emma Bushell, has called on the Conservative administration to build more social housing to help tackle the problem.

She said: “We need more affordable housing in Swindon for families to live in. The council needs to be more ambitious in its house building programme.

“In addition, the Government should be offering financial assistance to councils to encourage house building.

“All of the causes of this increase in homelessness were foreseeable. The Government, working with local authorities, now needs to start taking measures to reduce homelessness in Swindon and across the UK.”

Her calls for more council homes were backed by both of Swindon’s Conservative MPs.

South Swindon’s Robert Buckland said: “I strongly support proposals in the Conservative manifesto to build more council houses and to plough any proceeds of their later sale back into building more social housing.”

North Swindon’s Justin Tomlinson said the Government’s house-building programme was working but that the council needed to do more at a local level.

“As a Government we have embarked on a major housebuilding programme to deliver more affordable homes, something Swindon is at the forefront of,” he said.

“This, combined with the ending of the spare room subsidy which released much-needed family homes, has helped reduce the national housing waiting list by 500,000.

“Swindon Borough Council need to work much harder to speed up the process of both encouraging residents to sign up for right to buy and to crucially use the money released to build new homes. This is vital.”

But under current right to buy rules, there are limits on the amount of right to buy receipts councils get to keep and additional limits on the extent to which those receipts can fund the building of replacement housing.

The Local Government Association has repeatedly called on the Government to change the system to give them more freedom over the way the money is used.

Cathy Martyn, the Conservative cabinet member for housing and homelessness, said the council had been active in taking steps in Swindon to address the nationwide problems of homelessness.

“A few months ago in April 2017, cabinet gave permission for the council to use up to £17m of Housing Revenue Account reserves and right to buy receipts to buy family-sized empty properties that meet the council’s decent homes standard,” she said. “These homes would then be available for rent.”

The Adver understands that since that decision, just over £2m has been spent, with 16 properties purchased.

Coun Martyn said: “In March 2017, cabinet allocated £15m for a council-owned housing development company, which follows from the Commercial Investment Strategy approved in January this year. “Some of these homes will be purpose-built bungalows, which will allow residents to remain living independently in the neighbourhoods they know while releasing larger homes for sale or rent. “Others will be for rent on an affordable basis, while some will be for sale to fund future projects. The first houses in this programme are already being built in Euclid Street.”

Swindon Borough Council said they were committed to doing what they could to prevent homelessness.

“We are offering financial assistance to people, providing advice to tenants to help them stay in and maintain their tenancies, and referring people to other accommodation providers,” a spokesman said.

“The Housing Options service provides a dedicated housing advice website,

“The council is also continuing to increase the housing supply in Swindon such as the recently completed Sussex Place development.”