THERE are fears a possible surge in cases of homelessness related to Covid-19 could overwhelm Swindon’s social housing capacity.

Labour councillor Emma Bushell raised the matter with the Conservative cabinet member for housing and public safety Cathy Martyn when the latter faced questioning by Swindon Borough Council’s scrutiny committee.

Coun Martyn’s report of her department's work included details of the authority’s building programme of 300 new affordable homes at Queens Drive, Bromley Close and Windmill Hill, with preliminary work beginning at small sites in Haydon Wick and Walcot.

Labour group deputy leader and spokesman on social inclusion and equalities Coun Bushell said: “The headline figure of 300 sounds impressive, but the net gain at Queens Drive is actually 65 because homes were demolished, and 20 off of those are to be sold or rented at market rate, and it could be that up to 100 of the flats will be moved from the lower social rent to the higher affordable rent.

“I’m concerned the council’s current building programme of social housing could be insufficient if we see an increase in evictions owing to Covid-19 when the moratorium on private sector evictions is lifted.”

That ban on landlords evicting tenants from privately-owned homes has been extended until Monday, when court proceedings can resume after a six-months pause. The government has also told landlords people should not be evicted in areas where local lockdowns are imposed or over Christmas and new year.

Coun Martyn said there were 300 new affordable homes in the pipeline and invited Coun Bushell to put forward any new sites she thought were suitable.

Coun Bushell said: “I’m just concerned the scale of the ambition might not be what’s needed.”

The council’s head of housing Mike Ash told the meeting there had been an increase in council tenants contacting officers because of difficulties with the rent during lockdown and coronavirus restrictions.

He said: “There has been an increase in preventative work by officers – and there was a concern about the end of the eviction moratorium on August 23, though that has now been put back – but I’m confident that with the personal development plans we are putting in place with tenants there will not be a cliff face.

Coun Martyn added: “Our support extends to council and private sector tenants and homeowners – we have responsibilities under the Homeless Reduction Act.

“Anyone who is concerned about losing their home should get in contact with the council’s housing officers for support and advice in the first instance.”