HOMELESSNESS is on the increase in Huntingdonshire. The downturn in the economy – particularly the increase in unemployment, combined with the cost of mortgages and the difficulty in finding funds – is leading to more people falling into arrears. This in

HOMELESSNESS is on the increase in Huntingdonshire.

The downturn in the economy - particularly the increase in unemployment, combined with the cost of mortgages and the difficulty in finding funds - is leading to more people falling into arrears. This in turn is leading to higher repossession rates and more families turning to the council for help, says Steve Plant, the district council's head of housing services.

Early intervention by HDC led to a reduction in the number of households being accepted as homeless from 254 in 2004/05 to 146 in 2007/08. But the trend has reversed since April, with 91 households accepted as homeless between April and the end of September last year, 15 more than the equivalent period in 2007.

HDC intervened to prevent homelessness for 138 households in 2007/08, 40 more than two years previously. In most cases families were helped into private sector tenancies through the council's help with deposits or advance rent.

Mr Plant pointed to emerging problems that he expected to cause more people to seek the council's help, such as owner-occupiers facing re-possession, or private tenants facing eviction because the landlord wanted to sell the property or could no longer afford the mortgage.

"Where a private sector tenant is faced with eviction, we try to assist with finding another tenancy in the private sector, as this is often the most realistic way of preventing the household from becoming homeless," he added.

"Where an owner-occupier faces possible repossession, there are a number of options that we explore with them to see if we can resolve their problems."

HDC or voluntary organisations such as the Citizens' Advice Bureaux or Huntingdon Law Centre (HLC) - both of which receive grant funding from the council - can help negotiate with the mortgage lender, ensure the lender has followed the pre-court possession protocol agreed with the Council of Mortgage Lenders, provide help at the county court through HLC, or point householders towards the Government's mortgage rescue scheme that comes into effect in the New Year. Details of another Government initiative, the homeowner mortgage support scheme aimed at helping people in temporary difficulty stay in their homes by guaranteeing deferred interest payments, are also expected soon.

Mr Plant said that the 21 units in Coneygear Court, in Oxmoor, the main source of temporary accommodation to the council, offered substandard accommodation, and the facility needed to be razed and re-built at a cost of £2.75million. HDC will support a bid for those funds by Granta Housing Society, the social landlord that owns and operates it.