Borough council challenged over £600,000 spend on hotel accommodation for homeless

Mercure Hotel
Bedford's rough-sleepers have been given accommodation at a town centre hotel

Around £600,000 a year is being spent putting homeless people in temporary hotel accommodation despite the council having no statutory duty to do so, a councillor has claimed.

Bedford Borough Council currently has 34 people placed at the Mercure, according to a report given to the Housing Committee on 2 November.

Cllr Stephen Moon (Conservative, Great Barford) asked whether the council had a statutory duty to place any of those 34 people at the hotel and how much this was costing.

Lee Phanco, the council’s chief officer for assessment, application and business support, said there wasn’t a statutory duty to house any of them, and the net cost was around £50 per person per night.

He added that there is some grant funding for this.

Cllr Moon said by his “quick arithmetic” that this is around £600,000 a year. “That seems to me to be a lot of money for those of whom we have no statutory duty,” he said.

“It seems to me this is a matter that should have been given some consideration and should have been subject to a decision.

“As I understand it, there has been no specific decision in this respect which seems to me to be a gap,” he said.

The council’s portfolio holder for finance, Cllr Michael Headley (LibDems, Putnoe), said: “We need to really remember the context of this first of all, and it’s been referenced in this report, we had some of the highest levels of rough sleeping in the country.

“I don’t want to return to that, I don’t want those people who have got nowhere else to go, no recourse to any other support or accommodation to basically go, ‘right you, back on the streets’.

“That’s what we’re providing this service for, and we might not have a statutory duty, but there’s other things to consider beyond what is a legal necessity.

“We should continue to do work to make sure that we’ve got the best and most cost effective provision for people.

“But on the fundamental point I do not want to return to the position where Bedford had one of the highest levels of people sleeping rough on the streets, that is not where I want to be,” he said.

Councillor Moon referred to a section of the report.

“[It says] ‘an overly generous approach providing accommodation can increase demand by attracting people to the borough because they believe they are more likely to be provided with accommodation’,” he said.

“The issue is not about the overall temporary accommodation.

“We will be better able to cope with those for whom we have a duty if we are not equally at the same time trying to cope with those for whom we do not have a duty, that is my basic point,” he said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter