The number of families on the brink of homelessness has surged by one-fifth in the Westcountry, underlining economic strife and a shortage of properties.
Official figures revealed the number of cases of homelessness "prevention and relief" – where councils find accommodation for families about to lose the roof over their heads – hit 5,510 in Devon and Cornwall in the year to March 2012.
It represents a 22% increase on the previous 12 months, when 4,510 cases were recorded across the two counties. The worst affected part of the Westcountry is Exeter, where there were 15.5 cases per 1,000 households registered by local authorities.
North Devon recorded the sharpest increase in the region, with 564 families seeking help compared to 330 the previous year – a jump of 71%. In Cornwall, the latest figures recorded 1,256 cases, a 31% per cent increase on 956 in the previous period. Other districts reporting an increase were West Devon (62%), Teignbridge (54%), South Hams (17%) and East Devon (12%). Mid Devon, Plymouth and Torbay all recorded falls.
The figures were published as the Government set out its proposals to ensure anyone at risk of homelessness gets help. But Jack Dromey, Labour's Shadow Housing Minister, said: "The figures show there has been a rapid increase in the number of people seeking help as a result of the Government's failed economic and housing policies – a double-dip recession made in Downing Street and sharp falls in house building."
A government report – Making Every Contact Count – details the "vital support, such as repossession, tenancy or debt advice and rehousing services [that] can set many people back on track before they face losing their home".
At the same time, homelessness charities in Plymouth, North Devon and Taunton were given funding to extend the No Second Night Out initiative beyond London. The idea is to quickly identify people sleeping rough locally, and charities provide them with help to get them off the streets.
Phil Noall, project manager of Freedom Social Projects, a charity leading a coalition of organisations taking action in North Devon, said of the £200,000 the area will get: "The context of the award is increasing levels of homelessness nationally and in North Devon. Locally we have experienced a 33% rise over the last two years."
However, Crisis, the homelessness charity, pointed out that more and more people are being forced from their homes as the recession bites and they are unable to meet the rent or mortgage.
But Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: "We have some of the strongest protections in the world to safeguard people from homelessness, despite trying economic times, with homelessness in this country lower than for 28 of the last 30 years. But more can always be done."