Mortgage default is the biggest risk to households

DEFAULTING on mortgage payments in 2011 led to 4000 families across Scotland (249 of them in the Borders) being in danger of becoming homeless and needing to be found accommodation by the local authority.

However, the homeless figures released by the Scottish Government last week revealed that despite the fact that the number of notifications from creditors about mortgage defaults during 2011 had doubled from the previous year, the number of people actually made homeless because of defaulting on their mortgage was 56 per cent lower than 2010 - and this is believed to be because of a ruling in the Supreme Court in November 2010 which has made it more difficult for creditors to seize people’s homes.

It still remains the main reason for people being under threat of eviction from their homes in the Borders: 249 notified by creditors; 207 by housing associations; and 18 by private landlords.

The number of homeless people in the Borders in December 2011 was 89, the third lowest figure in Scotland: 77 were accommodated in temporary social sector housing and 12 in bed and breakfast accommodation. On average people were spending around 117 days in temporary accommodation in the region and Scottish Borders Council aims to reduce that figure by ten per cent each year through to 2017.

Across Scotland there were 23,796 homeless applications in April to September 2011 - 20% below the same period in 2010 and applications are at their lowest since April to September 2002. During that period applications fell in 28 out of the 32 local authority areas in Scotland and both the Borders and Aberdeen City saw the largest falls of 56 per cent.

Scottish Government officials believe this decrease is mainly a consequence of changes in the services which local authorities provide to households who approach them for assistance. Councils have been developing services in which staff assist households to consider a range of options available to address their housing needs and as a consequence some households who might previously have made a homelessness application may now have their housing needs met without first becoming homeless.

Scottish Borders Council’s Local Housing Strategy for 2012-2017 was released last week and during their consultation process they set out their priorities for, preventing and tackling homelessness in the region.

One way was to ensure that advice was available to householders and that couples were made aware of mediation services to help avoid relationships breaking down, one of the main causes of homelessness in the Borders.

Other priorities for the council is to expand their housing options approach in include all partners to ensure that front line information and advice on housing is consistent and efficient. During the 2010-11 financial year 780 households in the region were provided with housing options advice and during the life of this latest housing strategy the aim is to have 100 per cent of households being given housing options advice.

Local registered social landlords such as Berwickshire Housing Association, would also like to see the council’s Local Housing Strategy focus more on building capacity in financial and welfare benefits advice services.

The region’s housing strategy looks to reduce the number of people applying for housing because they are homeless, but at the same time ensuring that 100 per cent of people who do claim to be homeless are assessed as being a priority need in line with the Scottish Governments 2012 homelessness target.

Across Scotland last year 90 per cent of applicants who were assessed as homeless were accorded priority, an increase of three per cent over the same period in 2010. In nine council areas 100 per cent of homeless assessments were assessed as having a priority need and during 2011 the number of homeless applicants assessed as a priority rose from 77 per cent at the start of the year to 100 per cent in the final quarter.

The number of youngsters in the region coming forward as homeless was 314 last year (36 per cent of the overall figure) and 97 of them had declared themselves homeless on a previous occasion. Homeless migrants made up 3.1 per cent of those looking for accommodation in the Borders (27) and homeless applications caused by tenants being evicted because of anti-social behaviour stood at 51.