CONCERN over homelessness in Richmondshire has caused councillors to increase the number of staff members tackling the issue.

Richmondshire District Council’s strategy board last night (Tuesday, January 21) voted in favour of employing another housing options advisor – who work on prevention and help families or individuals who find themselves homeless to find alternative accommodation.

Richmondshire’s level of homelessness is consistently high – with similar levels of homelessness per capita as seen in Inner London Boroughs, with areas such as Catterick Garrison having the most problems.

Council director Colin Dales said the council was taking a different approach to previous years with the Homelessness Grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government – which has been confirmed at £76,968.

Mr Dales said: “Homelessness is rising in Richmondshire. From the beginning of April 2012 to the end of December 2012, the housing options team dealt with 310 homeless cases – and in the same period in 2013 there were 417 cases.

“Major welfare reforms will lead to increased difficulty for benefit claimants’ ability to access privately rented accommodation, as well as leading to arrears and debt, and associated repossessions and evictions.”

The council currently has three full-time and one part-time members of staff and plans to employ one more – instead of spending the cash on external specialists such as Citizens Advice Bureau that assisted in preventative work.

He said: “We will be going to our core services rather than go to outside sources.”

Coun Peter Wood said: “I support this move – in Colburn the homeless unit is brilliant and the team do a lot of work to help people.”

The new homeless investment plan will focus on funding basic prevention services, such as the housing options advisor and a homeless unit warden, at the expense of using outside services.

Mr Dales said: “The legal duty of the council is to investigate reasons of homelessness – but in times when the council is cutting back we will have to also scale back.”

Coun Stuart Parsons said: “When people are in danger of becoming homeless, most end up at the district council offices asking for help and the team is incredible in what it can do to prevent it.”