A night shelter for the homeless is facing an uncertain future over fears new housing benefit rules could lead to a cut in its funding.
Streetlife’s night shelter at St John’s Church, in the town centre, receives up to £50,000 a year in the Government benefit in order to house people who would otherwise be left on the street all night.
But a judgement made last week in Wales suggests night shelters should not be eligible for the benefit because they cannot be classed as dwellings.
That has led to several local authorities across the country stopping housing benefit to shelters like Streetlife – which houses young people aged 16 to 25 – while they investigate whether it should be paid or not.
Jane Hugo, chief executive at Streetlife, said she received an email from Blackpool’s work and pensions department explaining the charity’s benefit was being suspended while the investigation was on going.
She said: “We receive a sizable amount of funding from this benefit.
“We can use some of our reserves for a couple of months while this is being sorted out, but if this is going into the long term, there is a chance the shelter could close. That’s the ultimate fear.”
Blackpool Council leader, Coun Simon Blackburn, and Coun Gilliam Cambpell, the council’s cabinet member for housing and public protection, have been working with council officers to try and have the matter resolved as quickly as possible.
Until then, Blackpool Council has agreed to make up the payments to Streetlife from council funds while its benefit is suspended.
Mrs Hugo added: “Even though this is bad news and a worrying time for us, we have had a lot of support both from councillors and council officers trying to find a solution for us.”
Coun Campbell said: “It is important that the existing night shelters are sufficiently funded to allow them to continue to carry out their good work.
“We are aware of the very recent judicial decision and are now looking at its implications, both for the operation of the shelters and for their long-term viability.
“This is a decision which may be subject to review and will, no doubt, have repercussions across the country.
“We will await the outcome of further discussions.
“In the meantime we will be supporting the night shelters as much as we can, as withdrawing support for homeless people who have fallen on hard times is clearly contrary to our values.”
Judge rules on benefit for hostel in Anglesea
Last week a Wales tribunal heard a hostel for homeless people in Anglesea would not be eligible for housing benefit because it couldn’t be classed as a dwelling.
The Department for Work and Pensions said the judge pointed out that because the hostel operated night time opening hours, and couldn’t be used to store belongings, it was not a premises that could receive the benefit.
The judgement made it clear it the decision was on the hostel’s case alone, and did not change the rules or policy of housing benefit. But the Anglesea judgement has led to a review by some local authorities of homeless shelters receiving the benefit.