Almost 1,600 people have been on the register for a council home in Leeds for more than a decade and the total number has increased on last year.
Housing charity Shelter said 600 children in the region will be without a home this Christmas Day and campaign group Hands Off Our Homes – Leeds said the figures could be a “massive underestimate” of the problem.
A freedom of information request by the YEP showed that a total of 1,575 people have been on the register for more than 10 years and the total number has increased from 23,926 in autumn last year to 24,275 this year.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact that not having a stable and affordable place to call home can have on families – sadly this Christmas over 600 children in Yorkshire and the Humber will spend Christmas day homeless and living in temporary accommodation.”
“Faced with a severe shortage of affordable homes and an overwhelming number of families coming to them desperate for help, it’s sadly unsurprising that over-stretched councils are struggling to find homes for all those who need them.”
Leeds City Council said the register was not a waiting list and people listed had to actively bid for homes to be considered.
It said only half of the total number were actively bidding for homes.
But campaigner Ellen Robottom, from Hands Off Our Homes – Leeds, said appropriate housing may not be available, the bidding system was “harsh” and some people were too despondent to believe they stood a chance of getting a council property.
She said: “You may be sitting on the waiting list a long time if there is nothing suitable there. We shouldn’t assume there is a constant flow of homes that would suit people’s needs.
“It is quite a harsh system. Some might say it offers more choice but some people will have complex needs or chaotic lifestyles. If you are already in a difficult situation it is not that easy keep to bidding.
“People are aware that their chance of getting social housing is very limited and there are those who don’t even go on to the register because they feel they would be wasting their time.
“In some ways the figures are a massive underestimate.”
She said Leeds’ housing stock consisted of many two-bed properties but relatively few one-bed properties and some people on the register may be trying – with little success – to downgrade to avoid paying the bedroom tax. She said:
“A lot of those may be people who really, really don’t want to move but have been hit by the bedroom tax. It may be they have carers living next door but are being forced to move. A lot of people want to downsize to a one-bed flat because of the bedroom tax but two-beds are over-represented in Leeds.”
“If you go around door knocking and ask about the effects of that tax it is heartbreaking.”
Jo Allen from the National Housing Federation said: “We need to make sure that everyone in Leeds will benefit from the economic growth and amazing things that are happening with job creation with varied and affordable housing. We are not critical of the council and what they are doing – we want to work alongside them.”
Coun Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, said: “To be absolutely clear, the applications we have for council homes are not a waiting list nor are they any indication of housing need. We operate what’s called ‘choice based lettings’. This is a housing register rather than a waiting list and is made up of applicants with an urgent need to move who are actively seeking rehousing along with others who submit an application on the basis that they may need to move at a future date.
“Once people are registered with us it’s up to them to decide if they want to bid for a council home. When they do we will assess their application based on their circumstances and housing need against our lettings policies.
“We do ask those on the register every year if they want to stay on the register. Over 50% of people on the housing register do not actively bid for available properties advertised each week and that has been the case since our choice based lettings scheme was launched in Leeds in 2003.
“Each year we let around 4,500 homes and up to 1,000 are nominated to housing associations. For those applicants that are actively seeking rehousing, the time taken to be rehoused varies dependent upon supply and demand of the property type in the applicant’s area of choice, but it can be between 37 and 119 weeks.
“We’re committed to increasing the provision of affordable homes for rent in Leeds, with a strategy in place to ensure 1,000 new council homes by 2020. By working with private home owners, we’ve also seen over 2,000 empty homes come back into use over the last four years, all playing an important role in the housing market either for sale or rent.
“We have made significant progress in reducing the number of people on our system since the Choice Based Lettings was introduced in 2004/5. There are now over 8,500 fewer people on the Leeds Homes Register.”