Plans to cut a £5m service for Kent's rough sleepers 'taking away a vital lifeline'

A man walks past a rough sleeper's tent. Credit: PA

Kent County Council has voted not to renew a £5 million frontline service for rough sleepers, and people at risk of becoming homeless.

Kent Homeless Connect, a service which tackles homelessness and rough sleeping in the county, will receive no further funding from 2024.

The service, run by Porchlight and Look ahead on behalf of Kent County Council, costs around £5 million a year.

The decision was made at a budget meeting on Thursday night, where councillors recognised the need to make savings of £38 million over the next financial year.

Kent County Council budget: 2022/23

Key areas of spend:

£484 million – for providing adult social care and health services

£52 million – for maintaining roads, improving communities and digital connectivity

£270 million – for helping young people, and

£5 million – for protecting and improving the environment and tackling climate change

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What will change:

A proposed £80 increase to the full price of the Kent Travel Saver:

A scheme KCC has funded over the past 10 years at a cost of over £90million and is not widely provided by other local authorities in England. The proposed rise would help cover the growing cost of providing transport services.

Under the proposal, KTS passes for those in care groups would remain free and the Sibling Offer (which enables families with three or more children in the same household in school years 7-11 to only pay for the first two passes) remains.

A proposed move to a new contract to deliver special educational needs home-to-school transport:

To manage the significant rise in the number eligible for such support and the capacity issues currently being experienced by the transport sector.

Proposed changes to some bus routes:

To meet a required saving of around a third of the current £6.5million Supported Bus Contracts budget.

Transitional arrangements to be put in place when a £5million contract for Kent Homeless Connect expires in September:

To ensure continued support for people who use the service for at least the remainder of the financial year.

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Capital works:

Alongside the revenue budget, a £1.7billion programme of capital works for the next decade was also approved. Projects include:

  • £92 million for highways and other transport improvements – including the Dover Bus Rapid Transit project, Fastrack Bean Road Tunnels, Green Corridors, Herne Relief Road and Swale Infrastructure Projects, for 2022-23 alone, plus

  • £85 million to provide additional school places – in 2022-23.

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Charities say the decision to not to renew the contract for Kent Homeless Connect will take away a 'vital lifeline', a thought echoed by councillors on Swale council.

Cllr Ben Martin (Liberal Democrats), said he fears the removal of the service will 'inevitably mean' that people will fall through the cracks.

Speaking to ITV Meridian, he said "This contract gives access to addiction assistance, debt management relief service, and to those with mental health and physical health issues.

"It's those with real complex needs from the rough sleeping community. I think the lack of access or the more difficult access to those services will inevitably mean that some of those people will fall through the cracks."

Cllr Ben Martin, Lib Dem, Swale Borough Council

Porchlight, which co-runs the service, said it would be a 'devastating blow' for people in 'desperate need'.

A spokesperson said: "For many, Kent Homeless Connect is the only lifeline they have left. It provides specialist housing-related care and support for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

"We know Kent County Council faces some very difficult decisions to balance its budget, but we're just starting to see the full impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis on the people we support. We need more investment in homelessness services, not less.

"We remain committed to working with local government and other funders and partners to deliver on our shared goal of preventing and tackling homelessness in Kent.

"Sadly, KCC's decision is entirely at odds with that goal, withdrawing support from the most vulnerable people in our communities at the time when they need it most."

Roger Gough, Kent County Council Leader said: "The council recognises that there is a lot of concern about the decision in this year's budget to not renew the Kent Homeless Connect (KHC) contract when it comes to an end in September 2022.

"The council has, and continues to, face challenging times and ongoing rising cost and demand pressures due to the Covid-19 pandemic and significant reductions in Government funding. Therefore regretfully, we a have been faced with challenging decisions about our non-statutory services to ensure we are able to continue delivering our statutory responsibilities.

"We remain committed to continue working closely with our city, borough and district partners, providers, landlords, those who use the service and their representatives to ensure affordable and sustainable solutions to protect the most vulnerable people from becoming homeless continue.

"There are many other ongoing cross partnership initiatives providing support to our vulnerable residents at risk of homelessness which will continue to give them the help they need, and we will be examining ways in which to improve on these in the future.

"To bring the KHC service to a safe conclusion and to work towards new arrangements for support, future financial provision has been made to fund transitional arrangements following the completion of the contract and into 2023-24."

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