ABOUT 1,600 people have been excluded from the housing register in County Durham because of rent arrears, anti-social behaviour and substance misuse.

Durham County Council says it is becoming more difficult to find homes for people who need them because social housing providers are becoming “more risk adverse” and “business savvy”, not accepting tenants with risks or complex needs.

The council says it is also becoming more difficult to home ex-offenders because of a lack of available properties or landlords who are willing to accept them.

In response, it wants to set up a local letting agency to provide private rented accommodation to households in need.

It has been given £252,538 from the government's rapid rehousing pathway programme to establish an arms-length agency.

The new scheme will see the new local lettings agency acquiring five year leases on private properties across the county and using these homes to house individuals, couples and families in need.

Next week, the council's cabinet will be asked to approve a series of recommendations including the establishment of the agency as a company limited by guarantee.

Councillor Kevin Shaw, cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “We know there are families who struggle to access housing for various reasons including being excluded from social housing.

“We have a duty to provide housing to some families but sometimes it is difficult to find suitable places for them which can result in us having to provide temporary accommodation such as hotels or bed and breakfasts, which is not ideal for the families or cost effective for us.

“We are really pleased to be moving forward with the creation of the agency which will allow us to provide decent, affordable private rental accommodation for households in need and on low incomes who would previously have been unlikely to access housing, while at the same time bringing back into use empty homes.”

The amount of money the authority spent on temporary accommodation, including B&Bs and hotels, almost doubled between 2017/18 and 2018/19, rising from £111,044 to £209.918 in the twelve-month period.

The authority hopes the scheme could bring some of the county’s empty properties back into use. In 2018, a survey of the 5,976 empty homes was sent out. Of the 2,106 returned, 261 owners said they would be interested in leasing their property.

The agency will lease such properties for up to five years and let them directly to people who will benefit from direct support to help successfully maintain their tenancies.

It is anticipated the agency will lease 70 properties in its first year.