Housing affordability – the cost of buying a new home relative to average earnings – is better than the national average in Northumberland. Perhaps unsurprisingly, around 66% of residents are owner-occupiers, with social landlords accounting for a further 19% and the private rented sector around 13%. Housing stock across all areas is increasing, but at a slower rate than elsewhere and there is considerable pressure on social housing. This has been a major factor fuelling an increase in private sector renting. As one might expect in a tourist area, Northumberland includes a relatively high number of houses in use as second homes or holiday lets.
Around 38% of owner occupiers are retired, and a further 5% are have life limiting conditions or are carers. This suggests that there may be particular pressure on certain types of housing stock, and perhaps too issues around the maintenance and heating of dwellings. Deprivation data suggests that some housing in the county, particularly in rural areas, falls substantially below an acceptable standard with fuel poverty in off-mains areas likely to compound the problem.
Dealing with homelessness in Northumberland presents particular challenges, and whilst the Local Authority appears to have made significant progress in addressing the problem much remains to be done. In part this is about tackling the causes of homelessness, in particular domestic violence which accounts for 25% of all acceptances by the Local Authority and the loss of private sector tenancies which has increased substantially since 2013 partly as a result of changes to the benefits system. A particular concern is homelessness amongst the young, who have been affected by both welfare reforms and a significant reduction in specialist housing services. As elsewhere, those not officially recorded as homeless are at risk of having their needs overlooked.
A large grant made by the Henry Smith Charity through the Community Foundation is helping people with learning disabilities to live full and enriching lives. Funding has secured the post of a Service Manager and a Financial Administrator for three years at Natural Ability, a charity that helps people with learning disabilities to live in their own home and play a meaningful role within the local rural community and economy. With funding secured for three years, Natural Ability can focus on its commitment to young people who live in isolation and require a high level of support.
Bell View in Belford received a Surviving Winter grant to help older men learn how to cook in low-cost low-energy way. Sir Nigel Sherlock KCVO OBE, a patron of the Community Foundation, explains why he recycled his winter fuel payment by donating it to the campaign:
Sir Nigel Sherlock KCVO OBE said:
“For some people in our region they have to make a choice of whether to heat their homes or whether to eat. This is something which must be tackled at a community level, and the voluntary sector works hard to find, and then to help those most at need. The winter fuel payment is a lifeline for many people but I would urge those who do not need it to recycle this payment and help local charities help people who do need that bit of extra support.”