A HOMELESS charity leader says more must be done to prevent people in Worcester ending up on the streets this winter rather than trying to cure the problem later on.

Failing to tackle the £360 million in rent arrears accrued during the pandemic could cost the Government over £2.6 billion because of the danger of “mass homelessness”, ministers are being warned.

The Big Issue said it costs the Government £9,266 for every person made homeless, whereas the price of preventing homelessness is £2,263.

Responding to the rent arrears timebomb, Jonathan Sutton, chief executive of St Paul's Hostel, said: "Prevention is better than cure. I hope the government, or local elected leaders can provide district housing officers with funds to target their prevention. Now the weather is turning colder it accelerates the moment when families or single people are faced with stark choices: between paying rent, putting the heating on or eating good food.

This plays out in Worcester in a number of ways including increased applications for help at the city housing team or more people attending one of the street feeding stations in the evening."

Research from Citizens Advice showed that half a million renters went into arrears during the coronavirus crisis, while a study by the StepChange charity revealed that more than 200,000 people feared losing their homes, the Big Issue said.

The magazine has launched a Stop Mass Homelessness campaign, warning of a pending crisis amid rising energy prices and the impact of ending the £20 uplift in Universal Credit.

Many people are now faced with the choice between keeping warm and putting food on the table, said The Big Issue.

Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, said: “The cost of mass homelessness is too much to pay both financially and societally.

“These figures are astonishing but go to show it is critical we act now to prevent this crisis. Not only can we save the Government and taxpayer over £2 billion, but we would also be preventing 225,000 people from potentially experiencing the awful mental and physical cost that homelessness brings with it.

“For Covid-19’s legacy to be a mass homelessness crisis would be unforgivable. Now is the time to ensure that doesn’t happen. We urge the Government to stop mass homelessness and address the £360 million in rent arrears now, or face a homelessness crisis worse than any in living memory.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive at the charity Crisis, said: “These figures must act as a wake-up call for the Government. Across the country, households continue to feel the financial pressures of the pandemic and are facing the very real possibility of losing their homes and being left with nowhere to go.

“While the £65 million package of support for renters announced in recent months is welcome, it falls well short of what is desperately needed to prevent further homelessness.

“If the Government is serious about rebuilding the country after the pandemic, a priority must be ensuring that people can remain in their homes, without fear of eviction.”