Food Centre, CMK – Response to Written Question

Following my written question to Cabinet about the empty Food Centre unit. I’ve received a very speedy response from the Leader of Milton Keynes Council, Cllr Pete Marland:

 

I am aware of the petition although no one has contacted MK Council for a response or to discuss the matter.

I believe many people will have signed the petition with the best of intentions and would be puzzled as to why no action has been taken to ask MK Council to respond.

However I do believe it raises an important issue and have already looked into the matter to understand if any action is possible or desirable, I am therefore thankful to be able to share the action MKC has taken.

As background, Milton Keynes Council does not own or operate the Food Centre. MKC disposed of the building as an asset in the 1990s.

The building is now owned by Hermes. The part of the building in question was operated as a supermarket by Sainsburys until 2009 and is under a long leasehold (over 100 years) to that company. Discussions are ongoing on the future of the site.

It is necessary to draw a distinction between homelessness and rough sleeping. Not all people who are homeless sleep rough. MK Council has a statutory obligation to house homeless people who meet certain criteria, however the problem goes much further than those the Council are required to house, for every person we accept the need to house, we are unable to assist many more.

Rough sleeping is very complex issue. Not all those who sleep rough are homeless and many have complex needs beyond their housing situation and have more complex service requirements. We are currently developing a new Rough Sleeping Strategy on this issue.

I have had a number of informal conversations with a number of providers of homelessness services and other interested parties on this matter.

All service providers in the sector I have spoken to agree that the building is unsuitable for the purpose being proposed.
There is agreement that the building is too large and providing shelter is more than simply providing a roof. The space is large, would be costly to heat and would take significant investment to make it suitable. These are funds that are needed to provide services.

I have met with Sainsburys and raised the issue.  The building is subject to both a lease covenant and planning regulations that limit the use to food retail. It would take time and resources to remove or change these for a temporary scheme.

If the building was able to be used, resources would be required to fund and operate the scheme. It is not feasible or desirable for the building to be in open use. Those using a homeless shelter often require more services than housing need, and better longer term outcomes are achieved helping people access all the services they need. MK has a number of excellent schemes to provide homeless people with help and advice, none have expressed an interest in the site and many have expressed the opinion the building is unsuitable.

One excellent scheme, the Winter Night Shelter, operates between November and March, and has been operating for a number of years. They have a number of centres, including CMK. Not only do they provide a bed and food but also seek to assist in signposting people to other services. They, and other organisations, do a good job but their capacity is limited.

Therefore it would seem that the Food Centre is not suitable for operation as a winter shelter but other valuable schemes are in operation that require assistance.

I would therefore ask that anyone wishing to help would donate to the Winter Night Shelter by texting their donation to 70070 typing WINS01 and the amount you want to give, e.g. £10, £5, £4, £3, £2 or £1 or by donating to other housing charities in order to ensure they can continue to provide the services they already provide.

If you are able to make contact with the originator of the petition I would be grateful if you could make them aware of this response and the ability they have to make those that signed the petition aware that a donation along the lines of the above will go a long way to ensuring all those that require help are able to access the assistance they require.

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Universal Credit going live in MK

From Monday 16 November some single people making a new claim for benefits in Milton Keynes will be able to apply for Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is being phased in over the next few years to replace the following benefits for anyone of working age.

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit

Currently only single jobseekers making a new claim will be affected by the changes. Anyone making a new claim for one of the five other benefits, (soon to be replaced by Universal Credit) will not be affected by these changes for some time.

The following are the main features in Universal Credit

  • It will only be paid once a month into a bank, building society or credit union account.
  • People who rent their home and are claiming Universal Credit will receive help with their rent in their Universal Credit payment because of this they will need to pay their landlord themselves.
  • Claimants who live with their partner, if they are both eligible, will get one monthly joint payment.
  • It can take several weeks after a claim is made to get the first payment.
  • It must be claimed online, or in certain limited circumstances by phone

The Department for Work and Pensions estimate that there will be approximately 1,410 claims for Universal Credit between 16 November 2015 and 31 March 2016 in the Milton Keynes area.

Details on how to claim Universal Credit can be found at www.gov.uk/universal-credit/how-to-claim.

Claimants should be aware that when they make a new claim for Universal Credit they will not be paid for the first seven days. These days are known as waiting days. However, they should not let this delay their claim and they should apply as soon as they are eligible to do so.

Cllr Rob Middleton, cabinet lead for Revenues and Benefits said: “Although Milton Keynes Council is well prepared to meet the challenges of Universal Credit everyone needs to understand that this is the most radical change in Social Security in modern times. We will help our residents in making this transition, by providing support and drawing on the help of our charitable and third sector partners”

More information on Universal Credit and how people can manage their money can be found at www.milton-keynes.gov.uk/universalcredit

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