A move by South Hams District Council to tackle the growing problem of homelessness has resulted in 10 local families losing their homes.

The council approved a plan in November last year to incrtease the availability of emergency housing within the area. As a result, the council earmarked 10 of the homes it owns to be repurposed from assured shorthold tenancies to emergency accommodation.

The 10 houses are currently leased to South Devon Rural Housing Association and rented out to local families. SHDC gave the housing association notice in May of this year that it wanted the properties back. The tenants have been told to they have to get out of their homes by November 4. While six of them have found a new place to live, the remaining four have not.

A spokesman for one of the families affected, who wished to remain anonymous, said the way they had been treated was “appalling”.

They told the newspaper that the families were told to look on the Devon Home Choice website for houses to rent, but that there was “nothing suitable in Totnes” and they were being forced to look outside the area.

South Hams District Council’s portfolio holder for Customer First, Cllr Hilary Bastone, said: “As a result of homelessness, 74 families and individuals needed to make use of emergency temporary accommodation across the South Hams in 2017.

“The council needed to place many of these people into bed and breakfast or emergency accommodation, which is very often outside of the district.

“Using this form of accommodation to meet the emergency housing needs of those facing homelessness is not only harmful to those accessing the accommodation, due to its location and lack of facilities, but is also very expensive for the local authority.

“In light of growing need, councillors approved a plan in November 2017 to increase the availability of emergency housing within our district to allow those vulnerable customers we work with to access more suitable emergency accommodation. Ten properties owned by South Hams District Council were identified, located across the district, as an accommodation option which would meet the needs of our vulnerable customers. These properties had been leased to South Devon Rural Housing Association, who let these homes on an assured shorthold basis.

“Notice to end the lease arrangement with South Devon Rural Housing Association was served in May and the tenants occupying these properties were allocated a housing officer and have been given extensive advice and support to help them to find other accommodation. Of the households affected, six have been supported to move on to other accommodation, with officers working hard to support the remaining four households.”

The operations director for South Devon Rural Housing Association, Francis Bourke, said: “We have no duty to rehouse the families affected but have managed to rehouse one of them in one of our houses and SHDC is rehousing another five families. Having to move home is an upheaval for anybody but assured shorthold tenancies mean that you can be served notice at any time. We are continuing to work with the other four families affected to try and find them a new home.”

Cllr Bastone said: “South Hams District Council housing officers are committed to delivering excellent customer service.  It is sometimes necessary for our officers to deliver difficult information, often under emotional circumstances, and we accept that this can be a distressing experience for those receiving the information.  We have every confidence that these remaining households will be allocated suitable accommodation shortly.”