Hundreds of homeless families from London are being forced to uproot their lives and move to private rented accommodation miles outside the capital or else face having their support cut off, new research shows.
The issue is being driven by London’s property market, with a typical home in the capital costing £578,381. In England and Wales the average house price is £278,750. Renting in London also costs more than double the UK average.
Freedom of information (FOI) requests by the Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) campaign group to 31 London councils show that more than 340 homeless families were asked to move into private accommodation outside the capital in 2016.
Despite the risks of having council support withdrawn and being left without temporary accommodation, 40 percent of the families rejected the placements, half of which were located over 100 miles away in the West Midlands.
Councils, under intense pressure because of London’s severe housing crisis and depleted social housing stock, are increasingly using 2011 Localism Act powers that entitle them to offer private sector housing, HSAL found. Eighteen out of 31 London councils now use the powers, compared to 12 in 2015.
Move or else
Council officers are telling families to accept private sector housing in the south-east, Essex or the West Midlands and warning them that if they refuse they will no longer be entitled to support.
One three-bedroom private tenancy in Telford, Shropshire was offered to 11 different homeless families by Brent Council, despite nine of the families having members who worked in the capital and two families having a least two children attending London schools. None of the families moved into the property.
Brent Council cabinet member for housing, Harbi Farah, said the council, which has 2,800 homeless families in temporary accommodation, “would prefer to make offers of accommodation within Brent and London and do this in the majority of cases, unfortunately this is just not possible in all cases”.
Senior solicitor at Hackney Community Law, Nathaniel Matthews, told the Guardian that challenging council assertions that they have no choice but to move people out of London was difficult.
He told the paper, “Unfortunately the law is of lesser protection to homeless families than it used to be.
“We believe everybody deserves quality, secure council housing in their communities. London councils need to stop seeing homeless people as a burden to be got rid of and shipped out. They should be doing everything possible to keep people in their communities.”
Figures released earlier this month also show that the number of London families being placed in temporary accommodation outside the capital has increased fivefold since 2012. Destinations have included Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle.
Between December and April 2016 there were 551 outside placements, compared to 113 between April and June 2012, London Councils figures revealed.
Councils say temporary housing costs have forced them to move people outside of London. In 2011, London boroughs spent £90m on temporary accommodation, rising to £203m in 2015.
The increase is due to the fact that councils cannot afford to take out longterm leases on properties and so are forced to pay on a nightly basis for temporary accommodation, explained Kate Webb, head of policy at the housing charity Shelter.
She said, “Because councils can’t find anything affordable and suitable in their own local area, then they do often have no choice but to look to cheaper areas outside of the capital.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the answer to housing crisis in London and the rest of the UK was simple: Build more council housing and implement rent controls.
“More and more people simply aren’t able to afford the most basic necessity that is housing. And it’s getting worse each and every year as this government – which does not have the words ‘long-term thinking’ in its vocabulary – sits back and allows it all to happen,” Turner said.
“But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can build the million new council homes this country needs. We can introduce rent controls that protect those in what is now the least regulated private rental market in all of Europe. We can turn the idea that housing is a human right into a lived reality for all.”
For more information on Unite’s A Home is a Human Right campaign click here.