CASH STRAPPED London councils are planning to send thousands of homeless families to temporary homes outside London – some a long way from the capital – because the price of accommodation is cheaper there.
This is in direct contravention of Government demands that people should be accommodated locally.
But the Government’s cuts in jobs, benefits and the cap on housing benefit have produced so many newly homeless families that the councils are overwhelmed.
These families are not necessarily without employment but low wages leave most of London’s homes – whether to rent or buy – priced well beyond their reach.
But being sent to live far away makes it almost impossible for people in this position to hang on to their jobs. It also drastically disrupts children’s education, especially when the families are frequently sent from one temporary home to another.
Councils are acquiring properties in Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Sussex and further afield to cope with an expected surge in numbers of vulnerable families presenting as homeless as a result of yet more welfare cuts from next April.
They say rising rents in London coupled with the introduction next April of stringent benefit caps leave them in an impossible position, with no option but to initiate an outflow of poorer families from the capital by placing homeless households in cheaper areas, often many miles from their home borough.
Draft guidance issued by ministers in May by former housing minister Grant Shapps says councils must "as far as is reasonably practicable" offer accommodation for homeless families within the borough.
He issued this instruction after reports that Newham council planned to relocate households to Stoke-on-Trent.
A survey of London council conducted by the Guardian shows London boroughs have acquired rental properties in Luton, Northampton, Broxbourne, Gravesend, Dartford, Slough, Windsor, Margate, Hastings, Epping Forest, Thurrock and Basildon, and are considering accommodation as far away as Manchester, Hull, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales.
The councils said the move was inevitable because there was virtually no suitable private rented temporary accommodation for larger families in London that was affordable within Government-imposed housing benefit allowances, which are capped at £400 a week.
"It is going to be practically impossible to provide affordable accommodation to meet our homelessness duties in London," said Ken Jones, director of housing and strategy at Barking and Dagenham council, east London. "As the pressures increase we will be looking to procure well out of London, and even out of the home counties."
All but four of the 33 London local authorities responded to the Guardian survey. Seventeen said they were already placing homeless families outside the capital, or had secured or were considering temporary accommodation outside London for future use.
These included Kensington and Chelsea, which has moved a minority of homeless families to Manchester and Slough; Waltham Forest, which has acquired housing in Luton, Margate and Harlow; Brent, which has relocated some households to Hastings; and Tower Hamlets, which has relocated a handful of families to Northampton.
Hackney council, which said it currently houses 93 per cent of families accepted as homeless within the borough and the remainder elsewhere in the capital, said it was "reluctantly looking to procure accommodation outside London".
A new study from the Child Poverty Action Group predicts a wave of legal challenges from homeless residents, who will quote Grant Shapps’ guidance to support their claim that being forced to go to accommodation outside London is "unsuitable" because of the impact on their health or their children's education
The CPAG report warns that thousands of homeless families already placed in expensive temporary accommodation in the capital face being uprooted for a second time. Councils could face the choice of picking up the bill for the rent shortfall for these households – expected to run to tens of millions of pounds a year – or moving the families to cheaper homes outside the capital.
Alison Garnham, CPAG chief executive, said: "Families are facing the impossible situation of being told to move to cheaper accommodation that just doesn't exist with London's rising rents. London boroughs are staring at a black hole in their budgets as a result, with costs transferred from central to local government.
"There's still time for Government to do the sensible thing and think again when these reforms are debated in parliament before thousands of London's families find themselves uprooted, overcrowded and thrown into turmoil."