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Moving them out of area

December 10 2012
Coubncils move their homeless residents to Great Yarmouth, Newcastle, Maidstone, Southampton, Portsmouth...


Thousands of homeless families are set to be moved out of London into temporary accommodation outside the capital – despite government advice that families should be housed in their own areas wherever possible.

More than 20 London councils have rented properties as far away as Cornwall, Newcastle and Blackpool to house families they say they cannot accommodate within their home boroughs.

Housing minister Mark Prisk has called a meeting with London councils to discuss these measures, which he described as “unacceptable and avoidable”.

Government guidance issued in May says that councils must “as far as is reasonably practicable” offer accommodation to homeless families within the borough. However, several councils argue that their decision to move homeless families out of the borough is the result of government policy, claiming that capping housing benefits at £400 per week and pegging them to the bottom third of rents has made most of Greater London unaffordable for families who depend on benefits.

The situation is expected to get worse in April when an overall benefit cap of £500 a week comes into force, meaning that no family can claim more than this sum regardless of how many children they have or where they live.

The result is a growing number of families face being moved out of London by councils which have a duty to house them – often away from children’s schools and local ties. This has raised fears of a surge of overcrowding as families share properties or move into smaller flats to stay in their home areas despite receiving less in benefits.

Westminster Council is sending homeless people to 30 different local authorities including Great Yarmouth and Essex. Islington council has sent people to Newcastle, while – as previously reported in The Pavement – Croydon has sent families to Maidstone, Southampton and Portsmouth.

The need to move families out of expensive areas like Westminster had been anticipated – but the acute housing shortage in the capital means that market rents are greater than the benefit cap even in London’s outlying boroughs such as Haringey, Waltham Forest and Barking and Dagenham.

The government had expected housing benefit reforms to force landlords to reduce rents – but councils say that demand for rented property is so high that most landlords have seen no reason to reduce rents. Many are now refusing to rent to people who are claiming housing benefit.

Jack Dromey, Labour’s housing spokesman, said: “The country is gripped by the worst housing crisis in a generation and the government’s failed policies are making it worse not better… hard pressed London councils are faced with having to house those facing homelessness from Cornwall to Newcastle.

“To lose your home is a tragedy. To face then being uprooted from friends, family and work is absolutely wrong.”

A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “Councils can meet housing need through social housing or high-quality private rented housing in their area. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, there is no excuse for moving homeless families to other areas, and they must absolutely not apply a blanket policy of relocating families out of the capital.