U-turn by Enfield Council in June sees twelve local families moved outside the south-east of England so far, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
Homeless families from Enfield have been sent to live in far-flung places including Leeds and Manchester since a major housing policy U-turn – but the council is still struggling to compete with other boroughs for available homes.
Council bosses have admitted that the authority’s new policy of relocating people outside London and the south-east – seen as a way of closing a £20million budget black hole on temporary housing – is proving more expensive than moving them within the capital.
However, the gross cost to the council of housing families within London is ultimately likely to be higher because they would spend longer in hotel accommodation waiting to be housed.
It comes as the authority takes a more “hardline” approach to housing homeless families, which could see it decide to make only one housing offer in future, rather than the current two, before discharging its legal duty to house them.
Faced with an acute housing shortage and a collapsing private rental sector, senior councillors agreed the policy shift, to moving families away from London and the south-east, in June.
The new policy is designed to reduce the use of bed and breakfast (B&B) types of temporary accommodation, such as hotels, which is expensive for the council and inappropriate for families. While B&Bs are deemed a last resort, they have increasingly been relied on as pressures mount, with hundreds in Enfield being housed in them this year.
Council reports reveal that, since June, twelve Enfield households have been moved outside London and the south-east, to cities including Leeds and Manchester.
Speaking during a meeting of the council’s housing scrutiny panel on Tuesday (26th), housing improvement director Duane Dyer said navigating the new market had been a “challenge” and that following the policy change most placements had continued to be made in London. Those who moved outside the capital had mostly done so voluntarily, he added.
Duane explained that Enfield had been competing with Manchester and Birmingham as well as other London boroughs for available homes. A pan-London agreement to keep rent levels low in the capital did not apply elsewhere, meaning local authorities with more money than Enfield were able to pay over the odds for properties.
During the last three months, Duane said, the cost of moving a household within London was £4,333, compared to £5,162 outside of London. He added: “We are still going to be doing more targeted work to get into the arena outside of London. But it is a new space for us, and other local authorities within London have been doing this for about five years.”
Joanne Drew, the council’s director of housing and regeneration, said the gross cost to the council of moving homeless families within London was likely to be higher because they would spend longer in hotel accommodation – which costs around £100 per night – waiting to be housed.
The council has secured a £1m grant from the government to help residents relocate, and a total of £30,000 has so far been provided for the twelve households.
Duane revealed the longest time a family had spent in B&B accommodation provided by the council was one year, while the average stay was 164 days. He told the panel that the council would still be fulfilling its statutory duty to homeless people if it made one offer of housing instead of two. Some people were refusing homes of a “reasonable standard”, he added, meaning the council was spending money on empty properties.
Under questioning from the panel, Duane suggested that changing the policy to one offer could save the council more than £12,000 per household. He said people’s expectations about properties sometimes needed to be managed, as their grounds for rejecting housing offers – for example, that properties do not have a garden or are not near a park – are “not reasonable”.
The council is currently enforcing its two-offer policy more robustly. “Our policy is our policy,” Duane explained. “We are going to enforce our policy hardline. I think the weakness is that we have not been as hardline as we should have been.”
He said the council had been “very supportive” to homeless people but could not continue to be as supportive “because it will bankrupt us”.
Joanne told the panel that double the number of landlords were leaving the market than were joining, and that the reduction in rental accommodation – particularly for those on low incomes – was likely to be a “long-term change”.
The council is also tackling the crisis by offering incentive payments for landlords, purchasing properties in Luton and Milton Keynes through council-owned company Housing Gateway Ltd to offer as affordable rented homes, and encouraging people to find their own home using a dedicated scheme.
Earlier this month, senior councillors agreed to spend £330,000 on studies to test the feasibility of building modular homes on car parks and other sites within the borough to boost the supply of temporary accommodation.
George Savva, the council’s cabinet member for social housing, said that despite the worsening crisis the council was “not giving up” and would strive to house every homeless person, pointing out that hotel accommodation was “no good for the families, no good for children, and no good for our financial situation”.