Homeless families will be sent to live outside London and south-east after council U-turn

Dramatic policy shift prompted by escalating crisis of hundreds of homeless Enfield families being forced to live in hotels at cost of £850,000 a month, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Homeless families could soon be moved from Enfield Travelodge (inset right) up north after cabinet member for housing George Savva (inset left) announced a new council policy
Homeless families will be moved from Enfield Travelodge up north after Cllr Savva announced new policy

Enfield Council will start moving homeless families out of London and the south-east of England to help plug a £20million hole in its budget.

The dramatic shift in policy comes after a report warned that housing hundreds of local homeless families in hotels had become “unsustainable” as costs have now soared to around £850,000 per month.

Faced with a chronic social housing shortage, the council has in recent years relied on the private rental sector to reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation.

But it now says it is experiencing “unprecedented demand” from people losing their homes as private landlords facing higher mortgage and other costs are evicting tenants so they can sell their properties, leading to a 90% drop in the supply of affordable rental homes during the past two years.

More than 200 homeless households from the borough are living in bed and breakfast (B&B) style accommodation such as hotels and hostels – with over 100 of these exceeding the government’s six-week legal limit for local authorities putting families in B&Bs.

Over the last financial year, the cost of paying for hotel accommodation led the council to incur a £6m budget overspend – which is now forecast to soar to £20m this year unless it takes action.

With no end to the crisis in sight, the civic centre has decided to rehouse residents “where rents are affordable”. Although it has not specified exactly where people will be relocated to, for most of those in B&B accommodation it will mean moving out of London and the south-east of England altogether.

Members of the Labour administration blamed government policies for forcing this decision on the council, while the Conservative opposition said the authority had failed to build enough affordable homes.

Announcing the change in policy earlier this week, cabinet member for social housing George Savva said boroughs such as Enfield were “disproportionately affected by the latest turbulence in the economy because we are more reliant on the private-rented sector, and landlords are leaving the market due to rising interest rates”.

Cllr Savva accused the government of failing to develop “a plan for housebuilding across the country” and also failing to address the problems caused by the freeze since 2020 of the Local Housing Allowance, which sets benefit levels.

A council report presented to a cabinet meeting last night (Wednesday 7th) also states that welfare benefits effectively trap people in temporary accommodation, where they receive more support than they would if they moved to a privately rented property. It claims that the speeding up of the transition from legacy benefits to Universal Credit will exacerbate the problem.

Competition between London boroughs for temporary accommodation is a further factor, with more than 3,000 private-rental properties in Enfield being let to other local authorities.

The council report also warns that the impact on families of staying in hotels for long periods is “immense” and places “extreme pressure” on them. It adds that the most vulnerable households – such as those with individuals requiring medical treatment in Enfield – will be prioritised for the “extremely limited supply of local accommodation”.

Cllr Savva added: “Temporary accommodation is an important safety net for emergencies, but it is not a long-term solution.

“Therefore, we have no alternative but to follow the approach of many other local authorities and help find homeless households decent, stable homes in affordable areas outside of London.

“We will assist people to move with practical solutions. Our lobbying of the government to urgently address the rental and housing crises will continue.”

Commenting on the shift in policy, Conservative shadow cabinet member for housing Lee Chamberlain said it was “a shame that people may be placed away from their families and support networks” and accused Labour of “failed delivery on new homes with over 400 more social homes demolished than built”.

Cllr Chamberlain added: “Meridian Water is many years behind its original schedule, at 13 years and counting, [with] hundreds of millions spent. We are still waiting on the promised homes when there should be thousands already available, a joke delivery of just 20 may be finally delivered this year. Add that to the three tower blocks they must decommission, and social housing in Enfield is in an appalling mess.”

His comments were echoed by local housing campaigner Matt Burn, of Better Homes Enfield, who said the council had “one of the worst records for meeting housing targets and building new affordable housing”.

Matt added: “Enfield Council has demolished more social-rent homes than it has built and has prioritised huge investment into schemes which have failed to deliver, such as Meridian Water. The council has also failed to invest in the upkeep of its existing social-rent housing stock and, as a result, hundreds of homes are now unsafe and have been decommissioned.

“The result is a severe shortage of genuinely affordable social rent homes in Enfield, which is one of the main reasons why homelessness is so high, and why the council is now contemplating such a concerning and draconian response.”

Speaking at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, council leader Nesil Caliskan defended the plans, saying the current crisis was “not comparable to anything we have experienced in recent years” and could not have been predicted.

She blamed the government for “crashing the economy”, leading to higher interest rates and inflation and causing a “fire sale of property”.

Cllr Caliskan – who pledged in 2019 to “phase out” the use of temporary accommodation outside Enfield – said it was still the council’s view that people should be placed “as close as possible” to families and support networks, but the “restrictive policy” meant too many were being “forced to live in hotel accommodation” which is “highly inappropriate”.

Following a debate, cabinet members unanimously agreed to implement the new policy.

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