New FOI data shows the number of local families forced to live in B&Bs beyond the government’s legal limit has spiraled over last six months, reports James Cracknell
The number of homeless families from Enfield living in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation beyond the government’s legal limit of six weeks has risen exponentially in the last year, the Dispatch can reveal.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show that as of the end of March 2023, there were 113 Enfield families with children who had lived for more than six weeks in B&Bs – which includes any temporary accommodation where there are no cooking facilities or shared cooking or washing facilities – after rising from just one at the start of the last financial year in April 2022.
The rise in long-term B&B stays became particularly sharp from October onwards, the FOI figures show.
As the Dispatch has reported extensively in the past few months, Enfield has been experiencing a particularly acute housing crisis over the past six months in particular, as soaring eviction rates coupled with rising demand for private rental properties create a “perfect storm” that still shows no signs of abating. Last week, the rental market was described as “chaotic” by local estate agents.
This situation has led to 200 homeless families being forced to live in hotels because Enfield Council has nowhere else more suitable to put them. This is costing the authority more than £500,000 per month, leading to a £6m budget overspend last year.
According to the government’s own legal guidance for local authorities, B&B accommodation “caters for very short-term stays only” because it “affords residents only limited privacy, and may lack or require sharing of important amenities, such as cooking and laundry facilities”. Wherever possible, the government advises, “housing authorities should avoid using B&B accommodation as accommodation for homeless applicants, unless, in the very limited circumstances where it is likely to be the case, it is the most appropriate option for the applicant”.
The government further warns: “Living in B&B accommodation can be particularly detrimental to the health and development of children […] Housing authorities should, therefore, use B&B accommodation to discharge a duty to secure accommodation for applicants with family commitments only as a last resort and then only for a maximum of six weeks”.
In March and April, the Dispatch met two families who had been living in Enfield Travelodge for several months, including one with a toddler and pregnant mother and another with a dad in a wheelchair.
The new FOI data now shows that there are scores more families living in B&Bs beyond the six-week legal limit – with the longest case being 50 weeks. Over the last year there have been nearly 100 instances of families living in B&Bs for three months or more.
Last month, the borough’s three MPs wrote to Secretary of State Michael Gove requesting help with the homelessness situation in Enfield. The council has also repeatedly blamed the government for creating the crisis, pointing out the Local Housing Allowance – which sets local housing benefits rates – has been frozen for three years.
In a previous statement on the housing crisis, a council spokesperson said: “The whole of London is experiencing a housing crisis and across London over the past year, homeless families approaching local councils for help has increased by 17.5%.
“To make matters worse, Enfield Council is competing with 21 other London boroughs and the Home Office, who all look for homes in Enfield. The council uses 2,000 homes in the private rented sector locally to house people, but at least 6,000 homes in the borough are used by other councils and government departments.
“In February this year alone, 464 homeless families approached the council for help, compared to 196 in October 2021.”
The council did not provide a fresh statement for this story but the Dispatch understands that a set of measures to tackle the crisis will be agreed and announced later this week – and is expected to include the provision of more temporary accommodation from outside London and south-east England.