More vulnerable families housed outside borough despite ‘phase out’ pledge

Number of homeless Enfield families forced to live outside borough by council has increased since pledge two years ago to end the practice, reports James Cracknell

Harlow remains one of the most-used locations by Enfield Council for moving local families in need of emergency accommodation
Harlow in Essex remains one of the most-used locations by Enfield Council for moving local families in need of emergency accommodation

Enfield Council has been accused of breaking a promise to “phase out” sending homeless families out of the borough after new figures showed more were now living outside Enfield than when the pledge was made.

Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Dispatch show that 908 families who sought emergency accommodation from the council are currently being housed outside Enfield, up from 755 two years ago when the council announced in a press release that “the extensive use of temporary accommodation and housing residents outside of Enfield are practices set to be phased out”.

Although no timeline was set for when the pledge would be met, council leader Nesil Caliskan said at the time that the council would “use all the tools at our disposal to tackle the issue of temporary accommodation head on and eradicate homelessness from Enfield altogether”.

A strategy was later agreed by the council, in January 2020, which set out the authority’s approach to preventing and reducing homelessness.

One of the council’s most-used locations for housing residents in need of emergency accommodation – often because they have been evicted or are fleeing domestic violence – is Harlow. In its September 2019 press release the council stated that it had begun returning homeless families from Harlow and that it “plans to end the use of temporary accommodation and support those currently housed in the Essex town to return to Enfield”.

Data show that although the number of residents living in Harlow has reduced since 2019, there are still 106 Enfield families being housed in the town. Earlier this year it was reported that temporary accommodation residents living in Greenway House – a converted Harlow office block owned by council-run company Housing Gateway – had made repeated complaints over flooding in their flats and “unlivable” conditions.

Down the road, 110 families continue to be housed by Enfield Council in Broxbourne, its most-used location outside London, while some of the other local authority areas where local families have been sent include Slough, 42 miles away; Canterbury, 73 miles away; Birmingham, 111 miles away; and Wolverhampton, 123 miles away.

Matt Burn, from local campaign group Better Homes Enfield, initially welcomed the promise made in 2019 but told the Dispatch: “It is an extremely hard promise to keep. If you have got someone in front of you who is on the verge of being homeless and all the places you have got in Enfield are not suitable, but you have got a room in Harlow, then you have to make that choice.

“While it is very difficult to deliver on that promise, in order to do it they would have to repeatedly increase their capacity in Enfield and sell their property in Harlow.

“It is not easy and it might not be financially prudent but they made that promise and it is important these promises are not forgotten.”

A council spokesperson said: “Enfield experienced a sharp rise in the number of households requiring temporary accommodation in 2020 – to more than 3,600 – because we were obliged to house everyone at risk of sleeping rough at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Since then Enfield Council has successfully reduced the number of households in temporary accommodation by more than 10%, to 3,202, and continues to seek effective new ways to further reduce this number.

“The situation in Enfield is complicated by a shortage of permanent accommodation because other London boroughs place their residents in Enfield. This has the dual effect of increasing the cost of accommodation in the borough and significantly reducing the amount of available accommodation for Enfield residents in their own borough.”

The Dispatch led an investigation earlier this year, in conjunction with The Centre for Investigative Journalism, looking at the reality for people living in temporary accommodation.