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23.05.16

London councils ‘failing to meet legal responsibilities’ on relocating homeless families

Homeless families are being relocated out of their local area in London at an increasing rate, housing charity Shelter has warned, as it says that councils may be breaching their legal responsibilities to families.

Shelter said that 49% of families placed in temporary accommodation by a London local authority in the past year were placed in a different local area.

Councils have a legal duty to place families as close to their home area as possible, to consider the needs of families when making a placement, and to keep transparent records on decisions to place families out of area.

However, FoI requests from Shelter found that just 15 out of 33 local councils could supply a written relocation policy, and the charity said that its solicitors “routinely” hear of councils illegally threatening to take children into care if their parents do not accept relocation placements.

Shelter also said that this was a growing problem – in total, one in three London homeless households live in out-of-area accommodation, compared to one in seven five years ago.

During that period, local authorities have seen a 42% increase in homeless families, linked to factors including caps on benefits and a lack of affordable housing, and suffered 23% cuts in council housing budgets.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Faced with severe budget cuts and overwhelming numbers of homeless families coming to them for help, it’s sadly not surprising that overstretched councils in London are failing to meet their current legal responsibilities.”

Shelter also said that local authorities have no power to prevent neighbouring authorities from placing families in their area, meaning local authorities that receive out-of-area placements may then be forced to place families out-of-area themselves because of housing shortages.

Although councils tried to place families in a neighbouring authority, this wasn’t possible in 26% of cases, and one in ten families were placed out of London.

Shelter said that families were often forced to accept accommodation offers ‘on the spot’ with little information, and that relocations could leave them far from family support networks and from doctors, schools and counselling services.

The charity spoke to a single mother who was moved from London to the south coast and had to make a six-hour round trip by public transport to take her baby to a London hospital for weekly medical treatment.

In another case, a family had to split their children up to ensure their eldest son could stay in his old school.

A spokesperson for the DCLG said: “The government is clear that councils have a legal duty to ensure that any temporary accommodation they offer is safe and suitable for the family concerned.

“The vast majority of out-of-borough placements are still within London, often in the neighbouring borough, and the number of households in temporary accommodation is well below the 2004 peak.”

Overall homelessness in England has increased by 30% in the past year.

Council officials recently told the Communities and Local Government Committee that higher housing prices are contributing to increasing homelessness and out-of-boundary placements.

12.00pm UPDATE

Sir Steve Bullock, executive member for housing at London Councils, said: “Londoners are facing massive pressures in finding a home due to the housing crisis. Councils themselves are under increasing pressure to find accommodation for the capital’s most vulnerable people at a time when market rents continues to increase, and the number of households living in temporary accommodation now tops 50,000.”

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