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Westminster council may send homeless families to Coventry

Westminster City Council has announced plans to send homeless families to live in temporary accommodation to properties as far away as the West Midlands.

In a cabinet member’s report on the council’s homelessness policies, the local authority has said that rising homelessness, complete with housing benefit cuts and rent rises, has left it with no option but to send more families into affordable, private accommodation outside of the capital.

Currently, the average waiting times for a social home in the borough ranges from three years for a studio flat to up to 25 years for a four-bedroom house, the report said.

According to the policy, Westminster’s homeless households will be put into three priority bands with families either prioritised for housing in the borough, temporary housing elsewhere in Greater London or in south-east England and beyond depending on their needs.

Westminster’s cabinet member for housing, Cllr Daniel Astaire, told the Guardian that the local authority faced difficult choices and believed the decision to be the best option.

“While we always try to provide accommodation for homeless people in Westminster, like many other boroughs of all political persuasions we have to look at identifying suitable homes beyond the city’s boundaries,” he said.

Councils are legally permitted to rehouse households outside of its jurisdiction, but only in areas where the suitable accommodation takes householders’ needs such as health, education and employment into account.

Westminster council confirmed that any properties acquired by the local authority outside London would be in “more urban and diverse areas” befitting local households, and that it would also offer a “wrap-around support service” to families moved outside the capital helping them to register with GPs and schools.

“Our new approach will give those who are homeless more certainty over their future by offering secure accommodation sooner,” said Cllr Astaire, adding that those with the highest needs will of be prioritised for available properties in Westminster.

The council’s opposition Labour councillors have said that the move will forfeit families’ right to social housing and will “turbo-charge” a recent trend of people on low incomes being driven away from their local communities.

Cllr Adam Hug, leader of the opposition on Westminster council, said on the councillors’ blog: “This council’s decades-long atrocious record on building social and genuinely affordable homes combined with the government’s insidious benefit changes have created a perfect storm for Westminster residents in desperate need for temporary accommodation.

“This policy formalises and turbo-charges what has happened in recent years where Westminster residents in temporary accommodation are being sent further and further from home. It is essential that Westminster radically improves its council house building plans and challenges the divisive government policies that underpin these worrying plans.”

London authorities have been routinely rehousing homeless families elsewhere for years due to the city’s growing lack of available affordable properties. However, the issue attracted greater attention recently after it was portrayed last year in the film I, Daniel Blake in which a London single mother is sent to live in Newcastle.

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