Westminster council offers homeless families accommodation outside of London

By Lauren Higgs

| 12 September 2012

Westminster council is offering homeless families accommodation outside of London in Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, because it is unable to place them inside the borough, it has emerged.

Homeless families in Westminster are being offered housing in areas including Essex and Kent. Image: Arlen Connelly

In April, the then housing minister Grant Shapps wrote to the local authority criticising it for housing 36 families in bed and breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks.

The number of families living in bed and breakfast accomodation for more than six weeks topped 100 in July and has now dropped down to 96. But homelessness applications in the borough have increased, putting further pressure on the council’s ability to house families.

Guthrie McKie, Labour councillor for housing in Westminster, said the decision to try and house families outside of the borough equates to “clear evidence that the housing benefit caps are hitting the poorest families who cannot afford to pay market rents for accommodation in the private rented sector”.

“These families are now being shipped up to 30 miles away from their local communities, families and friends,” he said. “The high cost of travel will make it difficult to maintain these vital contacts.”

Romin Sutherland, manager at the Westminster-based NextDoor project, which supports families, said the lack of temporary accommodation in the borough, coupled with housing benefit caps and unaffordable private sector rents is leaving families in crisis.

“Families are faced with the choice of moving out of the borough to the East End or outside London, or staying in bed and breakfast accommodation inside the borough,” he said. 

“They are choosing to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation. For example, on my caseload I have a mum and dad with two kids. The mum is a paranoid schizophrenic and both children have statements of special education needs (SEN) but they are living in bed and breakfast accommodation.

“If you’re a parent of a child with SEN and are relying on a range of services in a borough, you worry that moving your child to a new area will mean that you can’t necessarily access the same support such as child and adolescent mental health services and extra help at school.”

Jonathan Glanz, Westminster’s lead member for housing, said the council is working to provide homes for families on housing waiting lists within the borough.

“However, when suitable accommodation cannot be found within the borough, particularly if the family requires a larger property or has no established link to the area, we seek to place them within London or as close to London as possible,” he said.

“These cases very much remain the minority, but the homes we offer are affordable with excellent transport links into central London.”

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