Arrangements being made as authorities brace for effects of benefit reform
Councils plan to move tenants out of London
Councils in London are increasingly looking at housing people on housing benefit in less expensive areas of the country as the coalition’s welfare reforms start to bite.
Newham Council in east London has written to 1,179 housing associations across England seeking help in providing accommodation for 500 families up to 160 miles outside the capital.
Labour-led Waltham Forest Council, which has 21,000 people on its waiting list and 10,500 homes, has recently bought homes in Walsall to house people. A spokesperson for the east London authority said: ‘While we would agree that housing people outside the borough is often not ideal, we do so because of the lack of suitable accommodation in the borough.’
Labour-led Newham Council, which has 32,000 people on its waiting list and 17,500 homes, argues benefit restrictions and soaring private sector rents are increasing pressure on its housing stock and forcing it to look elsewhere.
Under the Welfare Reform Act, the coalition government is capping local housing allowance, which is paid to private renters, at between £250 and £400 a week depending on property size. The change is being phased in on tenants’ anniversary claim dates and comes on top of further changes, including caps for new tenants and changes to the way LHA is calculated. The changes will also be followed by a cap on total household benefit of £26,000 next April.
Inside Housing first revealed in October 2010 that London councils were looking to move tenants to Hastings. Now, Ealing Council in west London, which has a Labour administration, has offered properties to families in Buckinghamshire, although not specifically as a result of the benefit caps yet.
A spokesperson for the council said: ‘It is not possible to accurately predict the number of other families we will need to place outside of Ealing. However we expect the gap [between LHA and rent] will be too great for many landlords.’
Janice Long, lead member for housing at Labour-led Brent Council, said: ‘The reality is there will be cases where residents will have to move out of the borough. We have contracts for provision of accommodation outside the borough, and we have had initial discussions with providers
in terms of securing properties outside London.’
Three Conservative-led councils, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster are working together to consider a proposal from private company Smart Housing Group to house people in Derby and Nottingham.
A spokesperson for Westminster Council stressed the proposal is just one option being considered, and said it would be used as temporary accommodation for people who are not settled in the borough.
Other councils, including Tower Hamlets and Hackney, also said they might have to look outside the borough in the future.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: ‘There is no reason for people to be moved far away - apart from very expensive areas in central London, around a third of private rented properties are still affordable to claimants.’
Sir Robin Wales
The government must recognise the effect its welfare reforms are having
Newham has repeatedly warned the government of the problems its welfare reforms will likely cause. Once Newham Council’s decision to move familes out of the borough hit the headlines, we had little choice but to highlight problems that were never of our making.
Benefit caps are driving people from wealthier to poorer London boroughs and despite what housing minister Grant Shapps believes, there simply aren’t enough affordable properties for people to live in.
The move to local housing allowance based on the bottom 30 per cent of market rents will result in 5,000 households unable to claim enough LHA to meet their rents. Up to 9,000 could ultimately be affected.
While Mr Shapps scours the internet looking for a leg upon which to stand his government’s policies, Newham is dealing responsibly with the reality of intense housing need.
We have written to some 1,179 local authorities and housing associations across England so where residents need to look further afield we can give them some choices.
The government must act now with a proper response to the housing crisis. If it does not, thousands of people will face severe hardship.
Sir Robin Wales is mayor of Newham