Fed warns Newham problems are ‘tip of iceberg’
Moves by a London council to house families hundreds of miles away from the capital are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ the National Housing Federation has warned.
The NHF said the ‘desperate move’ by Newham Council shows the scale of the housing problem faced by London boroughs as a result of housing benefit cuts.
Newham claims reduced housing benefit payments mean it can no longer afford to house some families in the area. It has written to organisations outside the capital – including Stoke-on-Trent based Brighter Futures – to see if it can move families when it cannot find accommodation locally.
Brighter Futures looks set to turn down the request, although Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales said the council has written to 1,179 organisations in total.
NHF chief executive David Orr said: ‘London is now a first-class city with third-class housing. The cuts to housing benefit in the private rented sector have hit London particularly hard, and are making it increasingly difficult for local councils to support people to stay in local homes.
‘The government’s welfare cuts will increase the pressure on local authorities to seek accommodation for its homeless residents far further afield.
‘The government and the new mayor of London need to take urgent action. Newham’s proposal could represent the tip of the iceberg among 32 London boroughs facing similar pressures.’
Umbrella-body for homelessness organisations Homeless Link is asking its members if they have received similar requests and said if it is common place the government must ‘modify its [housing benefit] reforms’.
Jacqui McCluskey, Homeless Link’s director of policy and communications, said: ‘Charities warned government that housing benefit reforms could risk increasing both evictions and homelessness in the capital.
‘Because of local housing allowance caps and a lack of affordable housing, homeless charities are already struggling to find clients private rental accommodation in London. Reports that councils are being left with little choice but to seek housing outside the capital only add to our concerns. With more welfare reforms in the pipeline, we must avoid making homelessness worse.’
Sinéad Butters, chair of the North Area Social Housing Forum and chief executive of the Aspire Group, said: ‘There will no doubt be stark choices ahead for both housing providers and tenants, but NASH feels very strongly that relocating those on housing benefits to already over-stretched communities is not the solution.’
Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey said: ‘Soaring rents and collapsing affordable house building are making families homeless and forcing them to move hundreds of miles from home. [Communities secretary] Eric Pickles’ own private secretary warned privately that proposals would force families out of London. They tried to deny this but now we know the truth.’
Housing minister Grant Shapps dismissed Newham’s proposals during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. He said the Labour council is ‘playing politics’ ahead of local and mayoral elections next week.