Town Hall to ‘reluctantly’ continue rehousing homeless families hundreds of miles away

Homeless families face relocation over great distances as London’s housing crisis deepens. Photograph: Pexels.

Hackney Council has said that it will be “reluctantly” forced to continue relocating homeless families in temporary accommodation outside of London.

The Town Hall’s cabinet member for housing needs, Cllr Rebecca Rennison (Lab, Kings Park) blames the policy on central government not matching local housing allowance, the rates used to calculate housing benefit to tenants renting from landlords, to local rents.

The announcement comes after heavily-pregnant Jess revealed the 24-hour choice given to her family by the council between ‘intentional homelessness’ and relocation to Staffordshire.

The LDRS understands Jess has had the rehousing offer withdrawn by the Town Hall until October, when she will have recovered from her planned caesarean section.

The council says the case is still under appeal.

Jess said of the reported withdrawal: “That was probably what I wanted from them – I’m grateful for that, that I’m not going to that place.

“But at this point, with me and my kids, I just want to be settled. My daughter needs her own space, that’s the most important thing to me. When am I going to be settled with my kids?

“My concern is that I’m still not going to be settled until I have this baby, and I don’t know if it’s going to come up again. I don’t want to think about it.

“I’m just trying to stay hopeful that something good will happen. I’m going to be having my baby in the next eight weeks now, but I know for now that I’m not going to be moving miles away.”

Jess, soon to turn 34, had been living with her two children in one room in temporary accommodation since 2017 when the council’s Move-On Team approached her towards the end of last year.

Move-On officers become involved in residents’ cases either if they indicate they would like to explore being moved out of the borough, or if they have spent “a long time” in temporary accommodation, according to the Town Hall.

Jess claims she was told she would probably be relocated somewhere within an hour of Hackney, but by April was being given a 24-hour period to view a property in Staffordshire, or face the beginning of eviction proceedings.

The only link she had to the property was that it was closer to the family of her abusive ex-partner, who she has fled.

Her eldest child is enrolled in a school in the borough, and she is currently receiving pre-natal care from a hospital in Hackney, having previously had a number of caesarean sections.

The policy represents a disjunct between Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville’s (Lab & Co-op) stated approach to the housing crisis and the tools which it uses to address it.

In 2018, he told the Hackney Gazette: “I would not want to lead a borough that made some great policy shift and basically said, ‘From now on we will not be housing people and not doing all we can to keep communities and families together’, and that his council would rather house families closer to home than moving them to Birmingham or points further north.”

The Move-On Team was established in 2017, and since its work began the Hackney Community Law Centre says it has been “inundated” with requests for aid from long-term homeless families facing “final offers” of private sector accommodation in far-flung parts of the country.

Families have faced moves to Bradford, Leeds and Liverpoool, with 298 households so far “assisted into settled accommodation”, according to the council.

The Town Hall say that originally the Team was used “to support people who wanted to move into settled, private rented accommodation which met their specific needs and wishes, inside and outside of the borough”.

However, as the housing crisis escalates, the Town Hall says it is increasingly turning to families not seeking a move.

Correspondence to Jess from the Move-On Team reads: “If the council is successful in finding suitable private sector accommodation for you, then we will offer that to you and you will be expected to accept the offer and the council will consider you to be rehoused in the same way as if it were to rehouse you in social housing.”

It is unclear how someone in Jess’ circumstances came to be presented with such a decision, as the council claims it would not seek to move a mother with a late-term pregnancy.

Cllr Rebecca Rennison, cabinet member for finance & housing needs. Photograph: Hackney Council.

The Town Hall’s cabinet member for housing needs, Cllr Rebecca Rennison (Lab, Kings Park) blames the policy on central government not matching local housing allowance (LHA), the rates used to calculate housing benefit to tenants renting from landlords, to local rents, with currently only three per cent of local private rents within LHA rates.

There are over 13,000 households on the waiting list for social housing in Hackney, with more than 3,000 of these households in temporary accommodation, some placed as far away as Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire.

The Town Hall spent £9m on temporary accommodation last year, £2m more than the year before.

Cllr Rennison pointed out that the Move-On Team covers the cost of the moves it asks families to make, funds new school uniforms and helps them access services in their new area, though she accepted that this is not an “easy process”.

Once the ‘offer’ of suitable accommodation is made, it cannot be turned down without the Town Hall classifying the resident or residents as intentionally homeless.

The housing needs boss has said that the council is “monitoring the impact of this work”, and looking at what more it can do to improve the system.

In Jess’ case, the accommodation she was offered came with a Move-On pack describing her suggested new home as a “less desirable” place to live, “mainly due to the local crime and/or community infrastructure”.

The author continued: “The area…suffers from a crime rate which is amongst the worst in the region.”

Total crime for the area in Staffordshire where the council wanted to house Jess and her children is listed as 215 per cent above the regional average, with burglaries and thefts 102 per cent above, antisocial behaviour 199 per cent above, and violent crime 375 per cent above.

Cllr Rennison said: “Hackney is at the brunt of London’s housing crisis, and cases like this demonstrate the incredibly tough choices our housing needs team is having to make every day.

“Government inaction, the impact of austerity and welfare reform have come to a head over the last few years. While no one wants to see families having to leave the borough, councils like Hackney, and many of the people we are seeking to support, are at breaking point.

“Councils across London have been doing this for a number of years. We’ve done all we can to avoid this, but as the housing crisis continues to escalate, we’re being forced to do it too.

“When we have a legal duty to house someone, that can be in either social housing or the private rented sector. No one wants children and young people growing up in a single hostel room.

“In recent years, the people who come to us in need of a home have had greater and more complex needs, this means that the people being allocated a social rented home usually have significant health needs and can’t be housed elsewhere.

“We would desperately like to be able to house everyone but, despite our best efforts, it’s simply not possible.

“Like every other London borough, we are having to advise most people who turn to us for help that it is highly unlikely that they will be offered a council or social rented housing.

“We don’t want a generation of young people to grow up sharing a hostel room with their siblings and parents, and the only choice left to us is to support families to find private rented accommodation where possible.

“The council continues to lobby government to match the Local Housing Allowance to local rents.

“Until the government does this, and gives local councils more funding to build homes, local authorities will, reluctantly, have to resort to supporting people into settled accommodation outside of London.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Providing quality and fair social housing is an absolute priority and so is helping people access housing support when they need it.

“Since 2010 the number of homes for social and affordable rent has increased by 79,000 and we’re giving councils – including Hackney – the tools they need to push on and deliver a new generation of social housing.”

Some details have been changed to protect Jess’ identity.