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Housing boss warns of ‘worrying trend’ as social tenancy levels halve in a year

There are 13,000 families waiting for council housing in Hackney.

The councillor in charge of housing for Hackney has spoken out on the borough’s crisis, revealing that social lets offered by the Town Hall are almost half what they were last year.

The Town Hall’s cabinet member for housing needs, Cllr Rebecca Rennison (Lab, Kings Park), highlighted the “worrying trend” at a recent council meeting, with the number of social housing lets for 2018/19 standing at 640, down from 1,132 the year before.

There are 13,000 families on the council’s housing waiting list, with 3,000 households in temporary accommodation and 1,000 in the council’s ‘urgent’ band.

Labour councillors in Hackney are calling for a raise in the local housing allowance (LHA), the form of benefit you can claim if you rent from a private landlord, a policy which campaigners say prevents those in need from finding homes.

Jane Williams of the Magpie Project, which supports mothers and young children in temporary accommodation, said: “What we’re seeing with our mums is when they are discharged from temporary or emergency accommodation, they are encouraged to go into the private sector with their housing benefit.

“But there is nothing at all affordable in the private rented sector, which means they are always encouraged to move out of the borough at that point. That’s a really heartbreaking decision, as with a lot of these mums we’ve spent a year or so getting them to the point where they can move on, but then it often means a massive upheaval again.

“They’ve found support in the borough where they’re living, but then they have to up sticks and start all over again where they may not have any social support or network, or understanding of where the local children’s centre is or where you buy your bread.

“Those things are really important, and it just means people are being priced out of inner London altogether. It seems that there’s very little the housing officers can do, as they have a certain financial amount which is their guideline, and if there’s nothing on the market, then there’s not much you can do.”

Reforms capping the LHA in 2010 mean that it no longer covers the average rent in Hackney, which hit highs of £1,800 per month for a two-bedroom flat in June.

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

The council’s Move On Team has increasingly been approaching unwilling families to move them far from London since it was established in 2017, a policy that Cllr Rennison said earlier in the year would continue despite the council’s reluctance.

The Town Hall is understood to be reviewing its policies in order that properties that do become available will go to the households “with the greatest need”.

Cllr Rennison said: “It gives me no joy to report that the social housing lets for 18/19 is 640. That’s a reduction from 1,132 in the previous year.

“It’s not anticipated that there will be any increase in this number, and if there’s a similar reduction in 2019/20, lets will be reduced to below 400.

“We are also working to invest in the support we offer residents to find homes in the private rented sector if that’s an option, work to improve the offer in access to existing transfer and exchange schemes, and work to ensure housing associatin partners play their part to.

“I wanted to draw councillors’ attention to the worrying trend in the number of social lets available, and the impact that has on the housing crisis we find ourselves in here in Hackney.”

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