‘Bleak picture’: Homeless families in Hackney face journeys of more than 100 miles for temporary accommodation

Hackney Town Hall

Homeless families from Hackney could be offered a bed for the night in the Midlands as the demand for housing intensifies.

The council’s head of benefits and housing, Jennifer Wynter, said the crisis means people could be offered accommodation more than 100 miles away from London.

She said: “If you are a homeless family and you approach us for temporary accommodation today in the Hackney service centre, the closest location we could have offered you for a bed for the night would have been Dudley, Wolverhampton, Coventry or Derby.”

Wolverhampton is 154 miles away, or nearly three hours drive, whilst Coventry is 110 miles away.

Wynter said the situation is a little better for those on their own: “If you’re a single homeless person, we may have been able to place you in Crawley.”

Private landlords are giving up letting homes, making it harder for Hackney Council to find places for people on its waiting list.

The property market has been affected by “volatile” central government issues since June, according to Wynter.

She said this has led to “a very large increase in families approaching us as homeless, particularly those fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence”.

The housing boss told the Living in Hackney scrutiny commission that the council faces “fierce competition” for any homes that appear on the market. Properties go within two hours, she explained, forcing officers to act quickly to try to snap them up.

Landlords have asked the council to hand back 45 homes.

“At this point, I can’t paint a bleak enough picture for you of the housing crisis,” said Wynter.

Experienced housing officers of 30 years standing “have never seen it as bad as they have now”, she revealed.

Families on Hackney’s housing list face a nine-year wait for a three-bedroom council home and a 13-year wait for a four-bedroom home.

Wynter said larger families are getting in touch for help with emergency temporary accommodation whilst landlords are “pulling out of the housing market”, including those providing temporary accommodation.

The amount of private accommodation has dropped by 30 per cent since before the pandemic, and “the private rented sector in London is constricting in London for the first time”.

She said there are more reports of people living in overcrowded homes in the private sector as well as in council and housing association homes.

Even the Capital Letters renting company, owned by councils and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has had “zero” homes available for Hackney since September.