Temporary accommodation in the era of welfare reform
The number of London households in temporary accommodation (mainly provided in the private rented sector) has risen by 50 per cent in the past 5 years, including around 90,000 children.
As rents continue to rise, and with local housing allowance levels frozen until 2020, people on lower incomes struggle to find affordable housing in London. Rent arrears are increasing across the capital and so are evictions. Borough councils are struggling to procure suitable temporary accommodation nearby.
They are spending more and more money on expensive, nightly-paid accommodation in the private rented sector, often having to place families in a neighbouring borough or even outside London. The quality of temporary housing can be poor, cramped, and insecure, with little chance of gaining long-term social housing.
The secure homes that homeless households need are also increasingly out of reach as the gap between market rents and local housing allowance levels widens. Housing offers are made in boroughs far from where people feel is home, or in towns in other parts of England, and usually in the private rented sector, on assured shorthold tenancies.
The bedroom tax (or removal of the spare room subsidy) is seen by tenants as an additional bill, rather than an incentive to move, and borough councils tend not to have any suitable homes for older people to move into.
These act as drivers for homelessness as a result of evictions due to rent arrears, increasing demand for temporary accommodation. Private landlords are often not keen to rent to tenants in receipt of benefit and early indications are that the introduction of Universal Credit appears to be a further disincentive for private landlords to accept homeless households.
Pan-London projects are in development to bring councils together to procure temporary accommodation. The Mayor has awarded £11 million from his innovation fund to develop Place, building modular temporary housing on meanwhile sites, which can be moved to new sites when needed.
A group of London councils led by Tower Hamlets is planning to buy housing jointly to provide temporary accommodation: Capital Letters hopes to use £38 million from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government’s Flexible Homelessness Support Grant. The Mayor has also funded the Real Lettings Property Fund, an investment scheme run by Resonance Living and homelessness charity St Mungo’s to purchase properties.
The answers to the housing crisis must be more decent housing the Londoners can afford, but in the meantime:
- How can the Mayor help to make more temp accommodation available?
- How can private landlords be encouraged to let to people who need temporary housing? And to those dependant on benefits to pay their rent?
- How can the quality of temporary accommodation be improved?
- Is it possible to house people close enough to their support networks, their schools, their jobs and their families, or is it best to offer people a fresh start in less populated areas in other parts of England?
- How can we ensure that people are moved on from temporary to permanent housing? Are people in temporary accommodation bidding on the council system for homes in vain?
- Will pan-London projects being developed by London Councils, or by the third sector make a difference?
The Housing Committee is hosting a number of meetings as part of its investigation:
- Roundtable meeting with law centres - 14 November 2018. The Law Centres Network has brought together London law centres to talk to the committee. These solicitors run the duty housing schemes at London’s county courts and see people at the point at which they are becoming homeless. They described and provided examples of the changing patterns of cases they are seeing across the city. A transcript will be available here.
- Temporary accommodation focus group - 4 December 2018. The committee will hear from people who are currently living in or have recently been in temporary accommodation to gain a better understanding of the experience of becoming homeless and the events that led up that. A transcript will be available here.
- Formal committee meeting - 22 January 2019. Guests will include landlord associations, councils, housing associations to discuss the challenges facing landlords and solutions borough councils are developing, such as modular temporary accommodation.