Where will the homeless go?

25 Mar 2019

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In news this week it has been confirmed that London Councils are preparing to send thousands of families into temporary accommodation outside of London in attempts to comply with their homelessness duties.

As a result of Housing Benefit caps brought in by the government there are limits to the level of Housing Benefit that can be paid to families living in the private rented sector. As a result of changes brought in under the Localism Act 2011 it has become far easier for Local Authorities to discharge their homelessness duty (where such duties exist) by making offers of accommodation in the private rented sector.

Commentators have warned for a long time of the disproportionate impact the Housing Benefit caps will have on families in London. The caps apply nationally and no allowances are made for the fact that the rents in London are far higher than the average for the UK, and continue to rise.

The clear difficulty for Local Authorities is to be able to find accommodation that is affordable for homeless applicants. It had been hoped by the government that the introduction of the Housing Benefit caps would result in landlords lowering their rents. The opposite appears to be the case, in London at least.

In making an offer of accommodation to a homeless family the Local Authority must be satisfied that the accommodation is suitable, and the issue of affordability must be specifically considered in determining suitability. Put simply, if a property is not affordable it is not suitable. The problem faced by Local Authorities is that given the Housing Benefit caps it is very difficult to find any accommodation in London that is affordable for homeless families who will require assistance in the form of Housing Benefit to meet their rent. This problem is particularly acute for larger families as the Housing Benefit caps stops at 4 bedrooms. Therefore, the 4 bedroom cap of £400 per week is the limit, regardless of the size of the family and the number of bedrooms they require. It should be noted however that the number of families with a need for more than 4 bedrooms is low.

The outcome of the Housing Benefit cuts, coupled with the changes to homelessness law brought in by the Localism Act, is that more and more homeless families are likely to be forced to accept accommodation outside of London, and will be forced to relocate with their families. In a recent report (entitled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”) the Child Poverty Action Group and Lasa have highlighted the impact that the Housing Benefit cuts will have on families and children.

Therefore, expect this to be an area of numerous legal challenges. Local Authorities are required, as far as reasonably practicable, to offer accommodation within their own boroughs. The government has recently issued new guidance on the suitability of accommodation to be provided to homeless applicants. Local Authorities will need to have regard to the impact upon families of uprooting them by moving them out of London. This is likely to be an area that is ripe for legal challenges.

For more information on the above article or if you are currently experiencing housing difficlties contact our specialist houisng team at Osbornes who will be able to assist you.

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