With less than 48 hours to go until Christmas day most people’s minds are taken up with last minute present shopping, however, for many there are far more pressing concerns.
Cratus recently undertook some research into the state of temporary accommodation across London and England and found it to be rife with disparity and no small amount of disarray. Central government reforms and an inflated housing market in several key areas are contributing to a deteriorating situation for local authorities. The quality, flexibility and sustainability of temporary accommodation solutions presently available to local authorities are falling short of both statutory and care duties. There are a number of options available to local authorities as they work to more effectively manage the numbers of households in need of temporary accommodation.
In June 2014, 59,710 homeless households in England were placed in temporary accommodation. This is the highest such figure in five years. Worryingly, as of the end of June this year there were 2,130 families with dependent children placed in B&B accommodation – 3.5 times higher than in 2010 when the number stood at 630. This, together with the rise in homeless households, high private sector rents and a squeezed social housing stock reflects the depressing state of temporary accommodation across the country, a difficult situation that is felt most acutely in London, where the number of appropriate housing options are slim.
There has been controversy recently surrounding the number of households placed outside the boundaries of a local authority. Wherever possible, councils should ensure that accommodation is provided within borough. There are obvious benefits to this: it limits disruption to schooling; if social services are involved they do not have to travel far to make appointments; and vitally, the household remains within their own community. Furthermore, in the case of those who have recently immigrated, it allows them the opportunity to establish and maintain a relationship within the community. From our own research in London, the percentage of those being placed in temporary accommodation in borough varied substantially amongst the London councils, from the highest percentage in borough (89%) to the lowest (18%). From a sample of 18 boroughs, there was an average of 54% being placed in borough, which leaves on average 46% placed out of borough.
Shelter recommends that only in exceptional circumstances should households be placed out of borough i.e. if the individual/family is fleeing domestic violence or involved with gang-violence. As of June 2014, 14,220 households in London were moved to a different local authority – this is a 26% increase on the previous year. In the capital, boroughs where accommodation is cheaper are ‘absorbing’ neighbouring, more expensive boroughs’ homeless households. This is putting a strain on outer London boroughs which have to not only find solutions to house their own residents, but those from other local authorities. Shelter has found that London councils are having to compete with other boroughs to procure housing stock in their own area. This goes against the Pan London Agreement on Inter-Borough Placement Accommodation which states that boroughs should not compete in the procurement of housing. All these problems are only adding to the increase in out of borough placements.
There has been an over-reliance in recent years on using B&B-type accommodation to solve temporary accommodation needs. In the first two years of the Government taking power, the number of families with children who stayed in B&Bs for more than six weeks rose by 331%. This is seen particularly acutely in London, where 54% of the total B&B placements in England were in the capital as of June 2014. It is paramount that more is done to provide alternative solutions to B&B-type accommodation. Although the strain on local authorities is clear (lack of affordable homes, lack of council-owned housing stock), to continually use this form of accommodation as a ‘quick fix’ for temporary accommodation is not i) financially tenable ii) appropriate for the vast majority of households and iii) a long-term solution for the UKs housing needs.
The majority of councils that responded to our FOI request reported a year-on-year increase in both budget and real spend on temporary accommodation. One council, for example has almost doubled its budget from £22m in 2011/12m, to £40m in 2013/14. No borough that responded reported a drop in actual spend from 2011/12 to 2013/14. This makes it clear that not only are councils finding it difficult to meet demand (as seen through the number of households placed out of borough and in B&B-type accommodation), councils are also struggling with the ever growing financial burden of providing temporary accommodation.
In terms of the cost on local authorities, the average nightly cost per household for temporary accommodation varied from borough to borough. From our research, the highest cost per night reported was £85 and the lowest was £29. Out of a sample of 19 boroughs, the average cost per night per household was £44. As the majority of the councils who responded provide temporary accommodation on a commissioned basis (78% average), the cumulative cost is high. The borough that had the lowest percentage of commissioned properties (25.8%) had a nightly cost per household of £35.22. 7 boroughs who responded reported that 100% of their temporary accommodation is commissioned and not managed by the local authority.
From our own research, only three boroughs reported a fall in households requiring temporary accommodation in the years 2011/12 to 2013/14. For the remaining 17 who responded to that specific question (3 didn’t answer and 1 refused under Section 12), there has been a substantial jump between 2011/12 and 2013/14. One borough for example, had 658 households in temporary accommodation during 2011/12, rising to 1,462 in 2013/14. This is reflected in their actual spend for the same years which jumped from £7.8 million to £10.2 million. The average length of stay in that borough has also increased during the same period from 119 days to 132 days.
The average length of stay varies amongst the boroughs who responded, ranging from 49 nights, to 427 nights, to a staggering 1,015 nights (1,015 nights data corresponds as such: 581 households from 2011/12 are still in temporary accommodation, 830 households from 2012/13 are still in temporary accommodation and 1,320 households from 2013/14 are still in temporary accommodation). The total average length of stay out of the boroughs who responded (sample of 17) is 262 days – well over half a year and therefore falling short of ‘temporary’.
An important issue to raise is the impact that including temporary accommodation in the benefit cap has had on households and councils. This change has made it more difficult for councils to find suitable accommodation for households and there is fear that temporary accommodation households will be at risk of eviction from rent arrears. Data obtained by Shelter suggests that 1 in 4 households subject to the benefit cap are in temporary accommodation – this number is higher in inner London boroughs. For example, in Westminster and Islington, over half of those subject to the benefit cap are in temporary accommodation, compared to just 1% for both Sutton and Bexley. The majority of London households have been in temporary accommodation for less than two years, which is also reflected in our FOI data.
Temporary accommodation is an issue that cannot be left on the side-lines for much longer. Much more needs to be done by different sectors to secure safe and affordable accommodation, only using B&B-type accommodation in an emergency – not as a long-term solution – and striving to keep households in borough wherever possible. It is clear that temporary accommodation as an issue will only be solved through the construction of more affordable and accessible homes, however in the medium term there are solutions at hand within the immediate power of local authorities.
Stronger guidance on B&B-type accommodation to ensure it is only used as a last resort in an emergency situation.
The number of households requiring temporary accommodation is expected to rise in most areas following further cuts to housing benefit, lack of affordable homes and extortionate private rents: “we face a perfect storm of economic downturn, rising joblessness and soaring demand for limited affordable housing, combined with government policy to cut housing benefit, plus local cuts to homelessness services”. Intelligent, innovative solutions need to be sought to create long-term investments in temporary accommodation.