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As LGC exclusively revealed today, Westminster City Council is proposing to start placing more homeless people in private rented accommodation outside of London.
Daniel Astaire (Con), the council’s cabinet member for housing, regeneration, business and economic development, has called for “an honest discussion” about out of borough placements.
The Hobson’s choice of temporary accommodation in London or a rented flat outside of the capital is sure to prove contentious, though.
It will be controversial among councils that suddenly find significant numbers of Westminster’s homeless people on their patch.
The issue is also sensitive because of memories of Westminster’s former leader Dame Shirley Porter’s (Con) ‘homes for votes’ scandal, even though it occurred 30 years ago and she in 2004 paid the city council £12.3m in a final settlement of a potential £43m surcharge.
Whereas Dame Shirley’s motive was to move homeless people out in case they voted Labour, Westminster now wants to relocate some people because the council cannot reasonably accommodate them in a city with rocketing private sector rents.
Westminster insists it will try to place households in areas where rents will remain within benefit levels in the longer term, which it admitted made it “likely that many offers will be outside London”.
This is because the council spends about £4.3m a year on 2,500 households in temporary accommodation and says this bill could rise to £11.8m in 2020-21 on present trends, while the local housing allowance freeze and benefit cap reduction will make private rented homes even less affordable.
But the city council will not offer moves just anywhere, given complaints from councils in northern England in the previous decade that London boroughs were sending economically inactive people to areas that already had plenty of their own.
These placements will instead be to towns that offer employment prospects within an hour’s travel of London - a fairly average commute for the capital - where it is hoped those concerned can put down roots and develop stable lives.
This, though, may antagonise other councils. The Local Government Association last year announced an investigation into councils housing people elsewhere after Canterbury City Council complained that Redbridge LBC had outbid it to lease 147 homes creating an “unfair and unplanned burden” which could “lead to social cohesion problems”.
Figures last year showed of the 69,140 households in temporary accommodation,18,670 had been placed in another local authority district - up by 17% from 2014 - and 92% came from London boroughs.
Some Londoners aspire to live in the nearby coast or countryside but as a matter of personal choice, not something forced upon them.