Ross Macmillan for 24dash.com

Tuesday 3rd July 2012

Conservative-led Croydon Council says it is looking at offering homeless households accommodation outside the borough due to the lack of council houses in the area and the high rents being demanded by private landlords.

Labour-run Newham hit the headlines earlier this year after it wrote to around 1,000 housing associations – as far away as Stoke-on-Trent – to house 500 families in immediate housing need.

It said the Government’s decision to cap local housing allowance (LHA) in the private sector was “exacerbating the problem”, as was private landlords refusing to take on tenants on housing benefit.

Croydon has already acquired properties in Manchester and Walsall, however, as reported by 24dash in March, some of those in temporary accommodation had refused to take up the offer.

It now says it is going into partnership with Richmond, Kingston and Sutton councils with a view to jointly obtaining 150 properties outside London, with Croydon “taking the larger portion”.

The council says it has seen a 36% increase in homeless numbers in 2011/12 – leading to a 200% spike in its use of B&B lets.

A shortage of affordable properties in the private rented sector, to which the council has historically turned, has seen it place 429 households in B&Bs with the situation “expected to deteriorate further”.

It further warns that the planned introduction of the household benefit cap next April – which will see benefits capped at £500 – will leave a couple with three children, for example, with a maximum rent allowance of £176.18.

The local housing allowance rent for a three-bed property in Croydon, it says, is £253 per week – a weekly shortfall of £76.82.

As a result, Croydon says households that have “no overriding need” to be in Croydon may be offered accommodation outside the borough.

It says a number of regions have been identified as possibly being suitable, but final decisions have yet to be made, and the choices would be dependent on a number of factors, such as access to employment, education, affordability and transport links to Croydon.

Councillor Dudley Mead, cabinet member for housing, finance and asset management, said: “Unfortunately, it’s an incontrovertible fact that we don’t have enough spare capacity in Croydon for the number of homeless people asking the council for help.

“Public services, in general, and housing, in particular, are under huge financial strain at present, and we have to make sure that the borough’s residents are getting the best value from their council tax.

“Obviously, we’d like to be able to offer everybody who comes to us exactly the accommodation, in the area of their choice, they ask for. Sadly, that isn’t possible, and this joint venture with other authorities offers homeless households somewhere to live on a temporary basis.”

As part of the Government’s localism reforms, it’s allowing councils to place homeless households in the private rented sector, but has warned that it’s not acceptable to make “compulsory placements hundreds of miles away”

Last month, it published a consultation on the plans – which runs until 26 July – outlining new “safeguards” to ensure vulnerable families are placed in suitable, privately-rented accommodation with an assured fixed-term tenancy of at least 12 months.

Mr Shapps said: “The most vulnerable in our communities who find themselves homeless through no fault of their own deserve a safe and secure roof over their heads, close to their community wherever possible.”

Section 208(1) of the Housing Act 1996 provides that local authorities must in discharging their housing functions in relation to homelessness secure accommodation within their own district so far as reasonably practicable.

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