Report reveals temporary accommodation costs of £2bn for just 12 councils leading to possible class action

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) has released a report focused on 12 local authorities across Britain, from London to Edinburgh, which have spent almost £2bn on housing vulnerable homeless families in short-term accommodation including B & Bs, hostels and shelters – against Government guidance.

The report claims that blame for the costs lies with benefit cuts, a shortage of affordable housing and rising private rents and they raise fears that the imminent arrival of the benefits cap (due to roll out between 15th July 2013 and September 2013) will exacerbate the problem.

They cite official figures which indicate that 7,000 families dependant on benefits in London alone stand to lose more than £100 a week under the cap, a cost that may be too much to continue in their present accommodation and could, they say, lead to homelessness.

Breaking down those figures, spending on B&B accommodation alone had gone up 25.34% to £91.1 million in the 12 cities. That reflected the fact that some 32,643 homeless households have been re-housed out of their borough since 2009. In the year to April, 10,832 households were re-housed in this way – a 15.86% rise on the previous 12 months.

The BIJ has reported that a law firm is preparing class action against councils who keep families in B&B accommodation for longer than the statutory six week limit.

Official guidance contained in ‘Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities’ states:

Housing authorities should avoid using Bed &Breakfast (B&B) accommodation wherever possible. Where B&B accommodation has been used in an emergency situation, applicants should be moved to more suitable accommodation as soon as possible. The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 provides that B&B accommodation is not suitable accommodation for families with children and households that include a pregnant woman unless there is no alternative accommodation available and then only for a maximum of six weeks.

Leslie Morphy, CEO of the homelessness charity Crisis, said:

“For the sake of cutting just a few pounds a week from their benefits, families and individuals are being forced out of their homes, to be put up in B&Bs or temporary accommodation that costs us all far more.”

Housing minister Mark Prisk added:

“There is absolutely no excuse for families to be sent miles away without proper regard for their circumstances, or to be placed in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation for long periods of time.

“The law is clear: councils have a responsibility to take into account people’s jobs and schools when securing homes for those in need.”

The class action will likely seek to claim that this responsibility is being neglected, at the expense of the tax payer, and the coming weeks may see several councils forced into mounting an expensive legal defence – sadly, also at the taxpayer’s expense.

Following this news, the Local Government Ombudsman has just ordered Birmingham Council to pay a homeless family of five £4000 in recompense for housing them for 17 weeks in a B & B…Read on here

24/05/2013                                                                                                                    SRJ/LCB

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