Homelessness in England at a five-year high

By staff writers
June 7, 2013

Government figures released yesterday (6 June) show that the number of homeless households in England has risen by six per cent over the past year, to the highest in five years.

The figures also show a 14 per cent rise in the number of people living in bed and breakfast accomodation. The housing and homelessness charity Shelter is warning that cuts to the housing safety net, added to the rising cost of housing, are already having a real impact.

Bed and breakfast accommodation often consists of a single room for an entire family a shared bathroom and no cooking facilities. It may be miles away from jobs and support networks. Though there is a legal requirement limiting this to six weeks for families, many have to stay in this situation for months.

The vast majority of the 760 cases currently in breach of the six-week limit are from boroughs in high housing cost areas of London and the south east.

In the borough of Westminster 95 homeless families have been in B&Bs for longer than the legal limit. Other councils with high numbers of long stay B&B households include Hounslow (75), Tower Hamlets (53), Croydon (49), Barking and Dagenham (49), and Hammersmith and Fulham (39).

While cuts to the housing safety net are already hitting families hard, there are more to come, including the overall benefit cap which is being implemented between April and September 2013.

Shelter says these cuts could leave councils unable to pay for temporary accommodation for homeless families. As a result, even more families could be placed in B&B-style accommodation miles away from their jobs, schools and support networks.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: "This rising tide of homelessness is a direct result of cuts to housing benefit with more to come yet at a time when there is a chronic lack of affordable housing and rents are rising. Ministers can and must do more.

"... It makes more sense and is more cost-effective to help people stay in their homes than spend far more money on temporary accommodation or support once people become homeless. With more cuts to housing benefit kicking in we can sadly only expect things to get worse."

The housing minister Mark Prisk said yesterday that he had created a £2million fund to help councils currently breaching the six week law to meet their legal duty and bring their practice up to those of the best local authorities.

Homelessness charities say the official figures underestimate the total number of homeless people, particularly young single people living on the streets, in squats or 'sofa surfing' in friend's homes.

They say the biggest single cause of homelessness is the ending of private sector tenancies, accounting for one in four of the families accepted as homeless in England over the last 12 months.

[Ekk/4]

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