Not all London boroughs force homeless families into the private sector (for example Southwark and Islington), but out of the 23 that have in the last year, 75% have tried to force homeless families out of London. However, some are worse than others, with the Labour ran councils of Brent and Newham accounting for two-thirds of the out-of-London placements.
Brent council tried to move 112 families to the West Midlands last year alone, with 65 refusing and likely facing further homelessness. This is from a total of 139 out-of-London offers made by Brent council, meaning that 80% of the time that Brent council offer someone private rented accommodation out of London it is in the West Midlands. Very clearly Brent are not trying to find the nearest suitable accommodation to Brent as the Nzolomeso ruling requires LINK.
The report gives a case study of Brent Council's moving of families to Telford in Shropshire:
Nearly all of the households (95%) that Brent and Newham councils have tried to move out of London have children. These out of London placements will seriously disrupt their childhood and education. The councils will probably argue that families with children are the households that they struggle most to house in London due to the effects of the benefit cap. However, the case of the Telford placements (see below) shows that out-of-London placements are being used for families who not affected by the benefit cap. The fact that 29 other London boroughs can house homeless families without moving any, or many, families out of London shows that what Newham and Brent are doing is not necessary. Due to the massive difference in behaviour and use of private sector placements across London boroughs, the actions of Brent and Newham can therefore be seen as ideological.
As Brent were the worst council for trying to force families out of London we decided to look in detail at their use of out-of-London private sector discharges. We took the case study of the 11 households that Brent had tried to force to move to Telford, Shropshire. All 11 of these households had refused Brent council’s offer, likely facing further homelessness as a result. According to the council none of these 11 families reviewed the decision to be moved to Telford or approached social services for help under the Children’s Act. This means the families would have had to have found accommodation themselves or stayed with friends or family.
FOIs revealed that all private sector discharges were to the same property that the council kept re-offering to household after household. This means that one house in Telford resulted in further homelessness for 11 families. No family viewed the property but it also appears from the notice given to these families explaining the offer and its consequences (see below) that no expenses were offered to view the property and they were only given 24 hours from receiving the letter to decide whether to accept the offer. All 11 families obviously decided the property was unsuitable, but Brent did not get the message. It is worrying that Brent kept offering this property, which very quickly they knew was going to be rejected. The later offers of this house in Telford are not done by a council who are trying to house homeless families, but rather one who is trying to end any responsibility they have towards homeless families as efficiently as possible.
The suitability assessments that Brent carried out for each family were also obtained through FOI (summary of the assessments is in the Appendix). The questionnaires asked basic facts such as the age of children, work details and medical needs. The assessments showed that across the 11 families there were 35 children, 29 who were school age. The offers therefore would have had serious disruption to many children’s lives. 9 of the 11 families also had parents in work. This means that the offers were potentially breaking the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 2012 which requires local authorities to consider the disruption caused by the location of accommodation to a household’s employment. It also means that most of the families would not have been subject to the benefit cap, meaning there would be far more available and affordable areas in which the council could place them, making the decision to place the families in Telford even more worrying.
One possible reason why this Telford house was deemed so unsuitable by the families (even more so than offers to Birmingham, which more Brent families accepted and is a similar distance from London) is because it is a much less culturally diverse place. Our FOIs revealed that of the 8 families Brent council attempted to send to Telford which they had ethnicity data on, half were not white, and the 4 who were recorded as white were not necessarily white British (a County Court case here against Brent is by a Polishwoman for example). From the 2011 Census Telford is 90% white British compared to 53% for Birmingham and 18% for Brent.
All this is happening while Brent Council is approving planning applications by Quintain for developments that are unaffordable for local people.
Even though Brent Council said none of the 11 families reviewed the private sector discharge there was one court case reviewing the suitability of an offer in Telford by Brent council covered on the Nearly Legal blog. This means that either Brent Council were not accurate in their FOI response or that they were still making private sector offers to Telford after the time period for which the information they gave us covered. This court case shows how even though the person was actually trying to accept the Telford offer, Brent were clearly just using the offer to try and end a homeless duty to the family as they turned the parent’s temporary illness into a rejection of the offer.
This is the full HASL report (Click bottom right for full size version):