Some councils are making ‘take it or leave it’ offers to families to be housed as far away as Birmingham, despite disruption to jobs and school.
A handful of London councils are making aggressive use of legal powers to make “take or leave it” offers of housing in locations far away from the capital in an attempt to permanently resettle hundreds of homeless families.
Officials are giving households 24 hours to accept private rented homes in the West Midlands, Essex and the south-east, warning that if they refuse the council will consider them to have become “intentionally homeless” and withdraw support.
Research seen by the Guardian suggests half of offers made by 28 councils in locations in the West Midlands, more than 100 miles from London, are rejected, suggesting that many families are prepared to risk becoming homeless again rather than be uprooted from jobs and family support networks.
Campaigners say some councils’ policy of offering homes several hours travel distance from the capital, despite evidence that most families will reject them as unsuitable for their needs, suggests that their priority is to reduce the size of the homeless list rather than genuinely help families.
In one case, Brent council offered a three-bedroomed private rented property in Telford, Shropshire to 11 homeless London families over a 12-month period. All refused or were deemed to have refused the property without viewing it. Nine of the families had jobs in the capital, and all had at least two children in local schools.
Dolores Cieicierska, a single mother of three who was offered the property, told the Guardian she feared it would mean losing her cleaning job, and access to childcare provided by family members living in Brent. “I started crying because of the stress, because I would lose my job and because my children would have to leave their school.”
Elizabeth Wyatt of campaign group Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) said it was worrying that Brent kept offering the property, which it must have quickly realised was likely to be rejected. “This is not a council trying to house homeless families, but one that is trying to end any responsibility it has towards homeless families as efficiently as possible.”
Cllr Harbi Farah, Brent’s cabinet member for housing, said the council faced an acute shortage of affordable suitable property, a situation exacerbated by government welfare reforms. “While we would prefer to make offers of accommodation within Brent and London and do this in the majority of cases, unfortunately this is just not possible in all cases.”