For some of Britain’s most vulnerable, ‘temporary accommodation’ is all they know

Tilly Grove

Homeless and vulnerably housed people who’ve being placed in temporary accommodation by councils are discovering that ‘temporary’ means nothing of the sort.

According to the charity Quaker Social Action, a customer at its Homestore furniture shop told them he’d been in so-called ‘temporary’ accommodation for 16 years.

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A 2015 report by Inside Housing, meanwhile, revealed from Freedom of Information (FOI) responses that across 15 London councils, 690 households had lived in their temporary accommodation for over 10 years. And more than 3,700 had lived in temporary accommodation for at least five years.

In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, one household was recorded as remaining in temporary accommodation for 22 years. Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs insisted that this was “shockingly unusual”, but suggested that the average wait for permanent housing in the area was still seven years.

A “temporary housing crisis”

When housing experts refer to a “temporary housing crisis”, it’s not hard to see why.

Temporary accommodation is provided by the council to those who have successfully made a homelessness application while suitable settled housing is found. Don’t let the term ‘temporary’ fool you, though – there is no limit on the amount of time tenants can be kept there.

In practice, this usually means that they’re housed in a property owned by the council or a private landlord, and in rooms at hostels or B&Bs. Temporarily housed tenants have fewer rights than those in secure housing, and can be evicted more easily.

There is also no guarantee that the conditions they live in will be of a reasonable quality. One left-wing group, having spoken to the Focus E15 campaign (which works tackling homelessness in the Newham area in east London), described conditions including rat and cockroach infestations, broken heating, and faulty electricity.

Homeless charity Shelter, meanwhile, has described how B&B accommodation for families often requires parents and children to share a single room and share kitchens and bathrooms with other tenants. Families and pregnant women are only permitted by law to be housed in this kind of housing for a maximum of six weeks. But in 2015, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) figures showed that 920 of the 2,570 families living in a B&B had been there for six weeks.

No choice

According to FOI requests made by Shelter in 2014, more than 4,000 homeless families in London had been waiting two years or more for permanent housing. More than half of the boroughs that responded to the FOI request had families who had been waiting more than a year in a hostel or B&B.

The Independent spoke to a woman named Felicia who, along with her two children, was placed in a B&B in London for over two months. Another woman, Naomi, told the BBC that she and her two-year-old daughter had moved five times over two years across three different London boroughs.

No stability

Being moved outside of the borough they are familiar with is not unusual for families seeking help from the council. In 2015, figures showed that a third of homeless families had been moved outside of their boroughs. In some cases, this can include being moved outside of London altogether, to places like Liverpool or Birmingham.

This can make it difficult to hold down a job or keep children in education, and takes people away from their support networks, friends and family. According to calculations by the London Poverty Profile, a scheme by Trust for London and the New Policy Institute, at the end of 2014/15, 15,600 households in London had been placed in temporary accommodation outside of their borough. Four boroughs had made more than half of their temporary accommodation placements outside of the area.

At the same time, the scheme estimates that around one in twelve placements outside the respective boroughs, and one in fifty of all placements, are made outside of London.

The London problem

Temporary accommodation is being used to house people and families across the country. Brighton and Hove has the highest proportion of residents in temporary accommodation outside of the capital, for example, and across Sussex more than 2,700 children aged under-16 are currently living with their families in B&Bs, hostels, and temporarily in privately owned flats.

In Birmingham, meanwhile, 2,800 people are listed as homeless, with most in temporary accommodation or staying with friends and family.

But it is impossible to ignore the way temporary housing is overwhelmingly a problem in London. 73,120 households were recorded by the DCLG as living in temporary accommodation across England in the second quarter of 2016. Of those, 52,820 are in London. 43,590 of those are households with children.

The borough of Newham, the primary target of Focus E15’s campaign, tops the charts for the most people living in temporary accommodation in London. According to data from the Office for National Statistics, between April 2015 and March 2016 there were 3,956 households in Newham in temporary accommodation. More than this, though, 2,448 households were considered eligible for action under the Housing Acts – the highest amount in London and the second-highest in England.

The causes

Regarding those becoming homeless, statistics from the DCLG suggest that overwhelmingly it is the end of assured shorthold tenancies (AST) that are forcing people into homelessness. Of the 15,170 households in England classed as homeless between April and June, nearly a third cited eviction from their AST.

In London, the end of a tenancy accounted for 41% of all accepted homelessness applications during that period. The DCLG explains:

Affordability is an increasingly significant issue, as more households facing the end of a private tenancy are unable to find an alternative without assistance.

Unfortunately, what the government is actually doing about this is yet to be seen. Private rents are rising, and the government is not building nearly enough houses to deal with the shortfall every year. Local authorities have a chronic shortage of affordable suitable temporary housing, which is why they say they have to place tenants in B&Bs.

A lack of affordable housing in general is causing people to struggle, made worse by cuts to housing benefit and other support. But when people find that they are no longer able to pay their rent, or their tenancy ends unexpectedly, it is no longer possible to rely on a safety net from the council, and it hasn’t been for some time.

Temporary accommodation is a stop-gap until more permanent housing can be secured, but in the current climate, that could be any time in the future, and it could be far from home. The conditions of the temporary accommodation could be bad, and tenants can be evicted easily and moved from place to place as the council requires.

Essentially, the homeless people who need help can’t get it. The council knows, and it offers no viable solution. This is renting in 2016.

Get Involved!

– Support Shelter, and make sure you’re familiar with your own housing rights.

– Support the Focus E15 campaign.

Write to your MP asking them to hold the government to account on housing.

Featured image via Flickr/McKay Savage

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