Westminster's Housing Crisis continues with no quick solution
By londononline | Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 23:30
On the 19th February Westminster council stated that it has 171 families in B&B accommodation who have been there for longer than six weeks. Westminster Council officers have told Labour Councillors that the council is now spending about £145,000 a week on housing families in London hotels. If this situation continues the Council will spend £7.5 million a year on temporary accommodation. Labour Councillors have called for an enquiry into why Westminster Council appears to be paying up to three times more than the going rate for West End hotel rooms as revealed by a Metro investigation.
In November 2012 Westminster City Council was told by Housing Minister, Mark Prisk, MP, that its continued placing of families with children in Bed & Breakfast Hotels for more than six weeks was "unlawful and unacceptable". In April 2012, Grant Shapps, MP, the Housing Minister, wrote to Philippa Roe, Council Leader, saying: "I have instructed my officials to contact your authority and offer their help and support in reducing levels of B & B use."
Those housed by Westminster in B&B accommodation in Westminster, Brent, Hackney & Haringey, often experience unsuitable and difficult living conditions. The council does not appear to have a solution to this crisis. Westminster Council did not answer whether it would consider housing families outside of London as Camden Council is currently doing. However Cllr Jonathan Glanz, Westminster City Council's Cabinet Member for Housing, said:
"Putting families in hotels and B&B's is a last resort for councils and it is something that we in Westminster do reluctantly, but the real issue here is the lack of homes in London, which is a result of successive governments over the past 30 years simply failing to build enough homes.
"Coupled with the effects of the economic downturn and the impact of benefit caps, we are now seeing unprecedented levels of people presenting themselves as homeless to local authorities.
"We have added an additional 600 units of temporary accommodation in the last year to help meet the demand and are redoubling our efforts to find suitable homes for families.
"We are also doing what we can to create new homes, by building over 1,000 new properties through regeneration programmes and others through innovative in-fill developments, and by making best use of small plots of council land.
"The current London housing crisis is not something Westminster or any local authority can solve in isolation - we need to work with the GLA and colleagues in other boroughs on a long-term London-wide solution."
Westminster Council continues to support the benefit changes introduced by government which introduced caps on housing benefits saying a very generous Housing Benefit System introduced in 2008 increased the numbers claiming in the private sector in Westminster from 2,000 to about 8,000. The Council admits that Some households were being subsidised at over £2,000 per week and that 5,200 households in Westminster have been affected by the caps on Housing Benefits.
The council stance is that those affected by the caps can move to cheaper properties or pay the difference in costs. The council says that some people will lose their properties. Should this happen the Council accepts that it has an obligation to house them. Since the Housing Benefit Caps about 60 households a month need to be housed. The Council expects this level to continue for the next year. Westminster says that the families in B&B "reflect a tiny minority of those affected by the housing caps" and their "officers have been very successful in placing families in accommodation and preventing homelessness, renegotiating rents and helping people to move".
According to the Council the caps have saved central government between £35- £40m each year in Westminster alone.