Friday, 17 December 2010

After children of Thatcher comes spawn of Porter

A council has admitted it plans to move 80 per cent of homeless housing benefit claimants needing temporary accommodation out of the borough, writes Isabel Hardman for Inside Housing. Westminster Council’s finance and resources overview and scrutiny committee is considering a report which says nearly 400 families will be moved into homes outside of the borough once housing benefit cuts mean their accommodation is no longer affordable.

07Often mistaken for a drag act, Dame Shirley Porter instituted the secret
‘homes for votes’ policy in 1990

The report predicts a shift in the proportion of accommodation that the council books within the borough. It currently houses 70 per cent of those presenting as homeless within the borough, but by 2016 this will shift to 80 per cent of claimants housed outside Westminster.

The report says Westminster is the worst affected borough in London, with 5,000 local housing allowance claimants expected to lose out from the cuts. The council is still waiting for its allocation of an additional £10 million which was added to the discretionary housing payment, a fund making up the shortfall between rent and housing benefit payments while a tenant finds alternative accommodation.

Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: ‘These truly shocking figures show that hundreds of low-income families will be forced to uproot themselves over the coming years to parts of London with which they have no connection, no other family members and no friends. Many of them working locally in low-paid jobs will now be forced to make expensive journeys back to Westminster to get to work.’

Cabinet member for housing Philippa Roe said: ‘The number of people housed outside of the borough is really very small compared to the overall caseload of housing benefit claims that we do have. We want to use the DHP as much as possible for those who can prove that they need to stay in the borough, and for pensioners, whose circumstances obviously will not change, we are trying to work out a way of keeping them in the borough, although I don’t know where we’ll get the money for this from.’

This follows a stinging national assessment of the effect of the cuts to local housing allowance, which will start in April 2011 for new claimants. The impact assessment, published by the Department for Work and Pensions, admits that homelessness is likely to rise as a result of the cuts, and predicts an influx of claimants from expensive areas into cheaper suburbs.

The report, which was published at the same time as the government laid secondary legislation for a number of the cuts, says families requiring additional support from social services, teenage mothers and extended families will be particularly badly hit: losing contact with support networks and official services. It warns that schools in outer London boroughs may need to build temporary classrooms to cope with a rise in children whose families can no longer afford to live in the centre.