BY TOBY PORTER
Housing officers are encouraging homeless people to accept offers of private housing in neighbouring boroughs so they can remove them from the council housing waiting list and end their obligations to house them, it’s being claimed.
Lambeth council has been accused by a community action group, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) of ‘tricking’ applicants into ending their homeless assessment by offering them a six-month tenancy in private housing outside of the borough.
They say tenants accept being placed in higher priority Band B rather than temporary accommodation under Band C on the understanding that they stand a better chance of being offered a permanent home.
Those offered private housing outside of Lambeth will remain on the council waiting list for two years before being removed.
They are then evicted from the property just six months later. HASL says the ‘Temp 2 Settled’ scheme penalises homeless people wanting to stay on the housing register in Lambeth, as those on the scheme stand a better chance of being housed in Lambeth (42 per cent of placements), albeit temporarily, than those continuing to seek temporary accommodation (27 per cent).
As the scheme is voluntary, applicants lose their right to important legal protections such as the ability to challenge offers of unsuitable accommodation within 21 days.
Once an applicant is placed on the ‘Temp 2 Settled’ scheme they will then have to start a new homeless application again.
The ‘Temp 2 Settled’ scheme was started by Lambeth council in November 2014 and since then the number of decisions made on homeless applications has fallen 25 per cent from 1,000 a year to 750.
Decisions on homeless assessments in neighbouring Southwark have increased to more than 2,000 a year in that time. Elizabeth Wyatt, a member of the HASL campaign group, believes the scheme drives families out of the borough so that the town hall can reduce its homelessness statistics.
She said: “Lambeth council are tricking and exploiting some of their most vulnerable homeless residents with this scheme.
They are promising them council housing, then forcing them out of the borough and kicking them off the council housing waiting list so that these families will never have the chance of the secure council homes they desperately need.
The council’s scheme is fuelling social cleansing and trapping families into a cycle of homelessness as they are forced back into the insecure, poor quality private rented sector.”
Migrants who do not already have housing register accounts are particularly vulnerable.
Susana Romero, 44, a single working mum, was advised by Lambeth council to take up temporary private accommodation in the borough of Lewisham as they said she and her son would stand a better chance of being housed permanently.
She was evicted from the private property by the landlord and placed temporarily in a hotel which proved unsuitable.
Susana said: “There were many people with drug addictions who would come in and leave the door open.
It was a problem because my son would be alone there for part of the afternoon and evening.”
Susana applied for 300 homes in Lambeth over a two-year period but was unsuccessful on each occasion. Lambeth council informed Susana last year that she would lose her right to bid for social housing as she had not lived in the borough for two years.
On December 20, 2018 she was permanently removed from the housing list. Susana will now have to live in Lewisham for five years before she can start bidding for council homes again, despite having lived in London for eight years.
She said: “My son says the government tricked us. He is still just a kid, so that’s just how he says it.” A spokesman for Lambeth council said: “Susana approached us in 2016 for help due to the loss of her private rented accommodation in Lambeth.
“She was provided with temporary accommodation by us in a hostel for a couple of months, and then helped to secure private rented accommodation in Lewisham in December 2016.
“We do not guarantee that someone will be offered housing in that two years, or that they will be able to join the waiting list of the borough they move to.
“But after two years living in private rented accommodation in another borough, we believe it is reasonable for us to treat them now as a resident of that borough.
“She has submitted a review request of that decision which we are currently considering.”