Forced exodus: London’s homeless pushed to suburbs

London’s homeless are being housed further and further afield. (image via Shutterstock: copyright Pres Panayo)

Housing minister Mark Prisk last night raised the prospect of an acceleration in the removal of vulnerable people from affluent districts of inner London.

Prisk’s comments were made in response to an investigation by the Bureau which reveals councils in the capital have moved out 32,643 households to new areas since 2009.

The mass removal of homeless families outside their borough borders is putting pressure on already stretched schools and social services in many outer London districts. In the last financial year alone 10,832 households, many of them families, have been rehoused outside their councils’ boundaries. This represents a 16% increase on the previous year.

 The London housing market is going through the most profound shift since the Second World War’
– Whitehall source

In a statement this weekend, Prisk said: ‘There is absolutely no excuse for families to be sent miles away without proper regard for their circumstances, or to be placed in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation for long periods of time. The law is clear: councils have a responsibility to take into account people’s jobs and schools when securing homes for those in need.’

Related story: Scale of UK housing crisis revealed 

But he added: ‘Nor is it right that those living on benefits should be able to live in parts of the Capital that those who aren’t reliant on this support couldn’t afford to.’

The Conservative housing minister added that the government had set aside £350m ‘to manage our welfare reforms’. But the scale of the displacement, with tens of thousands of vulnerable families being moved to different councils, prompted one senior Whitehall source to suggest ‘the London housing market is going through the most profound shift since the Second World War’.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said: ‘We are seeing the beginnings of a forced exodus of poor people from London. As we predicted, and are now seeing on the ground, the combination of cuts and caps to housing benefit and rising rents are causing homelessness to rise and forcing people to move first from inner to outer London and now, increasingly, from London to places across the country.’

Of all the people rehoused by London’s 33 boroughs, more than 55% have been moved away by just 12 councils.

The government states that the number of households being placed outside their district across the UK peaked in 2005, with 13,430 cases. But Bureau data, which is based solely on London boroughs, suggests that number could be exceeded this year. 


Related story: Get the data – Britain’s housing turmoil in numbers

The borough that has rehoused the most homeless outside its borders is Newham. In four years, the beleaguered east London borough has moved 3,831 households – including nearly 1,000 households in the past 12 months. Newham is also the borough which spends most on temporary accommodation, according to the Bureau study.

 I am concerned about London becoming a monoculture like other European cities, exclusively for the uber rich, a doughnut city,’
Robert Anderson, Slough council leader

Newham says the number of people it has rehoused outside London is a very small proportion of its overall caseload and the vast majority of people who remain in London have been offered accommodation in neighbouring boroughs.

‘Government changes to the benefits policy have put Newham’s private rented sector under increased pressure and restricted the number of properties available for us to house homeless families,’ a spokeswoman said. ‘Unfortunately, there is not enough housing of sufficient quality in the borough to meet the high level of local need and we have been forced to consider other options.

‘In addition to this, changes to the benefit system will mean some properties available now would become unaffordable in the future to the detriment of both residents seeking help with housing and the council.’

But many other London councils also rehouse significant numbers of their homeless in accommodation outside their borough, including Southwark (3,167), Kensington & Chelsea (2,739) and Wandsworth (2,691).

‘We simply can’t procure enough accommodation at affordable levels to meet our statutory demands within borough,’ said a Kensington & Chelsea council spokesman. ‘If demand continues to increase, we will have no option but to move a higher proportion of households out of borough – the available accommodation in borough is not expected to increase.’

Soaring rents in London and the benefit cap are pushing up the number of homeless people in the capital, and even those boroughs that have been taking households from the stretched inner London councils are struggling to cope. Increasingly London is having to turn to councils further afield, including Dartford, Luton and Spelthorne, in Surrey.

Council leaders across the south east are beginning to raise serious concerns over the region’s capacity to deal with the influx of new households, which is impacting demands on already stretched schools for example. 

‘I am concerned about London becoming a monoculture like other European cities, exclusively for the uber rich, a doughnut city,’ said Slough council leader Robert Anderson. ‘My main concern is for my capital city. As leader of the council, I am obviously also concerned about the pressure on my area.’

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