Illegal use of B&Bs to house homeless soars by 800%
The use of bed and breakfasts to house homeless families beyond the legal time limit has risen by 800% since the coalition took office – with a third of the country's councils unlawfully placing adults and children in B&Bs for more than six weeks, new figures reveal.
An analysis shows that local authorities across England are now spending on average up to £650 a week to keep people off the streets. Freedom of information requests by Labour to 325 councils, to which 242 responded, reveal that 125 had resorted to placing destitute families in hotel rooms for six weeks or more since April 2010. This figure challenges claims by ministers that only a "small number" of town halls put families in bed and breakfast accommodation beyond the legal limit.
Charities and councils say a combination of welfare cuts and lack of affordable housing has led to the almost ninefold increase. The latest figures show 900 adults and children had been housed in B&Bs for a month and a half at a time, often sharing a single room without a kitchen or any meaningful storage space.
Tory-run Wellingborough spent £1,961 in one week for a family. Lib Dem-controlled Eastleigh spent £1,932 for a family with seven children for a seven-day stay. Labour's North East Derbyshire district council shelled out almost £700 for a week. Tory-run Dartford said it spent £616 for one week for a family of five. However, the family stayed there for almost eight months, an apparent cost of £21,355 to taxpayers.
Of the 125 local authorities that placed homeless families in hotels for more than six weeks, more than half (54%) were Tory-run. About a third (35) were Labour. The problem is most acute in London, where there is no spare council housing and private rents are soaring. The result is that many local authorities are subsidising private hotels.
Last week it emerged that the Tory flagship borough of Westminster is spending almost £85,000 a week housing families in 10 West End hotels, with more than £22,500 a week paid to the Central Park Hotel, two minutes' walk from Hyde Park, and more than £17,000 a week to the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington. Labour pointed out that this would work out at almost £4.5m a year. The Guardian spoke to one mother of three who was placed for nine weeks in four different hotels and bed and breakfasts last year after her husband's building business collapsed. Westminster council was paying almost £1,000 a week to house her family inside the borough and in Lambeth, south London.
"We had a big five-bedroom house in Maida Vale. I have three children and we were put up in one room. My kids were going to school north of the river and we were put south of it. My eldest had exams so we had to send him to my mother's.
"There's no place to cook, no fridge, no Wi-Fi, no washing machine, no place to put our things. The whole place ends up smelling."
She said she blamed both the local authority for not having enough council housing and "greedy landlords who think nothing of asking for £1,500 a week in rent". Her family ended up on a council estate after three months of being moved around. "We are grateful, obviously, for the support but the conditions here are awful. Damp and cramped. They obviously don't want to help."