Housing Homeless Families Costs Close To £20m

Temporary accommodation in 2019 cost quadruple the £4.7 million spent a decade ago

Image: LDR Sian Bayley

Wandsworth council spent nearly £20 million on temporary accommodation for homeless families last year – quadruple the £4.7 million it spent a decade ago.

It is the highest amount the council has spent on housing homeless people since comparable records began in 2008/09, and has risen by a fifth in a single year, from £16.4 million.

It comes as the homeless situation in the capital is becoming more severe.

Wandsworth has one of the biggest house-building programmes in the capital, completing 2,309 homes in 2016/17 according to the London Plan Annual Monitoring Report, published in October 2019.

But the borough’s Labour group believes the council is not pushing for enough council houses. They say that this is contributing to the increasing numbers of homeless families.

Labour councillor, and opposition spokesperson for housing, Paul White, pictured above, said: “The one overarching thing here is council homes. If they build council homes, they won’t have this problem. But it’s their reluctance to do that that has caused this problem over the years.”

According to the Mayor’s report, Wandsworth’s average affordable housing output for the last three years is just 17 per cent of its overall housing provision.

However, due to the large number of homes being built in the borough, this percentage still reflects a high number of affordable units.

But Labour councillors say much more needs to be done.

Two major ‘regeneration’ schemes are underway in the borough, at both the Winstanley Estate in Clapham Junction and Alton Estate in Roehampton.

Cllr White says not enough additional council homes are being provided. “Homelessness went up by about 200 last year. If you’re only building an extra 60-odd council homes a year, that’s no wonder,” he said.

He cites a recent report which showed more than 2,800 children are currently living in temporary accommodation in Wandsworth, and highlights issues with the borough’s temporary accommodation block, Nightingale Square.

“We have supposedly the best example of temporary accommodation in the temporary hostel Nightingale Square. But we had complaints from one individual and then two or three others about the conditions there.

“We went and visited and got 40 bits of casework from there. There’s no laundry, the play space at the moment is concrete and it’s going to be turned to grass, which means that it’s not going to be available at certain times of the year. Whereas we asked for a soft play area so it would be available all year.”

He said most of the complaints “wouldn’t be too bad if you were only there for three months,” but he says he has spoken to people who have been there for three or four years.

“We’re not addressing those problems. It’s a time bomb. If the homelessness figures just keep going up and not arresting it by building council homes, then I think we’re going to have even more serious problems in the future,” he said.

The council’s cabinet member for housing, Kim Caddy, pictured above, agrees that more homes need to be built, but says that is exactly what Wandsworth is doing.

Emphasising the borough’s high house-building numbers, she said: “The obvious solution, and the real solution, to statutory homelessness is having more accommodation, having more property available. And that’s what we have been doing as a council. We have invested a significant amount of money and our housing reserves in building new properties.

“If you look across London, and councils across the country, we are doing a huge amount in an attempt to build as much accommodation on our land and do the right thing when it comes to our estates.

“Our two regeneration schemes have some of the most generous terms in terms of wanting people to come back into the area and replacing their home, making sure they’ve got a new home on the scheme. It’s not just about the new stuff, it’s about improving the stuff you’ve got there at the moment and that’s what our two regenerations do.

“But we’re also building more social housing on those two regeneration schemes and that’s something that I think hardly any regeneration schemes anywhere are doing.”

Speaking about the figures on the council’s spending on temporary accommodation, she said it was important to note this relates to all costs and gross costs. She said: “The council’s net spend on homelessness in that year, once all income is taken into account, was just over £3.3million.”

She added that the council is investing in services to deal with the whole of the problem: “Whilst having properties for people to go into is clearly very important, actually there are lots of other issues that contribute.

“If you look at each case, there are so many factors. There might be mental health issues, drug addiction, alcohol addiction issues, some of the people on the streets have been subject to domestic abuse. There are so many different aspects to it, so it is important we have a holistic approach so we make sure all of those agencies that need help with those problems work with each other and really deal with these individual cases.

“We are looking across the country to see what works well to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to make sure it doesn’t happen here, because it is appalling.”

On temporary accommodation at Nightingale Square she said: “It’s about the supply of housing available. That people have a home they can move into and making sure that we have enough accommodation that we can make people permanent offers.

“It goes back to the supply and demand issue. We need to increase the supply to meet some of the demand.”

Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter

January 17, 2020