London

Vulnerable children 'at risk', says Baby P council

The council at the centre of the Baby Peter scandal has warned that vulnerable children could be at risk from government plans to cut housing benefit.

Haringey Council in north London - which was criticised after 17-month-old Peter Connelly died following abuse - says around 40 children who are currently on or have been on a child protection plan have been moved into the borough since the summer.

It claims the majority of those children have come from councils in central London.

An internal briefing paper for the council leader, obtained by BBC London, said there were serious concerns about the impact this would have on local services and particularly the safeguarding of vulnerable children.

The council claims it has already seen evidence of people being moved to outer London by councils preparing early for the introduction of a cap to housing benefit and plans to reduce the amount some tenants are entitled to.

The internal report said: "Given the rapid 'outward migration' from central London, any significant increase in the number of homeless households placed (by other London boroughs) in temporary accommodation in Haringey will disrupt their schooling, healthcare and support, and place considerable pressure on local social care, mental health and support services."

'Out of control'

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said: "We cannot comment on a council's internal document.

"However, we are committed to supporting the most vulnerable people as we urgently reform housing benefit and return fairness to a system that is out of control."

Image caption Peter Connelly died with more than 50 injuries

As outer London boroughs grow increasingly concerned, England's wealthiest local authority has admitted that housing benefit changes could have a severe impact on homelessness.

A report by Westminster Council anticipates around 480 families could be made homeless by the housing benefit changes.

The council plans to house 80% of them in temporary accommodation outside its borough.

Westminster housing spokeswoman, Councillor Philippa Roe, said it would prioritise keeping families which depend on large levels of social care within the borough.

"Those are exactly the families which need to stay within their borough because there's so much support around them that it would be very hard to transfer them to another borough," she said.

'Huge cuts'

Meanwhile Haringey Council has called for urgent legislation to control the influx of needy families, saying it it is currently impossible to find out how many people are being moved by other councils into temporary homes in its borough.

Its internal report concluded: "Although we are aware that other London boroughs are placing homeless households in out-of-borough temporary accommodation in Haringey, we have never been able to establish the location, type and quantity of the temporary accommodation they are using.

"If Haringey is to avoid incurring the social care and support costs that would ordinarily have been incurred by the central London boroughs, legislative constraints will need to be placed on all local authorities to prohibit them placing 'vulnerable households' in out-of-borough temporary accommodation."

There needed to be legal restrictions to "prevent local housing authorities from placing clearly-defined 'vulnerable households' in temporary accommodation outside their borough, except in an emergency and then for a period of not more than six weeks", it added.

Labour MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck, said: "All local authorities, particularly the poorest in London, have had huge cuts in their budgets.

"I really am genuinely anxious about how they will cope and how the families they care for will cope when they're having to deal with major cuts and all this dislocation going on around them."

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