London councils breaking B&B stay limit for families

Media caption,
Amanda has chosen to share a room with three others instead of staying in a B&B

More than a third of London councils have unlawfully housed homeless families in bed and breakfasts for more than six weeks, the BBC has discovered.

Guest houses are supposed to be a short-term solution while families wait to be housed in council accommodation.

But local authorities are flouting the law when they keep children in B&Bs for more than the government-imposed maximum of six weeks.

Westminster has the highest number of families in long-term B&B housing.

The figures, obtained by BBC London from the councils, show that in November the authority in Westminster kept 134 families in B&Bs for more than six weeks, 88 of whom had been staying in excess of 12 weeks.

In total, 27 of London's 32 boroughs responded to BBC London.

At the time of response they said 368 families had been in B&Bs for six weeks and 210 families had been in guest houses for more than 12 weeks.

Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow, and Ealing also had relatively high numbers of families in B&Bs.

The data also showed more than half are sending people out of London because of a shortage of homes.

Ken Jones, Director of Housing Strategy at Labour-run Barking and Dagenham Council, said it was the "most challenging" set of circumstances he had seen in 34 years.

He said an inadequate supply of affordable housing and the financial crash had caused "the perfect storm" in London.

He added: "Two years ago I could have happily told you we had no families in bed and breakfast.

"Today we have got 145 families in bed and breakfast and disgracefully 76 families with children who have been there over six weeks.

"We are acting outside the law in those instances."

Councillor Jonathan Glanz of Conservative-run Westminster Council, said: "It is a concern for us, but I think it's a concern for all central London boroughs."

He said there were insufficient homes available and added: "We are doing everything we can to find homes for people."

Housing Minister Mark Prisk said he had recently invited 18 London councils with high rates of homelessness to discuss the challenges faced and what the government might offer.

He said the government had "strengthened the safety net for families" and was expanding the private sector and building 170,000 more affordable homes.

Solicitor Jane Pritchard, from TV Edwards Solicitors & Advocates, which specialises in homeless cases, said councils tended not to act on extended B&B stays until lawyers intervened.

"If you are unable to provide accommodation for someone for a period of less than six weeks in a B&B, who checks up whether you are failing? Who do you have to tell about that?

"One of the things that we find is that the actual individual homeless applicant has no power to do anything about this... unless that person goes and seeks legal advice."

Ms Pritchard added councils had to spend thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in legal costs when they were challenged.

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