Southwark Council has pledged to improve standards in temporary accommodation – but its housing chief admits it is now very unlikely most people will be found homes in the borough.
There were more than 3,000 households living in temporary accommodation in Southwark at the end of 2020, desperately waiting for a permanent home. Since 2013 the number of homeless applications to the council has doubled.
At last week’s cabinet meeting at Tooley Street, councillors agreed to bring forward new plans that would help improve standards, and also provide more flexibility in a ‘range of locations’.
Key commitments include investing in a ‘Good Homes Standard for Temporary Accommodation’, building on a previous commitment not to use B&Bs for families.
The new standards will help ensure housing is ready to move into and has essential white goods and other essentials, is clean and pest free, and a good size.
But the likelihood of being made offers in Southwark is increasingly diminishing due to widespread housing shortages and rising demand – and cost.
It is a familiar trend over the last few years. In 2014, just over a quarter of temporary accommodation placements were outside the borough, a figure that stood at 42 per cent by 2018.
Expensive private rents across the borough have an impact, as does unemployment and COVID-19’s impact on job security and the economy.
The council also says Universal Credit has seen rent collections decline and therefore the number of private landlord willing to let via the council drop, and is struggling to find affordable locations anywhere in London.
Now the council wants to look even further afield, but says it will focus on diverse cities with employment opportunities that mirror Southwark’s social make-up.
“Where the council is procuring properties outside Greater London it will, as far as possible focus on more urban areas whose diversity so far as practicable reflects that of Southwark and so are likely to have more facilities and support networks for people from Southwark with particular protected characteristics,” new council papers explain.
“Evidence of the scope and range of employment opportunities will also be taken into account.”
Just how far away the ‘non outer London boroughs’ are in the country is unclear.
In January, at an overview and scrutiny commission meeting at Tooley Street, councillor Helen Dennis, cabinet member for social support and homelessness, had described the situation in the last year as “pretty bleak” and “a bit of a crisis” after the council overspent by nearly £9 million last year to help people who had become homeless or were in need of emergency support due to COVID-19.
Some funding will be recouped from government COVID-19 funding, but long-term the number of people in dire housing situations is set to only rise.
Speaking about improving the standards of housing offered to people waiting for permanent homes, she told the News: “When people find themselves in desperate situations and become homeless, they should expect the help we offer to them to ease their already very difficult circumstances.
“Our ambition with the Good Homes Standard is to ensure that they move to a place of safety, warmth and comfort with their families whilst waiting to find a permanent home, long term.”
An extra £4 million has been put into the council’s 2021/22 budget toward temporary accommodation, both to improve standards but also to cope with surging homeless applications as a result of unemployment, furlough and redundancies during the pandemic.
Tooley Street says it is also taking action to fix the long-term cause of limited, affordable housing stock in the borough.
A new action plan to find suitable temporary accommodation in the borough include buying back 40 ex-council properties a year lost through right to buy, offering incentives for buying properties in a state of disrepair from private landlords and doing them up, and exploring modular homes – essentially modern day prefabs.