Exclusive: Newham Mayor defends homeless policy

16:30 08 May 2012

Newham Mayor: Sir Robin Wales

Newham Mayor: Sir Robin Wales

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‘High time this issue made national agenda’ claims Sir Robin Wales

Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales has responded to criticism of the council’s attempts to move families on its housing waiting list to other parts of the country.

He said: “I’m sure you’ve seen Newham in the news as a result of our policy to seek accommodation outside of the borough for homeless families.

“It is high time this critical housing issue made the national agenda. With 28,000 residents already on our social housing waiting list, it is a vital local issue.

“This move is a direct consequence of the Government’s fundamental failure in housing policy. It is a double whammy of a desperate shortage of affordable housing and cuts to housing benefit that target the most vulnerable people...

“There has been almost no new build of affordable housing under this Government and there will be very little until at least 2015. Newly introduced limits to benefits are pricing more and more people out of the homes that are available to rent.and this situation will get worse as harsher cuts come into effect.

“The move to restrict Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to the bottom 30 per cent of available properties affects 5,000 households in Newham whose rent was above the new threshold. 9,000 households could ultimately be affected. We have repeatedly warned Government of the consequences of their housing policy.

“To make matters worse, wealthier London Boroughs are paying a bonus to landlords in Newham to accept their homeless people. We have housed some 5,000 people and families who have presented themselves to us as homeless into private rented housing since 2007. But supply is now drying up while demand continues to increase.

He went on: “Housing minister Grant Schapps said that he could find more than 1,000 properties online within five miles of Newham that were suitable and affordable. He had his figures wrong and there were in fact only a handful.

“Then a quick call to the relevant agents found they were unavailable for people on benefits. A Government minister using Google searches to create and justify housing policy demonstrates how out of touch with reality they are.

“Now ministers are trying to pass the buck to local councils who are just dealing with the consequences of their policy. I wanted to take this opportunity to give you the full story and reiterate all that we are doing to support local people to find affordable homes and put down roots in our borough.

We have written to 1,179 Housing Associations across the country so that if residents want to look further afield we can give them some choices.

The council has worked hard to create a range of local housing options for residents by procuring more temporary accommodation locally and investing in our bond scheme to help people get quality, affordable properties in Newham’s private rented sector.

We’ve also started Local Space – a social landlord that provides 1450 properties for people in temporary accommodation. And we’re working on the country’s first borough-wide landlord licensing scheme.

“Newham - along with other London councils - is under significant pressure. We are doing everything we can to ensure we have good quality, affordable housing which is fairly distributed. This includes helping hard working families to get into social housing by prioritising residents who are working or have caring responsibilities.

“What we do not want to do is go back to the dark days of having people staying for long periods, especially young families, in bed and breakfasts.

“I do not want to move people out of our borough – my aim is to make this a place where all local people choose to live, work and stay. But sadly in the current climate we have little choice.

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