Havering emergency housing support strategy ‘particularly precarious’ council told

Demand for emergency housing support from Havering Council has grown for three years in a row.

The number of households in Havering asking the council for help is almost two-thirds higher than it was by August 2019, with a “significant” rise in people fleeing domestic violence.

Havering’s strategy for supporting households at risk of homelessness was described as “particularly precarious” at a scrutiny committee on Tuesday.

Assistant director of housing demand Darren Alexander said rising rents have impacted the council’s scheme that supports people into private tenancies by paying for a deposit and one month’s rent.

At its peak, the ‘find your own’ scheme supported 40 households a month, but this has fallen dramatically due to a lack of properties that are affordable to people on benefits.

According to Alexander’s report prepared for the committee, landlords are increasingly charging “exorbitant fees” before accepting benefit-dependent households.

The council also expects a growing number of landlords will sell their properties due to rising inflation, interest rates and tax.

The council’s £60m plan to cut the cost of temporary housing by buying 150 properties has “fallen through”, Alexander added.

To add to the demand for housing, the number of families fleeing violence and abuse each year tripled to 254 in 2021/22, with many households “likely” to be placed in emergency hotels by the council.

The council’s director of housing Patrick Odling-Smee said domestic violence is a “much more significant issue” in Havering than in other boroughs and is also “increasing significantly” at the moment.

The shortage of affordable housing means the council is forced to house more families in hotels than it has previously

Noting that many homeless cases are linked to breakdowns in personal relationships, Alexander urged residents to support their extended family members so children don’t have to live in hotels.

Responding to deputy chair Katharine Tumilty’s concern about a recent case of a “child left without anywhere to live”, Odling-Smee insisted that “no child sleeps on the street in Havering”.

The housing director accepted there was a recent “late placement” of someone at risk of homelessness, but argued that even adults “very rarely” sleep on the street in Havering.

Late placements can be caused by different councils and departments having “heated conversations” about who has a legal duty to house people at risk of homelessness, he said.

He added: “It’s an inter borough situation, it’s very challenging, I have to say it’s a bit messy and I think there’s no way out of that, but what we do is we try to resolve it. 

“Sometimes I have to say families get caught up in the middle of that messiness and it does impact on families.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter