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£720k a year: Camden's bill for housing 20 families

PUBLISHED: 15:55 04 November 2010

MORE than £60,000 a month, the equivalent of £720,000 a year, has been shelled out by Camden Council on housing for just 20 families, the Ham&High can reveal.

One family, the highest claimant of housing benefit in Camden, receives a massive £6,565 a month – the equivalent of £78,780 a year, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act state. The second largest claimant receives just over half this figure – £3,466 a month or £41,600 a year.

Housing benefit is paid by the government through the council, which can then top up the payments for exceptional cases.

With £1,641 a week to spend on rent, the family which tops the housing benefit list could have its choice of Camden’s most exclusive properties.

Six-bedroom houses in Kent Terrace overlooking Regent’s Park or on Highgate’s exclusive Broadlands Road are available within their budget.

Across the border in Barnet, the family could become the latest residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb’s ‘Billionaires’ Row’. A six-bedroom house on The Bishop’s Avenue boasting four large reception rooms, a sauna, private garden, self-contained staff annexe and gated parking for several cars is available at £1,600 a week.

Camden’s Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Mennear said it was cases such as these that had prompted the government to take action to restrict the amount of housing benefit which people were entitled to.

He said: “While this doesn’t suggest that a majority of people are claiming more than what the government proposed, it obviously indicates why the cap on housing benefit is important when the country is in such desperate financial straits.

“Most people would say it is not right that people are able to claim so much when so many are struggling to afford their rent or their mortgage without any assistance.”

Cllr Mennear emphasised that housing stock in Camden was some of the most expensive in the UK. But he also said that £80,000 was a huge amount. “It doesn’t sound right at all,” he said.

But these huge benefits will soon be a thing of the past. Last month, the government slashed the housing budget and introduced a cap on benefit of £400 a week for the largest homes or £290 a week for two-bed flats.

Camden’s housing boss, Labour councillor Julian Fulbrook, said that each case was unique and many of the large sums could be explained by emergency situations where large families had been moved to temporary accommodation. But he agreed that a review would be required.

He said: “It certainly is (a lot of money) and we’ll need to review it very, very rapidly before the housing benefit reforms come through.

“I can quote an entirely impartial political source, Mayor Boris Johnson, this is Kosovan-style social cleansing of central London.’’

“We are going to have to look very carefully at this. Sometimes, it is like the Roman Empire – you forget you own Hadrian’s Wall.

“We haven’t necessarily had a chance to focus on these specific figures. I am glad they are not as high as Westminster’s but even so, we need to review them very quickly.”

Other commentators pointed to the lack of affordable housing in the local area as the cause of the exorbitant private rents being paid by the council.

Tony Hillier, of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: “There seems to be a lack of affordable housing and that is presumably why all these people are being put in these rather large nominally expensive places. I don’t think morality comes into it – I think it’s a question of what is sensible use of public money – and that isn’t.

“That much a year on just 20 people doesn’t make sense. There must be an alternative solution.”

A Camden Council spokeswoman said: ‘‘We have access to a discretionary fund [partly from central government] from which some claims can be topped up. This is extremely limited and claimants must prove they are experiencing exceptional hardship.’’

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