Homelessness in Westminster is growing out of control, warns MP

Tens of thousands of pounds are being spent every month to keep Westminster families in bed and breakfast accommodation as the number of homeless people grows out of control, warns MP Karen Buck.

The minister for Westminster North led a parliamentary debate into homelessness last week as she challenged the government to act over what she says is becoming a crisis.

The Labour MP says she has seen one invoice that shows Westminster Council paid �10,000 to keep one homeless family in a hotel for 28 days.

The government has introduced weekly housing benefit caps of between �250 for a one-bedroom flat and �400 for a four-bedroom property – figures that exceed private rent in much of Westminster.

Ms Buck says the caps are having a devastating effect on many residents, with the number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks increasing by 500 per cent over the past year.

Speaking in the House of Commons last Tuesday, Ms Buck said: “Like unemployment, losing the roof over one’s head is traumatic and can have deep and damaging consequences, particularly for children.”

In one example an 81-year-old woman has been staying in a hotel for almost 14 weeks after suffering a stroke and being evicted from her private rented flat near Harrow Road.

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Another woman, who became homeless with her three children after suffering domestic violence, is forced to travel four hours a day from Dagenham to Church Street to keep her children at school.

In many cases, Ms Buck says, the money spent to keep families in bed and breakfast accommodation would be enough to cover their rent in private housing.

She says councils are being left with little room to manoeuvre as the government tells then not to keep families in bed and breakfasts for long periods and not to send homeless households to other parts of the country.

Westminster housing boss Cllr Jonathan Glanz says the council is working with the government to increase longer-term temporary accommodation funding.

“Reducing the use of bed and breakfast accommodation is a priority for the council,” he said.

“However, the current demand for housing is outstripping the available supply and our ability to lease larger self-contained accommodation within the current temporary accommodation funding regime is limited and this is leading to increased use of bed and breakfast accommodation.”