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London borough revises homeless prevention scheme after legal challenge

Lambeth Council is to revise one of its homeless prevention schemes, formerly known as Temp2settled, following a legal challenge amid claims it had resulted in families being removed from its social housing register.

The local authority said the scheme had been established to help homeless people and families find affordable private rented accommodation, while at the same time giving them higher priority on the waiting list for permanent social rented housing.

It has been running since 2013 and has helped more than 1,300 people secure private rented accommodation, of whom over 400 have gone on to secure permanent social rented housing, the council claimed.

Applicants who participated in the scheme were told they would have a better chance of obtaining social housing – by being placed in Band B rather than Band C – if they moved into a privately rented accommodation.

The council said this was true for those who secured private rented accommodation within Lambeth. “However, we did not make it sufficiently clear to applicants that if they moved out of Lambeth that they were unlikely to secure social housing because they would only be able to remain on the housing list for two years before losing their local connection,” it acknowledged.

A spokesperson for Lambeth said: “There is huge pressure on the availability of social housing in Lambeth and we work hard to ensure the limited supply of council homes are given to those with the highest need. The private rented sector can provide a suitable alternative in many cases.

“We have had a legal challenge to the scheme helping people end their homelessness and move private into rented homes. As a result, we accept that some elements of the scheme could have been better explained and we apologise to former applicants. We will now amend this and contact former applicants in due course."

The council said changes would be made for homeless people accepting housing in the private sector. These include:

  • Removing the two-year time limit on all existing cases of this type
  • Remove the two-year time limit for all new cases for this type
  • Reinstate all applications closed due to the two-year rule
  • Review the overall operation of the scheme

“By law local authorities are able to offer private rented accommodation without the person’s agreement, but in Lambeth this is normally a voluntary option to achieve this solution to housing those in need. This policy has been in operation in Lambeth since 2013 and many other boroughs use similar approaches,” the council said.

The Public Interest Law Centre, which brought the action with support from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, said: “Unlike the accommodation provided under the homelessness legislation, there is no statutory requirement for  ‘Temp2Settled’ accommodation to be ‘suitable’, and there is no right to challenge the suitability of the offer of accommodation by way of statutory review.

“Families therefore often found themselves in unsanitary or uninhabitable living conditions and forced to stay there as they were unable to challenge private sector accommodation that was unconstrained by suitability requirements.”

It added: “Given the unstable nature of the accommodation, many families faced threats of eviction from private landlords. On top of all this, having been placed many miles outside the borough of Lambeth, some had no choice but to travel long distances in order to retain their support networks and to get to and from work or school.”

Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL said: “More and more people were coming to the group telling us they had been removed from the waiting list with no idea why. This allowed us to build our legal challenge, but there are still hundreds of households who have been struggling alone. 

“Lambeth’s Temp2Settled scheme is yet another example that so-called homeless prevention which pushes families into the private sector does not work and is not fair.”

She added: “PILC and HASL have successfully challenged it here and we will continue to do so wherever these schemes fail to act in the best interests of homeless people. 

“Real homeless prevention is safe, secure, high quality council housing in our communities, and a welfare system accessible to everyone that ensures a dignified life free from poverty.”

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