Homelessness is now a serious risk for working families with stable jobs who cannot find somewhere affordable to live after being evicted by private-sector landlords seeking higher rents, the local government ombudsman has warned.
Michael King said nurses, taxi drivers, hospitality staff and council workers were among those assisted by his office after being made homeless and placed in often squalid and unsafe temporary accommodation by local authorities.
“People are coming to us not because they have a ‘life crisis’ or a drug and alcohol problem, but because they are losing what they thought was a stable private-sector tenancy, being evicted and then being priced out of the rental market,” he said. King said the common perception that homelessness was about people with chaotic lives who slept rough no longer held true. “Increasingly, homeless people are normal families who would not have expected to be in this situation,” he said.
King was particularly critical of local authorities he had investigated that rehoused homeless families in damp, filthy and dangerous temporary homes. “You do not have to look to Victorian fiction to see totally Dickensian housing conditions,” he said. “Dreadful” cases of homeless families being put up in substandard accommodation landed on his desk every week, he said. King said, “we still see too many families left in situations which are simply unacceptable in modern society”.
There are 79,150 homeless households in temporary housing, including 6,400 in bed and breakfast accommodation. Homelessness of all kinds has increased for six consecutive years in England. Some councils routinely flouted homelessness law, with many placing homeless families with children in B&B rooms for longer than the legal six-week limit, a practice that had a “devastating impact” on many tenants’ lives, King said. The situation had deteriorated in the four years since the ombudsman last examined it. King said: “What local authorities tell us when we investigate is that they are working with increased pressures and fewer staff, fewer landlords are willing to take homeless tenants, there are increased evictions and less temporary accommodation available.”