HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS IN BROMLEY 2019: Around 6,000 households in the borough in rent arrears; Landlords less willing to accept tenants on Universal Credit; private rents unaffordable to many households on low income SAYS SHOCK COUNCIL REPORT

Radical changes to their housing strategy are being proposed by Bromley’s Conservative-controlled council. 

In a ground-breaking ‘consultation’ document on future strategy they say:

  • private rents are unaffordable to many households on a low income, even if they receive the maximum possible welfare benefits.
  • housing association rents have also increased meaning more homes which had previously been for lower social rent are now being offered at ‘affordable’ rent (up to 80pc of market rent).
  • the supply of social rented properties has diminished.
  • the number of homeless people is increasing.
  • Universal Credit HAS caused problems.
  • the quality of temporary accommodation “is not always as good as we would like.”

PRIVATE RENTING:

Private landlords are often reluctant to take tenants who are on benefits, even when they are working, as benefits do not cover the full cost of the rent, says the report.

Private rents have increased, well above the level of Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which is the upper limit of benefits that can be received towards housing costs. Research by the Residential Landlords Association in 2018 found that 61 per cent of landlords with tenants on Universal Credit have seen them go into rent arrears.

The average rent of a two bedroomed homes is £1347 per month (www.homes.co.uk). The total benefit that can be claimed for a dwelling of this size is £884.21 per month – a significant gap. This means that private rents are unaffordable to many households on a low income, even if they receive the maximum possible welfare benefits.

Private tenants are often reluctant to complain about rogue landlords as they fear eviction, so complaints are not a good indication of the situation. But issues that are reported to the council’s public protection team include severe overcrowding, serious cold and damp issues and lack of proper facilities for cooking, washing and hygiene.

HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS:

There have been an increasing number of complaints about poor quality repairs in housing association homes.

Housing association rents have also increased. More homes which had previously been for lower social rent are now being offered at ‘affordable rent (up to 80pc of market rent). This is beyond the reach of many low income households and means that the supply of social rented properties has diminished.

SUPPLY OF SOCIAL RENTING PROPERTIES:

Because there is so little affordable housing in Bromley, most temporary accommodation placements are outside the borough – 62pc in 2018. Most of these out of borough placements are a significant distance away, usually in places like Maidstone or Medway. Pressure on accommodation in the borough means that current policy is to place people up to 75 minutes travelling time from schools and up to 90 minutes from their place of work.

This means they may have to move away from their support networks. Many end up travelling back to Bromley daily for school, medical care, work and to stay in touch with friends and families.

Lower paid workers, including those in key roles, are finding it very difficult to get accommodation they can afford within a reasonable travelling distance of the borough. As a result of this the health and social care sector, in particular, report difficulty recruiting and retaining staff.

NUMBERS OF HOMELESS PEOPLE:

The number of people being made homeless is increasing. In 2018/2019, 2,940 applicants approached the council as homeless. 613 were owed a prevention duty and 521 were owed a relief duty under the Homeless Reduction Act. Of these, 451 progressed to a homeless application, of which 302 were deemed homeless and accepted on to the housing register.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT:

In Bromley, as in many parts of the country, changes to welfare benefits have made it harder for tenants to pay their rent. The introduction of Universal Credit, with built-in delays and direct payment to tenants has made landlords less willing to accept low income households and left tenants in difficult financial positions.

TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION:

In April 2019 there were 1556 households in temporary accommodation in Bromley. This figure more than doubled in five years – in April 2013, it was 764. Nearly 80pc of those households include dependent children.

Temporary accommodation is usually privately rented, and many landlords charge on a nightly basis, which is very expensive. The amount people can claim in benefits towards their housing costs is capped at well below the actual cost of temporary accommodation. The council’s bill for temporary accommodation over and above the amount claimed in benefit in 2017-18 was over £4m. At the current rate of homelessness growth, this will exceed £7 million within four years.

Once people are in temporary accommodation, there is so little affordable housing available in Bromley that they often have to stay there for some time – often up to five years. The quality of temporary accommodation is not always as good as we would like.

  • The report says high house prices, increasing rents have meant that the demand for housing dramatically outstrips supply. Homelessness applications are increasing, and the need for affordable homes, particularly those at a social rent, is growing all the time.

House prices have risen dramatically in Bromley over the last decade. In 2008, the average cost of a home was £284,105. By 2018, it was £440,410, an increase of 55 pc.

Because of higher rents, low income and changes to benefits, more households are falling into rent arrears. It is estimated that around 6,000 households in the borough are in rent arrears. A financial problem, and fear of eviction due to rent arrears, causes enormous stress for both individuals and families. This can lead to mental health issues, relationship breakdown and a number of related problems.

Whilst the previous target for additional new homes has been met, the majority of these have been for the private market, which is unaffordable for much of Bromley’s population.

To read the full report and accompanying summary please go to:

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