Westminster Labour are calling on the Council to scrap its troubling new plan to discharge 500 households out of temporary accommodation and into the private rented sector (PRS) by October 2021, irrespective of the state of the economy and the turbulent housing market. The scheme is a measure designed to save the Council £1.264m, part of a £29m package of cuts the council is having to find for the 2021/22 budget year due to the Government’s ongoing austerity for local Government and the impact Covid-19 has had on Westminster’s ability to raise new sources of commercial income.
Council officers have been explicit that Westminster’s strategy will see a number of families faced with no choice but to accept the council’s offer of discharge into the private rented sector. This is a move that would not only end their ability to return to a council home in Westminster in the future but create an added level of risk to their housing situation at this difficult time. Bizarrely this will include some families being required to convert their current temporary accommodation into a private tenancy in order to be able to stay in their current homes.
Westminster Labour have long called for families with a longstanding connection to Westminster to be able to stay on the council’s housing register even if they are discharged into the PRS.
Westminster Labour of course supports people to make free and fully informed choices about their future housing and we recognise that some families will have built new lives where they are living now and not wish to return to Westminster. However wherever possible this needs to be their choice, not being driven by a council savings target.
Westminster’s Housing Solutions Service that manages the housing homeless families was recently dragged across the coals by the Local Government Ombudsmen over the use of ‘gatekeeping’ to try to avoid accepting a duty to a homeless family. A leading housing charity has describe the problem as ‘systemic’ and arguing that the situation in Westminster was worse than in other boroughs facing similar problems.
Labour is clear that the long-term solution to the problem for families with a strong local connection is to ensure Westminster builds the social housing that many families need, making it the top priority of the council’s building plans while urging the Government to do more to make renting privately more affordable and secure.
Westminster Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “It is absolutely wrong that the Conservatives are turbo-charging efforts to push families out of temporary accommodation and into more risky private rental arrangements, particularly at this time of great uncertainty. We know the Council is desperately searching for ways to save money because their Conservative Government won’t step up and do what is needed to support local authorities but solution can’t be to add to the insecurity so many families are facing.”