One of the consequences of the cap on housing benefit, the ever-increasing rent levels in Oxford and the chronic housing shortage is that the city council has decided when discharging its obligations to secure housing for homeless applicants, to utilise a recent change in the law enabling it to secure accommodation for the homeless outside Oxfordshire.
Contrary to popular myth, the duty to the homeless does not extend to providing them with a council or a housing association property.
The best that the vast majority of homeless applicants can expect is an offer of a 12-month tenancy with a private landlord.
The law states that, in so far as it is reasonably practicable, local authorities should secure accommodation within their own district. The guidance provides that before considering what is known as an “out of area placement” account must be taken of the significance of any disruption with specific regard to employment, caring responsibilities or education of the applicant and members of the household and any support which is currently provided to the applicant, for example essential support from relatives.
We are finding that the council is paying lip-service only to the above requirements.
The location of choice for Oxford City Council appears to be Birmingham where rent levels are lower. I recently had a client who was a young mother of two children who was allocated such a property. She was notified by phone that she would be evicted from her temporary accommodation unless she accepted an offer of a property in Birmingham.
She was told the address would be posted to her. She did not receive it and, just two days after the telephone call, went to the council’s offices to enquire. She was given the address and told that she must visit it that afternoon and make a decision by 5pm. If she did not accept it, the council would have no further duty to her and she would become homeless.
She had the two young children with her. She had just completed her weekly shop from her benefit cheque. She had no money. She was given no financial assistance to get to Birmingham. The young girl asked how she would get to the property once she arrived in Birmingham and she was handed a map. No other assistance was provided.
The client was an unsophisticated young woman with two young children. Her only support are her separated parents who live in Oxford and the father of the children who lives with his parents. None of them drive.
She had never been out of Oxford in her life. She was faced with how to get to Birmingham that afternoon with two children in tow and then how to find the property in a city about 20 times the size of Oxford.
Even if she had located the property, she would have been left isolated with no means of support from her parents or the father of the children. Indeed the link between the father and the children would very possibly be severed.
We are now seeking a review of this decision. These are indeed difficult times.
We have many other clients with similar stories which are equally heart-breaking.