Flexibility required over self-contained accommodation rules

There was a discussion about refugee housing last night at the Council’s Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee. A baffling paper was presented but in the discussion a few points of clarity emerged.

I have written before about the disgraceful failure of Hammersmith and Fulham Council regarding the Syrian Vulnerable Persons scheme. There has been plenty of rhetoric but the performance has been way behind several other London boroughs.

Part of the problem has been that only self contained accommodation is considered. Someone with a spare room (or two or three spare rooms) and willing to offer them is refused. The Council says that it is following Home Office guidance – but admits it is only guidance not a legal requirement. “Why don’t your ask the Government to change the guidance?” Cllr Sue Fennimore asked me. Groan. I already have.

There could well be cases where offering a family a chance to stay in spare rooms in someone’s house might be better than a self contained alternative. A friendly resident landlord or landlady might well be of great help in community integration. But in any case that is not the choice. Given the derisory failure to source self contained accommodation the real alternative would be living in spare rooms or to remain languishing in the camps.

Anyway it was agreed that the Council would write to the Home Office to ask if it could still take families under the scheme if, in particular circumstances the guidance on this was not followed.

Flexibility on this would also make sense for domestic homeless.  The Council tells me it “leases only self contained units to be used as temporary accommodation for families with children.” (Even for individuals I gather the number place in spare rooms is tiny but there is not a complete prohibition.)

Of course all things being equal a family would prefer self contained accommodation. But in real life it is not quite as simple as that. What if the self contained accommodation, where we have placed them, is awful (despite often being very expensive for the Council Taxpayer)? What if there is severe overcrowding? What if it is bad condition? What if it is in a tower block?

Then let us suppose that there is an old lady in Fulham whose children have grown up and left home and whose husband had died. So she lives on her own in a house with a garden and three spare bedrooms. Perhaps she is lonely. Or would like some extra money. Or wants to do her bit to help those in difficult circumstances. The Council policy is not even consider the offer – she would have to move out of her own home for it to be considered.

So with this bureaucratic intransigence the shortage of housing is increased – pushing up rents and thus the Council’s spending. At the same time more families, whether British or refugees, are trapped in overcrowding and squalor.  Whether in this borough – or some UN camp in Lebanon.

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