Headlines: November 19th, 2003

Councils have described a government ban on local authorities using bed and breakfast hotels for homeless families for longer than six weeks as perverse. Following the announcement from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Local Government Association said councils were being put in an untenable position.Ruth Bagnall, who chairs the Association’s Housing Executive, said the move left authorities with no flexibility in dealing with individual cases and for circumstances outside their control. It was increasingly likely, she said, that the vast majority of local authorities would meet the government’s target next March, but some areas had not been so fortunate in receiving the same level of funding and resources from central government and might have experienced a higher rise in house prices.

“In such areas where there is high demand and staff are actively trying to rectify the situation. The LGA would like to see an extended timescale of seven or eight weeks being written into the legislation,’ said Councillor Bagnall.

The LGA responded to the government’s consultation paper – `Improving Standards of Accommodation for Homeless Households Placed in Temporary Accommodation’ – in August this year. At that time it predicted that the ruling would not allow for local authority autonomy and that it could potentially criminalise a small number of councils. The Association argued that the content was against the spirit of the homeless legislation in which councils are encouraged to provide the best advice and solutions for homeless people. It said, too, that the proposals would impose an unacceptable reduction in authorities’ freedom to operate within such legislation.

Ruth Bagnall said one consequence of the new ruling could see councils tightening up on their acceptances of homeless families and having to make unsuitable placements in the private sector. That, in turn, would result in cutting families’ access to other valuable local authority functions such as social services.

She said councils did not choose to place people in B&B accommodation as a matter of course, but in areas of the country where there was limited choice of alternative housing, they were used as a necessity.