Hundreds told: ‘Out of London or onto the streets’Waltham Forest Council has made hundreds of its poorest households choose between abruptly moving more than 100 miles away or becoming homeless, reports [...]
Waltham Forest Council has made hundreds of its poorest households choose between abruptly moving more than 100 miles away or becoming homeless, reports Victoria Munro
The Echo can exclusively reveal at least 214 struggling households were given this difficult choice by the council since 1st June 2019, when it began working with “relocation experts” Reloc8 UK.
Like all councils, Waltham Forest must house its homeless until it finds a property they can afford – a difficult task given its 10,000-strong waitlist for council homes and high private rents.
Reloc8 UK offers to solve this problem, which cost the council £25.4million in temporary accommodation last year, by providing homes in cheaper cities – and Waltham Forest is its biggest customer in London.
Residents who refuse the Reloc8 home, even if they have never seen it or been to the city, are deemed to have made themselves “voluntarily homeless” and must leave their temporary accommodation.
One such resident is Nadia Zamin, 38-year-old single mother, who was offered a maisonette in Stoke-on-Trent on a Wednesday this July and told to decide if she would go by Friday.
Read more: Our last report on Nadia’s story in August
In an email from the council, seen by the Echo, she was told: “Please note that this offer of suitable private sector accommodation will discharge our duty to you whether you accept or refuse the property. You will only receive this offer of suitable accommodation.
“The offer of accommodation cannot be held open for you for more than 24 hours and the council will assume that you have refused the accommodation offered if you fail to attend.”
While the council maintains households are able to view the offered home before deciding, Nadia said she was explicitly refused the chance to do so.
She was instructed to meet a Reloc8 agent at the home that Saturday to sign the contract, offered a “travel warrant” to pay for tickets for her and her three children and asked to let the council know if she needed help removing her belongings from the temporary accommodation.
At the time, Nadia told the Echo: “I don’t know where Stoke-on-Trent is. I have got my family and friends here and my childrens’ schools; it’s heart-breaking.
“Whoever decided this, it’s a very shameful act. At the end of the day, they have decided to chuck me out of London.”
A Freedom of Information request submitted to the council shows that, at the start of September, it had asked 214 households to move into Reloc8 homes, of which 94 agreed and the remaining 120 refused.
Nadia’s family were one of 162 specifically told to go to Stoke-on-Trent, while 32 households were asked to move to other locations more than 100 miles away and a further 20 to move more than 200 miles.
Further Freedom of Information requests submitted to all London councils show nine others had used Reloc8, 20 had not and Lambeth Council said it “[does] not hold the information” requested.
Among the other councils that used Reloc8, however, seven had only moved less than twenty households. The remaining two – Hillingdon and Ealing – had moved 74 and 60 respectively.
The most dramatic move offered, according to the responses to these requests, was to a property in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, presented to a Barnet household.
“Nadia represents thousands like her who have gone before… [and] many more thousands to come.”
Responding to the plight of another Waltham Forest mother, Monica, also told to move to Stoke-on-Trent this summer, campaign group Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) said there was “no justification” for such an approach.
A HASL spokesperson said: “London Labour councils should be doing everything they can to support their homeless residents and find them suitable housing. They should never be forcing people out of London using the threat of homelessness and destitution.
“Labour councils need to act in solidarity with their residents to challenge the central government policies that are fuelling the housing crisis, like the cruel benefit cap, and campaign for the high quality, safe, secure council housing that we all need and deserve.”
In Nadia’s case, she told the Echo the Government’s benefit cap, which limits her to £442.31 a week as a single parent in London, was her biggest obstacle to supporting herself.
While the cap would not apply if she was in work, she said she is struggling to find a job that would still allow her to care for her three young children.
After several moves, Nadia is currently living in a Walthamstow home paid for by the council’s social services department but once again faces eviction before the end of this month.
Responding to a request for comment, cabinet member for housing Louise Mitchell said the council’s “approach is in line with that of other” London councils, which she suggested “will have their own arrangements with different agents”.
She said: “We regret that rising property costs in the borough and in the private rented sector, which we are forced to use, combined with the government benefit cap, means that housing people locally in decent accommodation where they can make stable settled homes isn’t always possible, as much as we would like it to be.
“We understand it is a very difficult time for households that find themselves at risk of losing their home, and we work hard to find the most appropriate ways that we can support them.
“We must ensure that any offer of accommodation is affordable for them and that they have enough left over for everyday essentials such as food and children’s supplies.“
Reloc8 UK was contacted repeatedly by phone and email in an attempt to speak to someone from the company but has not responded.
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