Housing

Five-month wait for housing benefit boost risks 18,000 Londoners falling into homelessness

Local housing allowance rates are set to rise in April but Single Homeless Project has warned one Londoner will fall into homelessness every 8.5 minutes by then. For people who are already homeless, like Kamil, it means more months in limbo

Single Homeless Project's Tadhg Mockler said the wait for housing benefit to be boosted when local housing allowance rates rise in April is keeping people trapped in homelessness

Single Homeless Project's Tadhg Mockler said the wait for housing benefit to be boosted when local housing allowance rates rise in April is keeping people trapped in homelessness. Image: Single Homeless Project

Kamil has been homeless and living in temporary accommodation for the last six months. He’s likely to be there until at least April when the local housing allowance (LHA) rise will mean housing benefits give him a chance of finding a home.

The 26-year-old cannot wait. He has joined the London homelessness charity that supports him, Single Homeless Project (SHP), in calling for an early end to the local housing allowance freeze that is leaving thousands of renters at risk of homelessness.

SHP’s research found 18,000 Londoners could be forced into homelessness – one person every eight and a half minutes – before April, when LHA rates are due to rise to cover the bottom 30% of market rents for the first time in four years.

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The freeze has stopped people like Kamil, who name has been changed, from moving out of emergency accommodation for people experiencing homelessness and into their own private rented home.

“If you put the LHA rates up, I don’t see the difference it makes doing it now rather than waiting for April,” Kamil told the Big Issue when asked what he’d tell chancellor Jeremy Hunt if he had the chance.

“A place to call their home before Christmas even.”

Kamil is living in one of SHP’s emergency accommodation services in London. The service is designed to help people experiencing homelessness to move on into private rented properties or social housing within 28 days.

He has been living there since July.

Originally from London Kamil fell into homelessness last year and ended up sleeping in his car.

“I was living with my aunt and she has her own health conditions and stuff so she couldn’t support me and herself at the same time,” he said.

“I spent time sleeping rough in my car and it was bad, I felt hopeless, the council wouldn’t help me and I didn’t know what to do. I found the best place to park for me was a service station because people do tend to park in their cars and sleep there and have access to the toilet and showers.

“The only person that gave me advice was the security guard who saw I was upset and told me to contact StreetLink. That got me referred to here.”

More than 105,000 households across England are living in temporary accommodation – a record high. It’s collectively costing councils £1.7bn a year and the issue is particularly acute in London.

SHP said it is estimated that one in 50 Londoners are homeless and living in temporary accommodation with boroughs collectively spending £60 million monthly on makeshift homes.

A freeze on local housing allowance rates since 2020 has driven thousands of households into rent arrears, homelessness and temporary accommodation.

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As rents have surged, housing benefits have not kept up and SHP warned just 2% of properties in London on the private rental market are affordable for people affected by LHA rates.

“It’s been alright here but because of the LHA rates, we can’t find any properties around Brent to be closer to my family,” said Kamil, who works in a restaurant.

“It’s frustrating because you feel like nothing’s changing. You feel like you’re putting in all this work for nothing. Every day is the same thing, you are just trying to get through the day.”

The government is spending £1.2bn to raise housing benefits in April next year and Chancellor Hunt said 1.6 million households will get £800 extra on average. LHA rates will be frozen again the following year.

Liz Rutherfoord, SHP’s chief executive, said the situation is “urgent” now.

“Why must thousands of Londoners face a truly miserable winter, when action could be taken immediately?” she added.

Tadhg Mockler has seen that misery first-hand.

As a resettlement officer trying to find a new home for Kamil and others, he told the Big Issue that the LHA freeze means the charity can’t move people on to support others who need help.

“It’s a complete stagnation of people here,” said Mockler, who has worked for SHP for a year after earlier being homeless himself and sleeping in the back of a van.

“There are some people in this accommodation who are just so fed up, so depressed, so anxious, they can’t physically bring themselves out of bed.

“They’re in a bed here whereas the next man or woman is on the road, street, in the car, sofa surfing or whatever else.

“It’s nobody here’s fault but I think we all feel the pressure of it. In my job I see the waiting lists and the move-on rates.

“It’s a horrible feeling knowing that your hands are tied, and you just must watch someone’s potential stagnate whilst you relentlessly try every single option for them.

“When one person moves out and we finally get them back to their home borough it’s a relief because that’s one less man or woman on that road.”

Next year Kamil has big dreams.

He just hopes not to face another four months in limbo before he can realise them.

“Hopefully this time next year I would like to have my own place to call home and hopefully I can start an electrician course by then which means I can settle down and focus on my future,” said Kamil.

“I want to put this experience behind me and get on with my life now. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. I can stand on my own two feet.

“I’m asking the government to increase the housing benefit rate now so I can start 2024 with a fair chance at making the most of life’s opportunities.”

To donate to Single Homeless Project this Christmas, head here.

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