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Out-of-Area Placements: Temporary Accommodation at the margins

  • 4 min read |
  • Posted by Signe
  • On 08 October 2021

Stories about people in Temporary Accommodation rarely make it into the mainstream media. If homelessness is covered, the main focus tends to be on rough sleeping, the visible side of homelessness, and not on those who have a roof over their head in various temporary settings (ITV News current series on Housing is an exception). Temporary Accommodation (TA) is often seen as a solution to end rough sleeping, getting ‘everyone in’ and solving the problem of homelessness.

But TA should only be a short reprieve, a stopgap for individuals waiting for a home. It is meant to be temporary for a reason; it is not a home, not a place from where people can rebuild their lives, and all too often the physical and social environment in TA is detrimental to people’s health and wellbeing.

The population stuck in TA is growing. At the latest count, more than 95.000 households, including almost 120.000 children, had been placed in Temporary Accommodation by Local Authorities in England. The pressure on Local Authorities (LAs) to find accommodation for people has exploded at a time when solutions have diminished. The lack of affordable and social housing to move people onto stretches the word ‘temporary’ to the point of being meaningless. Some people are left for decades in limbo in this shadow housing market.

Out-of-Area Placements

The pressures on Local Authorities in England are such that they increasingly look for TA in different, more affordable areas. The practice, known as out-of-area placements, has risen nationally by 344% since the end of March 2010 and it looks set to rise even further.

In the more expensive areas, Local Authorities are increasingly struggling to find Temporary Accommodation that is affordable and suitable. And so, to honour their duty of care (or while it is being assessed whether they have a duty of care), housing officers look for accommodation in cheaper areas to deal with a rising demand. This is creating a domino effect, as LAs in cheaper areas find themselves outpriced at home and needing to look further afield.

The majority of out-of-area placements happen in London, where 36% of households accepted as homeless were placed in a different borough to where they originally presented as homeless. While the figure is smaller in the rest of the country, at 13%, it is on the rise everywhere and rising fastest outside of London. To put it in numbers, by the end of September 2020, 25,930 households were staying in a different local authority area to where they were when they became homeless. That is more than a quarter of all households placed in TA.

In this environment, Local Authorities are at risk of being pitted against each other in an unhelpful competition for cheap housing provided by private landlords, and homeless individuals are left far from their known support network. Nobody wins in this competition, least of all the homeless individuals placed far from their known environment, sometimes as far as 200 miles away.

Post-pandemic pressures

This is happening at a time when the economy is opening up again after a series of lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The measures put in place to help struggling individuals and families, including the furlough scheme, the ban on evictions, and a £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit, are coming to an end. There is no doubt these measures made a big difference as many people were already struggling to get by before the pandemic hit. London boroughs alone gave out £53.4 million in emergency payments to residents experiencing a financial crisis during the pandemic through almost 40,000 emergency assistance payments.

But with other crises looming, such as the increased gas prices and the general cost of living going up, the need has not disappeared. The removal of these support measures is likely to push more people into homelessness. Local Authorities, already struggling to house homeless households in their own area, have few alternatives but to look for the lowest quality end of the private housing market or for cheaper accommodation out-of-area to deal with an increase in homelessness applications.

Both scenarios come at a human cost for the homeless people in question. In part two of this series, we’ll explore the impact of these placements on the individuals and communities who experience them.