Hundreds more homeless families rehoused outside local area in England | Homelessness

Hundreds more homeless households across England are being uprooted and rehoused miles from their jobs and schools amid mounting concern about the legality of the practice and the number of lives it is disrupting.

Figures obtained by the Guardian under freedom of information (FoI) reveal more than 6,000 households were shunted more than 20 miles from their local neighbourhood in out-of-area placements by 53 councils in the last four years. However, this is probably an underestimate given that the majority did not provide 2021-22 figures.

Nadia, a single mother of three, said she was treated “like cargo” after being moved three times and eventually ending up more than 20 miles from Crumpsall in north Manchester, where she grew up and her children had been thriving in school.

Anna and her three children from Nottingham have been placed in more than 20 B&B rooms across the Midlands including in Derby and Leicester since they became homeless in July. They even spent four nights in a friend’s camper van to avoid being placed in Lincoln – almost 50 miles from her children’s school. “I don’t know when it’s going to end – it feels there’s absolutely no hope,” she said.

Nadia and Anna are at the sharp end of a practice that began in London but is spreading, involving families being rehoused outside borough boundaries due to the acute shortage of homes.

While the overall number of out-of-area placements by non-London councils fell overall in the same period, the number of long-distance placements has grown.

Half of out-of-council placements outside the capital involved moves of more than 20 miles in 2020-21 compared with only a third in 2018-19. Ninety-seven placements made by non-London councils in 2020-21 were more than 50 miles away and 11 were more than 100 miles away, both up on previous years.

Total out-of-area placements of 20 miles or more away from origin council

The housing charity Shelter said the lack of affordable housing was making it difficult for councils to find suitable homes for homeless families. But it warned that out-of-area placements left councils open to legal challenge. Its chief executive, Polly Neate, said: “The law is clear that councils should always try to keep homeless families within their local areas, and if they can’t, they must make sure moving them doesn’t cause disruption.

“In practice, we know this doesn’t always happen and families are forced to uproot their entire lives and move away from jobs, schools and vital support networks, causing immense trauma.”

In all, more than 32,000 outside-council placements have been made by 66 local authorities since 2018-19. However, the figure could be far higher given that dozens of councils did not respond to the targeted FoI requests to those councils known to carry out the practice.

Nadia said her children’s mental health and education had suffered after being forced out of their school and local area when they became homeless in April 2018, due to a violent neighbour. “The support they had has just been ripped from them,” she said. Nadia said her daughter and oldest son had a “very volatile relationship – there has just been this void and they have taken it out on each other”.

She added: “If we had been able to stay in the school in Crumpsall, they would have been nourished children. And that’s what hurts the most, I can’t take the trauma of homelessness away from their memories.”

Nadia said: “I thought Manchester council had a duty of care. But they said ‘we can’t do anything, you’re going to have to change their school’.”

Anna also felt her local council should do more to prevent disruption to her children’s education. “I thought keeping the children in school would be a priority,” she said.

“The worst part is the extra costs. We’ve been living on sandwiches because there’s nowhere to prepare food in the B&Bs. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight because I’d rather feed my children and make sure they’re full before they go to school. It’s a nightmare,” she said.

“I have always lived near Nottingham city centre. If I am there I can sometimes take the children to my grandma’s for dinner, to ease the pressure on finances. But the council don’t seem to take that into account.”

Journeys made out of London area

Nottingham city council’s portfolio holder for housing, Toby Neal, said the council was doing all it could to help Anna but it had limited options. He said: “This is a really unfortunate case and sadly it’s not the only one in Nottingham or around the country. Until we get a proper national strategic housing plan and proper funding, it is only going to get worse.”

Joanna Midgley, the deputy leader of Manchester city council, said Nadia had been found suitable permanent accommodation. She said: “We know that leading up to this Nadia was in temporary accommodation out of area, and although this is never ideal, there is an issue with the demands on temporary accommodation which means that sometimes we have to house people further away than we would like.

“Due to her individual circumstances, the concern for the family’s safety, and to mitigate the risks, the assessment was that it was not advisable that the children continue to attend their original school which was close to the home she had to leave.”

Distances were calculated between the location of the council making the placement and either the household’s new postcode or the receiving council’s postcode in the small number of cases where this was unavailable.