Thursday, 23 April 2015

Councils' out-of-area placements breaking the law

Councils' out-of-area placements breaking the law

23 April 2015 | By Daniel Douglas

Councils in London have broken the law by placing more than 8,000 homeless families in other areas over two years without properly notifying the receiving local authority.

Exclusive research by Inside Housing reveals the extent to which London local authorities are failing to fulfil their duty to notify other councils about out-of-area placements.

The findings follow a landmark High Court last week which found Tower Hamlets Council broke the law by not notifying Havering Council it was sending a homeless family to its area. The family ended up street homeless as both councils refused to help them.

The ruling leaves councils at greater risk of High Court challenges if they continue failing to notify, legal experts have warned. ‘It is a clear shot across the bow from the High Court to say they’re not putting up with non-notification,’ said Jane Pritchard, head of housing at TV Edwards solicitors.

Data collected by Inside Housing under the Freedom of Information Act reveals 28 London boroughs sent 3,222 Section 208 notices between 1 January 2013 and 15 October 2014. However, according to government figures, 11,864 had been placed in temporary accommodation in London outside their local authority area over the two years to 31 December.

This suggests around 8,000 moves in which legal notices had not been sent.

The figures are likely to spark fears that over-stretched councils are struggling to cope with rising demand for homelessness services. Judge Justice Cobb, in the Tower Hamlets case, said the ‘financial implications’ on councils are a ‘significant deterrent to demonstrable good practice’ and that local authorities should ‘stop operating in silos’.

According to government figures, the number of homeless families in London placed in temporary accommodation outside their local authority areas has more than doubled over four years to 14,830 in December 2014.

Homelessness charity Shelter has warned that councils need notifications of moves so they can ensure families receive support and school places.

Bexley Council said it had not received any notices in 2013 or 2014. But Joanne Songer
, housing service manager at Bexley council, said: We are aware of a number of boroughs discharging into our area that are not notifying us.’

Within the capital London Councils operates a system called ‘Notify’ which allows councils to send information on homeless families to receiving authorities.

Lawyers are warning that the system is discretionary and does not replace statutory requirements to notify receiving councils.

A London Councils spokesperson said it is in the final stages of reviewing Notify and will take the High Court judgement into account.

Havering Council and Tower Hamlets Councils are both consulting lawyers following the judgement

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