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3,700 homeless forced out of borough: Shocked Redbridge council leader vows to take action

PUBLISHED: 15:00 02 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:11 02 August 2018

Jas Athwal, leader of the Redbridge Labour Group

Jas Athwal, leader of the Redbridge Labour Group

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More than 3,000 homeless households have been moved out of Redbridge in the last five years as the council is forced to take tough action on the housing crisis.

Samantha Ross who has been placed in unsuitable temporary accomodation in Newham.Samantha Ross who has been placed in unsuitable temporary accomodation in Newham.

The Recorder can reveal 3,708 households were placed into temporary accommodation outside the borough from 2012-17, many miles away from friends, family, schools and jobs.

Almost 1,000 were moved to flats and B&Bs in Newham, while 10 per cent were sent out of London altogether to places including Canterbury and Thurrock.

The scale of the out of borough postcode lottery outstrips that in neighbouring boroughs, with Barking and Dagenham moving only 1,122 households out of area and Newham 3,292.

The leader of Redbridge Council seemed visibly shocked when shown the figures by the Post and vowed to get answers.

Samantha Ross who has been placed in unsuitable temporary accomodation in Newham.Samantha Ross who has been placed in unsuitable temporary accomodation in Newham.

“That’s surprising, certainly questions will be asked,” he said. “It’s certainly not a picture I would have thought.

“A four bedroom house or a three bedroom house is going to be cheaper here than it is in Newham, and if it’s cheaper here then why aren’t we using it here? I will be asking.”

The Recorder used Freedom of Information requests and government data to investigate the true scale of the housing crisis in the borough.

- We found 2,270 homeless households are living in temporary accommodation such as flats, hostels or B&B rooms because they cannot secure their own housing.

Samantha Ross who has been placed in unsuitable temporary accomodation in Newham.Samantha Ross who has been placed in unsuitable temporary accomodation in Newham.

- The cost to the council is huge. Redbridge paid out £29million last year - and the bill spiralled by almost £5million compared to five years ago.

A severe lack of affordable homes means some are ending up in squalid and cramped flats or B&Bs in other boroughs.

Single mum Samantha Ross, who is disabled with fibromyalgia, was placed into a half derelict pub in Newham when she sought housing help from the council last year.

From the outside the Earl of Essex looks completely empty, but inside Samantha says it was a warren of about 30 rooms which command shockingly steep rents.

“The council was paying £375 a week for two rooms for me and my four children,” said the 45-year-old. “I was in one room with my daughter and the three boys were in another room.

“They were filthy, one of the beds had blood on it and I had to get them to change the mattress. As you went up the stairs all you could smell was dirty nappies. It was just disgusting.”

Even more worrying were apparent electrical faults in the derelict boozer and the 45-year-old was so concerend she called in the fire brigade.

“I got electrocuted in the shower,” she says. “You got electrocuted off the cookers.”

After kicking up a stink with the council, Samantha was moved a much better B&B more than 20 miles away in Hounslow, west London.

However it was too far for her daughter to travel to school in Hainault and the 15-year-old had to be pulled out of lessons for six months.

“I kept explaining to them that it was taking her up to three hours to get to school,” says Samantha. “And I just said, ‘I’m sorry, I am not doing it to her.”

The emotional strain also took its toll on the single mum, who has suffered domestic violence in the past.

“They really ruined me the last two years,” she said. “I nearly had a breakdown because of it. I don’t know how they can make it so difficult when there are so many empty properties.”

Last September, the family were moved again to a council flat in Newham so her daughter could return to school for her GCSE year. But the commute is still a long one.

Cllr Athwal said he does not want to see local families moved to places like Hounslow, but said the acute level of housing need in the borough means there is sometimes no choice.

He said Canterbury in Kent has been used to house the homeless, with data showing Redbridge moved 147 households there in 2016-17.

The council bought the former Howe Barracks site in Canterbury specifically for this purpose - winning out in a bidding contest against the local council.

Cllr Athwal says Redbridge has also suffered from other “richer councils” buying up property in the borough for homeless housing.

He pinpointed Westminster, which moved 128 homeless households into Redbridge from 2013 to 2015, and Kensington and Chelsea, which offloaded 170 over five years. “I know why they’re doing it,” said Cllr Athwal. “They’re doing it because it’s cheaper.”

NEXT WEEK: We report on the homeless mums living in cramped hostel rooms with their kids - as council leader admits some hostels are past their sell-by date

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