More than 2,500 children are unlawfully accommodated in unsuitable bed and breakfast facilities in England, the latest official homelessness statistics suggest.
They show that 1,300 households with children were resident in B&Bs for longer than six weeks at the end of September, a 24% year-on-year increase.
Councils are obliged by law to avoid placing families in B&Bs except as a last resort, and then for no longer than six weeks. B&Bs lack space, privacy and often do not contain cookery and laundry facilities.
The figures confirm that many councils are struggling to fulfil their duty to find suitable housing for the increasing number of households they accept as homeless.
Overall, 117,000 children were part of the 74,630 households placed in temporary homes of all kinds in England. Almost a third of these households had been given temporary accommodation outside their home borough.
Nearly three-quarters of all households in temporary accommodation, and nine in every 10 households placed out of their borough were from London, which remains the centre of England’s homelessness problem.
According to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), there are an average of two children in each family housed in temporary accommodation in England.
Eviction following the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy remained the biggest cause of homelessness, accounting for a third of all acceptances by councils.
Just under 15,000 households were accepted as homeless in the third quarter of 2016, up 2% on the same period last year. However, the housing charity Shelter has argued that official figures underplay the true size of the problem. It has estimated that more than 250,000 people live in hostels, temporary accommodation or sleep rough.
Charities warned that the statistics signalled that the problem was becoming predictable.
Gavin Smart, the deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “The most worrying thing is that an increase in the levels of homelessness has become predictable.
“Yet again the number of homeless households has increased and there was a 9% climb in the number of households living in temporary accommodation last quarter, when compared to the same period in 2015. This is a rising trend that shows no sign of reversing.”
A DCLG spokesman said: “While the number of households in temporary accommodation is below the 2004 peak, the law is clear that households with dependent children should only be accommodated in a B&B in an emergency and then for no longer than six weeks.
“There are councils who are successfully reducing the number and length of time families are spending in B&B accommodation. We expect areas in similar situations to follow their example.”
London boroughs such as Croydon, Redbridge, and Southwark all had more than 100 families in B&Bs for longer than six weeks, but the problem is growing elsewhere in the south of England in places such as Reading, Luton, Chelmsford, Bournemouth, Gloucester, Peterborough and South Buckinghamshire.
Lack of housing means councils have become increasingly desperate to find temporary accommodation. Peterborough has been forced to put up scores of homeless families in the city’s three Travelodge hotels. Chelmsford has invested in 40 prefabricated “modular units”, while London councils have been buying up homes in other boroughs in which to place their homeless families.
Campaigners have warned that benefit cuts, including the benefit cap and the freeze on housing benefit levels will drive up evictions, despite government support for a backbench homelessness reduction bill aimed at prevention.
The chief executive of the charity Homeless Link, Rick Henderson, said: “The growing number of households being placed in temporary accommodation is extremely concerning. This insecure and often poor standard accommodation not only comes at a cost to the public purse, but also has a damaging impact on the people who live in it.”
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