Over recent months, we have heard the term “social cleansing” being thrown around the media more and more. But, what exactly does this mean?
“Social cleansing” relates to the uprooting of homeless families into accommodations outside of London by London Councils. But, why is this happening? There are a number of factors that play a part in this, including:
A change in the law, more specifically, the Localism Act 2011. Under this legislation, Local Authorities are able to fully discharge their homelessness duties by offering homeless families accommodation in the private rented sector without their consent.
The housing benefit cap. The cap limits the amount of housing benefit that can be paid to families residing in the private rented sector. The cap is calculated by adding together the total amount of benefits that are received by a household. If this total exceeds the capped level, then deductions are made towards the housing benefit payment, in order to reduce the total income to match the capped level (this is dependent on individuals circumstances); and
The ever increasing rental costs in London.
Whilst Councils must be satisfied that any offer of accommodation is suitable, the issue of suitability is heavily reliant on affordability. Therefore, when considering the above factors, we get a clearer picture of why so many social tenants are being forced out of London. A lot of homeless families require the support of housing benefits to meet their rental payments. With the cap in force, and rental costs in London rocketing high, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find affordable housing in London (bear in mind that the accumulation of rent arrears can lead to evictions).
Therefore, the Localism Act 2011 + the housing benefit cap + the increased rental costs in London = an undesirable outcome for homeless families being forced to accept the more affordable properties outside of London.
So, does this mean that eventually London will become a home for the elite, with everyone else living on the outskirts?
Not necessarily, there is guidance which states that Local Authorities should provide accommodation to their borough as far as it is reasonably practical to do so. If this is not possible, then they should try to accommodate as close as possible to where the social tenant previously lived (Nzolameso v Westminster City Council). Furthermore, Local Authorities will have to consider the impact of uprooting families by moving them out of London away from their social network.
Although this does make it more difficult for London Councils to justify uprooting tenants hundreds of miles away from London, some Councils have nevertheless decided to take it upon themselves to send letters to social tenants which provide incentives to voluntarily opt to move out of London. Could this really be considered a solution?