‘Get on with it’: Greenwich Council criticised after homelessness policy lapses

Morris Walk Estate
The last homelessness strategy referred to housing people in the condemned Morris Walk Estate

Greenwich Council has allowed its homelessness policy to lapse – despite a law stating it should have introduced a new plan to deal with the issue last year.

The council currently has no up-to-date policy on homelessness after the last one expired in 2019. Under a law introduced by the Labour government in 2002, all local authorities must review the issue and bring in a new policy every five years.

Opposition Conservative councillors also accuse the council of not having an official housing strategy – despite agreeing one in 2018, the policy was never formally published.

The Tories are using a motion at Wednesday’s council meeting to call on the council leadership to bring in a homelessness policy. They are also calling for a review of a number of housing policies, such as buying private homes for emergency housing, while pushing for Greenwich to join neighbouring Lewisham and Southwark in Capital Letters, where 17 London boroughs work together to secure housing for the homeless.

“The failure to publish a clear, well-reasoned housing strategy will make it harder to develop a cohesive, efficient, well-targeted strategy to deal with homelessness,” the motion reads.

At present there are 23,000 households on Greenwich Council’s waiting list for housing, with over 3,200 considered urgent. There are nearly 1,500 homeless households, the council’s cabinet heard last month.

Greenwich’s last homelessness strategy was published in 2014, and refers to housing people in “the Woolwich estates which are being decanted for redevelopment” – a reference to the Maryon Wilson Estate, much of which has now been demolished.

The Tories say that without an up-to-date strategy, the council is wasting money on ill-thought through attempts to house the homeless, and ignoring ideas put into effect in other areas, such as adopting a scheme for private landlords used in Labour-run Enfield. They also want the role of Meridian Home Start, a spin-off company which offers rents at higher rates than the council usually charges, to be reviewed.

But the council says the strategy has been delayed because of the pandemic, and it plans to begin a consultation this year.

Spencer Drury, the Conservative housing spokesperson, said: “London faces a real housing crisis and Greenwich residents need decent, affordable homes so that they can thrive. As a councillor, I frequently encounter people who are desperate for low cost rented housing and first time buyers who want to get their foot on the housing ladder by purchasing their own home.

“The housing crisis across London is a massive challenge for every level of government, but it is quite clear that by not having either a Housing or Homelessness strategy, Greenwich is letting every single resident down.

“There are so many ways of improving the situation for Greenwich residents with regard to housing, but we need to plan which of the huge range of policies being used across the country will be most effective in our part of south east London. By not planning, Greenwich is spending massive sums of money in ineffective ways, meaning that groups like young, low-paid workers simply don’t have access to the homes they require.

“Our motion is an attempt to force the council to get on with it – write a strategy to help those who have nowhere to live and plan so that others can access decent housing which they can be happy living in.”

A Greenwich Council spokesperson said: “Prior to the pandemic, we had done a significant amount of work to update and add more detail to the homelessness strategy, with the intention to run a consultation in early 2020.

“However, due to the pandemic and the severe challenges it presented, we unfortunately had no choice but to put these plans on hold and shift our priorities.

“We have worked with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to establish what these priorities should be and over the past year have supported 660 households into temporary accommodation; got 121 people off the streets and into self-contained accommodation at the height of the pandemic last spring; worked with another 160 households to prevent their eviction or find them another tenancy; directly supported 16 homeless households into paid work and won a bid for another 25 rough sleeping self-contained places within the borough, which is being delivered now.

“Alongside the immediate support we are continuing to give homeless people in the borough, we are also now forming our plans for 2021 and are aiming to run a consultation online.”

Wednesday’s meeting also includes a Labour motion criticising the Conservative government for its plans to withdraw the £20 increase in universal credit introduced at the beginning of the pandemic. It will be live on YouTube from 7pm.

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