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Homeless families in B&Bs up by nearly half and welfare reform could make it worse, said NHF

The number of homeless families living in temporary bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation has risen by almost half in the first few months of 2012, said the National Housing Federation (NHF) as it warned the numbers could rise even higher when welfare reforms come into effect next year.
 
According to the organisation, this rise comes after 2011 and 2012 also saw consecutive rises in the overall numbers of homeless – the first rise in seven years – that has pushed homelessness up by 26 per cent in two years. The rising rate of homelessness is consequently increasing the demand for emergency temporary accommodation, such as B&Bs.
 
NHF research has found that between January and March 2011 there were 2,750 families nationwide living in B&Bs. Over the same period in 2012 this had risen to 3,960, an increase of 44 per cent.
 
Alternative temporary accommodation to B&Bs, in the form of houses or flats leased by local authorities and housing associations, provides short-term homes to around 26,000 homeless families. This accommodation is more stable and secure than B&Bs, with the space and access required for children to live a normal life and for parents to work their way out of homelessness and towards a better future.
 
But from April 2013, families living in these crisis homes could be hit by the new universal benefit cap, which will limit the total amount of benefit they can claim to £500 a week. As short-term emergency accommodation is more expensive to rent and manage, this could mean families are unable to pay the rent – pushing them back into B&Bs, or even on to the streets.
 
The Government has not yet confirmed how the benefit cap will affect people living in temporary accommodation and what measures will be taken to protect the service.
 
 “In a B&B whole families can find themselves sharing one room and they are often shut out of their accommodation during the day, causing huge disruption to daily routines of school and work,” said David Orr, chief executive of the NHF. “Every child deserves a decent home to come back to after school, where they feel secure, and where they can sit down to do their homework. That is what temporary accommodation provides. Without the safety net of temporary accommodation, thousands more families will find themselves in a vicious cycle of homelessness. It is essential that the Government puts in place measures to protect this crucial service and the vulnerable families who depend on it.”
 
The NHF cited the case of the Lawrence family from Margate, Kent, as an example. The family has seen homelessness and B&B living first hand, the organisation said. Mark and Michelle Lawrence, both 43, and their five children, aged 10 to 19, fled their privately rented home in County Durham after a neighbourhood gang smashed in their car windows and threatened their two youngest sons with a knife.
 
They moved to Kent where Mark Lawrence had found a job. But the family of seven had no choice but to sleep in a car at the roadside until the local council, with no other temporary accommodation available, placed them in a local B&B.
 
“I’ve never been so frightened in my life,” said Michelle Lawrence. “Sleeping in a lay-by was my worst nightmare, but we had no other option. The next day, we went to the council and they managed to find us a place at the B&B. But the B&B rules meant we had to split up into two rooms – my husband was working, so my 19-year-old daughter had to sleep down the hall with our two younger children.
 
“It was very stressful for the children. It was the school holidays so it was hard keeping them cooped up inside most of the day. There was nowhere to play outside, just a car park, and we had to keep them quiet so we didn’t disturb the other guests. They didn’t have any stability – we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
 
Fortunately, after a few days, the family were offered a home by housing association AmicusHorizon, which they gratefully accepted. If a temporary house or flat had been available instead of the B&B, said Michelle Lawrence, “that would have felt safer. Even if it was a small flat – at least we could have been together, as a family”.

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