WHITEHALL

EXCLUSIVE: Councils reject refugee housing fund

Tens of millions of pounds of a fund designed to support English councils to obtain housing for those fleeing conflicts has not been taken up, The MJ can reveal.

Tens of millions of pounds of a fund designed to support English councils to obtain housing for those fleeing conflicts has not been taken up, The MJ can reveal.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said a £500m Local Authority Housing Fund (LAHF) announced in December was expected to provide up to 4,000 homes for Afghans and Ukrainians by next year.

Funding was offered to 182 local authorities and the Greater London Authority as they were ‘deemed to have the greatest need' but one in five of these were not handed their allocation – worth more than £62m – according to our analysis.

More than 25 (14%) local authorities did not receive their full allocation when the first tranche was paid earlier this year.

Councils including Luton BC and Epsom & Ewell BC complained the LAHF was ‘unfair' to the thousands of desperate families already on the housing waiting list because it prioritised refugees over their existing residents.

A Luton statement said accepting the LAHF would have pushed the ‘far too many disadvantaged families' even further down its ‘very long' housing waiting list.

It argued it should not have to choose between supporting ‘residents in desperate housing need' and those ‘fleeing dangerous places around the world'.

Sector sources suggested there were a number of other key reasons for the poor take up of the fund – including Whitehall's expectation for councils to ‘part fund or finance some of the required capital,' a reluctance from local authorities without their own stock to create a Housing Revenue Account just for this fund and the Government's unrealistic timescales, with the money having to be spent by April 2024.

Wyre Forest DC chief executive, Ian Miller, said: ‘We've all got a moral duty and would love to help but neither councils nor housing associations are awash with cash.

DLUHC could have funded 100% grant instead of giving its underspends back to the Treasury.'

Councils were told by the Government to move Afghans evicted from hotels over the summer into housing.

However, a number of local authorities did not have enough time to use the LAHF – under which they were urged to obtain and refurbish properties by November - before evictions took place.

Julie Stewart, strategic housing manager at Northumberland CC, which was not able to accept its full LAHF allocation, described delivery deadlines for the fund as ‘challenging,' adding: ‘It feels like a lack of planning has led to this situation with local authorities having to, once again, pick up the pressure.'

Ministers have privately acknowledged that the Home Office timetable for evicting Afghans from hotels did not align with the Government's LAHF timescales.

Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer said the ‘longstanding challenge around housing in this country' had ‘collided with the reality of a very quick collapse in Afghanistan'.

In a message to Whitehall, strategic housing lead at Stockport MBC, Andy Kippax, wrote: ‘LAHF, despite some issues, is the right thing but, put simply, we can't buy what isn't available and finding properties large enough for some of these families is proving impossible.

'It will happen but not in the timescales we've got.

'The Home Office had 18 months to rehouse them – we've been given three – and my magic wand isn't working.'

One council manager added: ‘We have none of our own housing stock, no private rented sector properties, no social housing properties and no temporary accommodation available.

'While we have committed to LAHF properties, these will not be available before the bridging hotels close.'

A third local government insider said: ‘The LAHF timeline should have mirrored the hotel closure dates.

'It would help enormously if hotels could be extended to November when the LAHF phase one programme properties come online.'

DLUHC said it was ‘urgently looking to deliver housing for vulnerable groups in a very tight timeframe' and was having ‘candid conversations' with councils to ensure the LAHF's success.

Councils are struggling to meet the housing needs of both local families on waiting lists and refugees, with flaws in the design of a flagship Government fund impacting take-up. Dan Peters reports.

Heather Jameson says the Local Authority Housing Fund is a drop in the ocean when it comes to buying homes.

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