‘Significant fall’ in number of housing benefit claimants moving from London to Thanet

Failings in managing council properties

The number of housing benefit claimants moving from London to Thanet decreased dramatically last year, according to the most recent data from Kent County Council.

But North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale says there is still a problem and he has taken it up with  the Secretary of State for Local Government, Sajid Javid, and housing minister Alok Sharma.

In a report looking at the effects of welfare reform across the county, data shows the number of movers from London boroughs who were claiming housing benefit increased in 2015 but fell again during 2016.

In July and August 2016 the number of London movers into Thanet fell to less than half the average for the district whereas movers to Canterbury more than doubled the previous highest number.

The increase in Canterbury correlates with a rise in claimants coming from the London Borough of Redbridge after that authority bought the former Howe Barracks. Further London buy ups of MoD land in east Kent have been predicted.

In 2014, 276 housing benefit claimants, mainly from London, moved to the isle. In 2015 this number was 231 but last year the figure had dropped to 76.

The largest number of movers into Kent have come from the London Boroughs which neighbour Kent; Bexley, Greenwich, Bromley, Croydon and Lewisham. However, there was also a large increase from Hackney in 2015 and 2016, with Thanet as a top destination.

‘Significant fall’

The KCC data report says: “Thanet has seen the most significant fall in numbers in 2016. It has gone from having the highest number of incoming benefit movers to one of the lowest, with less than a third of the number of claimants than was seen in 2014.”

Moves from London to Kent for those claiming housing benefit are partly attributed to welfare reforms.

Benefit caps

The report says following the initial introduction of the benefit cap in 2013, an increase in the migration of Housing Benefit claimants from high rent to lower rent areas was anticipated, particularly into local authorities surrounding London.

Further changes to the benefit cap took place in November 2016, when the cap threshold was lowered from £26,000 per year to £20,000 per year in the UK and to £23,000 in Greater London.

The report says because Kent has historically attracted those who want to move out of London it is difficult to prove what level of inward migration is as a result of the cap. The data does not show those people who move into Kent but still have their housing benefit paid by the local authority they have moved from.

Data for Universal Credit claimants is yet to be analysed. Full UC rolled out in Thanet in July and is scheduled to go live in many London boroughs between this month and December 2018.

Sir Roger Gale MP

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale says he has spoken to Sajid Javid and Alok Sharma about the fear of Thanet being a “dumping ground” for other areas when there are a significant number of isle families needing homes.

Sir Roger said some three years ago London boroughs had been asked whether they were buying property in Thanet to accommodate homeless families in their areas. Boroughs such as Lewisham said no but, Sir Roger says the answer was ‘disingenuous.’

He added: “There are people investing in properties in Thanet, such as at Westwood Cross, on a buy to let basis and these properties are then being let to the London boroughs. So, no, they are not buying, but they are renting properties to place their homeless families in instead of making provision to keep families where most of them want to be, in London.”

But Thanet council head of housing Bob Porter (above) told The Isle of Thanet News in June that  fears of London sink estates being created in Thanet are unlikely to come true.

He acknowledged that London boroughs are placing residents on the isle, but said this was not happening in huge numbers. He added: “There is nothing in law to stop them doing it but they are supposed to tell us about the needs of the families. When we hear of this happening we challenge it, we ask how they are supporting families and how they are working to get them back to their area.”

Thanet’s housing list

Thanet currently has  2156 households on the housing waiting list. Between July 1 and September 30 some 227 people have presented themselves as homeless, 169 households were placed in temporary accommodation and 69 in bed and breakfast.

The bill for the 2016/17 year for this accommodation topped £1.1 million.

Thanet council aims to tackle the issue by setting up a private sector leasing scheme, establishing a small number of its properties as licensed accommodation and examining a potential hostel in the district.

Another idea being floated is to set up landlord schemes to increase the supply of private sector properties.

Last month Cabinet members at Thanet council approved a proposal to buy between 10 and 12 isle properties.

The aim is to provide homes for Thanet families on the housing waiting list or those who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation.

A £2.13million investment will be made to buy the properties.