Homeless South London families spend up to a decade living in hostels

Homeless South London families are spending up to a decade living in hostels and it’s costing councils millions. 

One Lewisham family spent over eleven years waiting for a permanent place to call home.

They finally moved out of their emergency hostel sometime between 2017 and 2018 after 4146 days, according to figures uncovered by a Freedom of Information request. 

In neighbouring Southwark, the council has spent an eye-watering £7.2 million putting up homeless families in hotels and other emergency housing over the last five-year period.

Over 97per cent of that money has been spent in the last two-year period alone.

Meanwhile, in Lambeth, the typical homeless family can now expect to wait 476 days before leaving a hotel, more than double the length of time they could expect to spend in such accommodation back in 2017/18. 

‘Emergency accommodation’ is short-term housing provided by councils for families who are legally homeless.

This means they are already without a home, at risk of losing their home within eight weeks, or living in unsafe conditions because of reasons such as violence or serious disrepair.

Emergency housing can take the form of a hotel, hostel, refuge, self-contained flat or as a last resort a B&B. 

The Local Democracy Reporting Service sent Freedom of Information requests to Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth councils asking for the average and longest stays in emergency accommodation for each financial year between 2017/18 and 2021/22.

The three inner South London councils were also asked for the amount they had spent on hotels for families in emergency accommodation for each year period. 

Lewisham Council failed to respond to a question in the FoI request asking about the average length of stay in emergency housing for each financial year.

It was also unable to tell the Local Democracy Reporting Service how much it spent on emergency accommodation in 2017/18. 

At least five Lewisham families had to stay in hostels or other emergency accommodations, which isn’t a hotel or a B&B for 10 years or longer since 2017/18.

Lewisham Council blamed the length of the stays on a lack of suitable temporary housing and privately rented accommodation in the borough. 

The amount the council spends on emergency accommodations like hotels and hostels has more than doubled in the last five years.

In 2018/19, it was spending £68,805 on such housing, a figure which had ballooned to £143,962 by this year. 

In Lambeth, the council is spending £238,500 more on hotels and other emergency housing than five years ago.

One Lambeth family spent over eight years living in emergency hotel accommodation, before finally leaving some time between 2020 and 2021, figures show. 

Cllr Sophie Davis, Lewisham’s cabinet member for housing management and homelessness, said: “Like the rest of London, Lewisham is facing a housing crisis and we are seeing more and more people come to us for housing support. As a local authority, we have a responsibility to ensure that any family facing homelessness is provided with accommodation. 

“We always look to minimise the use of nightly-paid accommodation, as we recognise the challenges it poses for families.

“We work closely with families in emergency accommodation to move them into more suitable accommodation as soon as possible.

“However, like other London councils, we are facing increasing challenges in finding suitable temporary accommodation or private rented accommodation for homeless families, as a result of rising rents in the private sector and the local housing allowance being frozen by central government.”

Southwark Council and Lambeth Council were contacted for comment


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