London B&Bs hold 17,000 homeless

Up to 17,000 people are living in bed and breakfast accommodation in London - more than six times the "official statistic" - according to a report published today.

Out of Sight . . . London's Continuing B&B Crisis, a report commissioned by homeless charities, claims that while the capital's hotels have emptied of "officially" homeless people - those who have been placed by local authorities - their beds have been filled by the "unofficial" homeless - those mainly on housing benefit who make their own bookings.

The majority of self-placers are single people, accounting for 70 to 80 per cent, although a disturbing number are increasingly families with children.

Many are asylum-seekers and refugees who book into B&B only to discover this disqualifies them from local authority help on the legal basis that they already have somewhere, "however temporary".

And those living in hotels or B&Bs are finding more councils argue that a hotel constitutes "reasonable housing", and are refusing further assistance.

"Before, if you were living in a hotel it was not seen as reasonable housing and the local authority had some responsibility for finding you permanent accommodation," Mary Carter, the report's author, said. "Now the local authority is being more restrictive about whom they allocate permanent property to.''

Self-placers can also fall foul of the "priority need" assessment - covering those with children, the elderly or ill - which is being defined more punitively.

Ms Carter, from South Bank university, discovered that well over half of the people interviewed had been staying in B&B for longer than six months and nearly one-third had been living there for over a year. Hotel charges can be up to £250 a week for a single person and where there are differences between housing benefit and charges many are harassed or evicted.

Local authorities in London have been successful in moving many homeless people out of B&Bs through partnership with housing associations and private landlords. In 1987 - the peak - 7,970 households were housed in B&B under homelessness legislation. LastMarch the total stood at 2,178.