‘Travelodge families’: The new face of the housing crisis

Benefit changes, rising private rents, and depleted social housing all force councils to spend billions at Travelodge and Premier Inn in stop-gap measures to help evicted families

Budget hotel chains are being paid thousands of pounds a year to accommodate the homeless as local councils attempt to tackle Britain’s growing housing crisis.

The percentage of homeless families in hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation is now at its highest level for a decade, government figures show. And, as a result, spending by Britain’s largest cities on so-called “bed and breakfast accommodation” has increased by 25 per cent the past year to £91.1m.

Part of the rise is fuelled by councils having to place people in budget hotel chains such as Travelodge while they seek a more permanent solution.

The situation is particularly acute in Oxford, Cambridge and London, where rent rises in the private sector have outstripped the budgets that councils have set aside to pay for emergency accommodation. Other areas where councils have been forced to adopt this costly stop-gap include Edinburgh, Huntingdon, Herts, north Devon and Chorley, Lancashire.

A number of councils have now concluded that chains such a Travelodge and Premier Inn offer better value than the smaller hostels which have traditionally been used.

Ed Turner, the Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council, said the situation was “grim” and added: “The reason we use places like Travelodge is because you can’t find anywhere else.

“I’ve spoken to a parent who has had to move his children to a Travelodge because he was being evicted from the home he had occupied – and he had no idea how he was going to get his kids to school. Think of the consequence for a family with kids in school – yes, it’s a problem for our finances but, much more importantly, it’s a problem for those affected.”

Mr Turner said that the problem facing cities such as Oxford was two-fold. On one hand, rental property prices were rising at a faster rate that housing benefit – that has been capped by the Government – meaning many private landlords are giving notice to social tenants who cannot find alternative accommodation, forcing them into homelessness.

At the same time councils are finding it increasingly hard to maintain their stock of emergency housing to put families up who have been made homeless.

“If you put the local housing benefits allowance rate for Oxford into the RightMove website only two properties come up in the entire city which are affordable,” he said.

“Placing people in somewhere like a Travelodge is a last resort but sometimes it has to be done to meet the council’s legal and, frankly, moral obligations.”

A spokesman for Huntingdon District Council said it had also had to use Premier Inns to meet a shortfall in accommodation for the homeless.

“We do have houses that we rent for emergency accommodation in the private sector but we are struggling to recruit new landlords because they can get higher rents elsewhere,” he said.

David Greening, the Housing Advice Service manager at Cambridge City Council agreed that the situation was “not ideal for families at all”.

“Stays in any form of temporary accommodation are unsettling for people,” he said.

The Conservative-run Borough Council of Wellingborough in Northants spent £1,961 in a single  week to house a family while Liberal  Democrat-controlled Eastleigh, in Hampshire, spent £1,932 to accommodate a family with seven children for a seven-day stay. Labour’s North East Derbyshire district council spent almost £700 for a week, while Dartford said it had a bill of £616 for one week for a family of five. 

Recent figures uncovered by the Labour Party showed that the use of B&Bs to house homeless families beyond six weeks had risen by 800 per cent since 2010 – a huge cost to the councils concerned.

And over the past four years, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the UK has spent almost £2bn in temporary housing for homeless families – enough to build 72,000 homes.

Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey said the use of budget hotels was a “clear sign” that the coalition Government’s housing policies were failing. “It’s a disgrace,” he said. “It might be good business for hotel chains but it’s bad value for the taxpayer and completely inappropriate for homeless families who have no place else to go.

“Rather than asking if there’s room at the inn, the Government should be building the homes the country desperately needs.”

A Travelodge spokesperson said: “Local councils around the UK sometimes use our hotels, to provide temporary accommodation for individuals and families who are made homeless due to an emergency incident such as flooding or a fire. The Council book the hotels directly via our website like any other business and leisure customer. We have over 500 hotels across the country and providing good value accommodation is our day to day business.”

A Premier Inn spokesman said: “On an occasional basis Premier Inn is asked by some local councils to provide accommodation for residents who may temporarily not be able to live in their home address.”

Housing Minister Mark Prisk said: “The law is clear that families should only be placed in this temporary accommodation in an emergency and only then for no more than six weeks. It is also a waste of tax payers' money to be paying such large sums to house families in this way.

”Whilst it is ultimately a matter for councils to decide how to make best use of their budgets, it cannot make sense to pay more for housing a family in one room than it would cost to house them in suitable self-contained accommodation.“

A Travelodge spokesperson said: “Local councils around the UK sometimes use our hotels, to provide temporary accommodation for individuals and families who are made homeless due to an emergency incident such as flooding or a fire. The Council book the hotels directly via our website like any other business and leisure customer. We have over 500 hotels across the country and providing good value accommodation is our day to day business.”

Case study: There were five  of us in one  small hotel room

Agnieszka Bartczak, her partner Piotr Debacz, and her three small children, aged two, three and five became homeless last winter after being evicted from their home in Cambridgeshire.

They appealed to Huntingdonshire District Council for help, which, restricted by a shortage of suitable accommodation, put them up in a Premier Inn by the busy A1.

The measure was supposed to be temporary while more suitable housing was arranged, but seven weeks later the family continued to live in one small room.

Speaking to her local paper at the time, 22-year-old Agnieszka said: “They told us we need to find somewhere to stay the night and we have been here ever since.

“There are five people in one room and there just isn’t enough space. We are in desperate need of somewhere else to stay.”

Oliver Duggan

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