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Rough sleepers in Tower Hamlets facing life on the streets once temporary Covid-19 hotels close

PUBLISHED: 10:42 04 July 2020 | UPDATED: 08:10 07 July 2020

Tower Hamlets Council has advised a number of rough sleepers currently accommodated in temporary Covid-19 hotels that their offer of such accommodation is to cease, putting a number at risk of street homelessness. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images

Tower Hamlets Council has advised a number of rough sleepers currently accommodated in temporary Covid-19 hotels that their offer of such accommodation is to cease, putting a number at risk of street homelessness. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

A number of rough sleepers housed by Tower Hamlets Council during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic have been warned that they face eviction, following an assessment that they do not meet the criteria which would allow for the continued provision of temporary accommodation.

Tower Hamlets council has responded to allegations regarding potential evictions upon closure of the temporary Covid-19 hotels which have been housing rough sleepers during the coronavirus peak. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA ImagesTower Hamlets council has responded to allegations regarding potential evictions upon closure of the temporary Covid-19 hotels which have been housing rough sleepers during the coronavirus peak. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Images

The Advertiser has learned that the council recently informed a group of those housed in temporary Covid-19 hotels that it does not owe them an overall duty to provide temporary accommodation.

This means that the offer of such accommodation is likely to end once these hotels close, though Tower Hamlets Council has confirmed that there is no end date for the arrangement as of yet.

The picture is made more complicated by the different types of housing duty which a council can legally owe to a person.

In the case of the letter seen by the Advertiser, the council agrees that it owes the individual what is called a section 189B(2) duty under homelessness legislation.

The letter reads: “We owe you a duty to take reasonable steps to help you to find somewhere else to live.”

However, the duty to provide temporary accommodation is different, and is decided by whether someone is in “priority need”.

Pregnant women, those with children and those who are vulnerable due to old age, mental illness or disability often fall under this category.

If an individual has this need, the council must continue to provide temporary accommodation while helping them find somewhere permanent to live.

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Yet if the council’s assessment is that a person doesn’t have priority need then it will only owe a duty to help them find somewhere else to live long-term.

The letter continues by explaining why this individual does not have priority need, saying: “I have to decide if the harm you would suffer, or be at risk of suffering, when homeless, would be more than that likely to be suffered be an ordinary person.

“The harm you would suffer, or be at risk of suffering, is likely to be ‘within the range’, or put in simple language, ‘similar to’, the harm that an ordinary person would suffer.

“You are a person that I am satisfied is able to cope and function reasonably well with ‘day to day’ living and this would I believe still be the case if you were to become homeless or to remain homeless.”

The individual in question wished to remain anonymous, but the letter reveals that they were evicted from their family home and have addiction issues, neither of which qualified them to have priority need.

The Advertiser contacted Tower Hamlets Council for comment on several issues, including asking when the borough’s temporary Covid-19 hotels will close, and what “reasonable steps” the council plans to take to help an individual find somewhere to live, particularly those to whom it owes no temporary accommodation duty.

In response, a council spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that the more than 130 rough sleepers who were brought in off the streets are helped to move on with the right support.

“While the letter described sets out our strict obligations under the law, we recognise that this is a uniquely challenging time and we are taking a different approach to support all those who need our help.

“The hotels and B&Bs being used by the council will continue to provide accommodation for those rough sleepers while alternative arrangements are made. There is no fixed date for when that agreement will end.

“The effort to support rough sleepers during this crisis has been unprecedented in its scale and complexity and we continue to work with councils across London on the next phases of the response.”

When asked about the £105 million of funding recently pledged to provide interim housing to rough sleepers taken off the street during the pandemic, the council said: “We are aware of funding announcements from the government but as yet no specific formula to determine each borough’s allocation has been made available.”


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