Data shows that Enfield Council is housing residents in converted office blocks outside the borough.
For years, Enfield Council has been placing families who need emergency accommodation into converted offices in Harlow. This practice, called “human warehousing”, received widespread attention last year when reports by the BBC and Panorama highlighted the appalling conditions that families are living in. Many other newspapers and media outlets, including The Times, The Guardian and Independent newspapers have reported similar issues.
Harlow has become a hotspot for “human warehousing”. Twelve office blocks in Harlow have been converted using controversial permitted development rights and are now being used to rehouse families from London who need emergency temporary accommodation.
There are currently around 11,000 Enfield residents living in temporary accommodation, including 5,000 children. Around a quarter of these are housed outside of the borough, with around 350 in Harlow. One converted office block in Harlow, Greenway House, is owned by Enfield Council via a company called HGL. The Council has also placed families in Redstone House, another converted office block in Harlow.
In September 2019, Enfield Council posted an article on its website: “Temporary housing tackled in bold move by Enfield Council”. This article announced a move “spearheaded by Enfield Council’s Leader, Cllr Nesil Caliskan”, to end the use of temporary accommodation and support those currently housed in the Essex town to return to Enfield and said that; “in the first instance, tenants of Redstone House in Harlow Town Centre will be moved into more suitable accommodation over the next six months.”
We welcomed this move. Housing families outside the borough can create significant challenges in terms of disrupted education and access to support networks, to say nothing of the lasting effects of housing vulnerable families in what is often highly unsuitable and sometimes dangerous accommodation. Families housed in converted office blocks say they feel isolated, with drug-fuelled neighbours and use car parks for playgrounds.
Earlier this year we made a number of Freedom of Information requests to check the Council’s progress. The data we received, which runs up to the end of February 2020, suggests that the delivery of the Council’s “bold move” has so far not matched the ambition. Based on the data we received from the Council we can report that:
- In the six months following the announcement, the overall number of Enfield residents living in temporary accommodation outside of Enfield actually increased.
- Over five hundred and fifty Enfield residents have been placed in temporary accommodation outside the borough since the announcement.
- The number of Enfield residents living in Redstone House and Greenway House in Harlow has barely changed since the announcement (Redstone House is down from 68 to 54 and Greenway House went from 162 to 161). The overall number living in temporary accommodation in Harlow has reduced slightly from 393 to 352.
- The number of Enfield residents being placed in temporary accommodation in Harlow has reduced substantially but it has not stopped (32 residents were placed in temporary accommodation in Harlow between September 2019 and February 2020, compared to 99 a year earlier).
It was never going to be straightforward since there is a lack of suitable accommodation in the borough and significant financial challenges. Nevertheless, progress since the announcement has been mixed. Enfield’s residents are still being housed in Harlow and the overall number of people being placed in temporary accommodation outside Enfield remains high. The specific target of rehousing tenants living in Redstone House has not been met.
Making a bold announcement is one thing but delivering workable local solutions to complex problems will take time, a deep understanding of the issues and ongoing commitment.