LONDON borough councils are offering hundreds of pounds to get their tenants to pack up and move out to other areas ahead of looming benefits cuts.
South Essex councils say they are furious they could have to bear the burden of thousands of London tenants descending on already overburdened areas due to the cash incentive schemes.
It comes after the Government announced it would put a £21,000 limit on the amount of housing benefit people can claim from next April.
It will be especially difficult for people in London to find homes which come under the limit. An average two-bedroom flat in a London borough costs £1,930 but in Essex the figure drops to £938.
In the countdown to the capped benefits, councils such as Hackney, are offering tenants at least £500 to move to other areas where rents are lower, including south Essex.
Some authorities are even offering a choice of seaside our country locations.
Furious local councils say initiatives like Hackney’s Fresh Start Scheme are set to put a huge strain on services in Southend, Basildon, Rochford and Castle Point and could push up council tax.
The schemes vary but typically pay either several week’s rent or a deposit for private rented accommodation elsewhere but when the money runs out, local councils will be responsible for paying housing benefit and to trying to accommodate people on already pressured housing lists.
It will mean they will also have to pay for services such as school places and social care.
Defiant Basildon council deputy leader councillor Phil Turner, who is also cabinet member for housing and landlord services, said: “I would give families an assurance they won’t be part of our housing list and I’m pretty sure that our partners, the housing associations, won’t be taking them on either.”
However, the council which already has about 5,000 on its waiting list, like other authorities, cannot refuse to pay for eligible claimants for housing benefit for private accommodation.
Martin Terry, Independent councillor for Southend, said: “We could end up with a whole raft of people coming to Southend who are totally dependent, that will put enormous pressure on our already over-stretched system. At the council we already know we don’t have enough school places, we’ve already got pressures on budgets.”
He said this could also put pressures on free school meals, home to school transport, and even library services. This could even lead to increases in council tax to meet the demands.
Mr Terry added: “I’m ever so grateful to the Echo for picking this up because it’s a serious problem. It’s not about discriminating against any individual families, this is about pure economics and this will threaten Southend’s financial sustainability.”