Four in 10 Cases of Homelessness in London Due to Eviction

A homeless man sleeps at the entrance to a fine art gallery selling 19th and 20th century paintings in London Luke MacGregor/REUTERS

Government figures have shown that rising evictions in London are a major cause of homelessness in the city and far above national levels, with some reports suggesting that as many as four in 10 cases of homelessness are due to eviction.

A Department for Communities and Local Government report on statutory homelessness, released in December says that there are there were 4,340 homeless households in London in the third quarter of 2014. Although this is a 2% decrease from last year, London still accounts for 31% of all homeless households in the UK.

The government's definitions of homelessness are considered arcane by many. Statutory homelessness refers to households who are legally defined as homeless and thus qualify for housing assistance from the council, but in order to be registered as such, you have to meet certain criteria.

There are, according to Tim Davies, a spokesman for the homelessness charity Crisis, a large number of people who fall outside this definition. It does not, for example, include rough sleeping - which the government defines as people sleeping in the open air, or within a structure that is not meant for habitation. It also does not include people who are in temporary shelters or hostels. A 2013 government report on sleeping rough indicated that London had 543 rough sleepers, a 22% increase from 2011, and also 22% of the entire national figure.

These cases of statutory homelessness often end with people being moved outside the capital. Davies says that while homelessness due to eviction is increasing, there is also "a rise in London councils placing people in housing outside their local area. This is due to a chronic lack of affordable housing, combined with cuts, particularly to housing benefit – many councils in London really struggle to find affordable property in the private sector for homeless people at the LHA rate."

London's rising cost of living and benefit cuts means that many people are finding it increasingly difficult to afford their rent, although housing is becoming more prominent on the political agenda with Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, has called for rent controls in London and the residents of an east London estate successfully protested against an American investor who had bough it and who was planning on more than doubling rents. The U.S.-based company then sold it to a charitable trust.

In November last year, Conservative MPs filibustered an attempt to ban the controversial practice of revenge evictions, where tenants are thrown out for reporting inadequate living conditions. The cross-party bill ran out of time in a second reading where only 60 MPs turned up, according to renter rights campaign, Generation Rent.

In response to the filibuster, Diane Abbott called for rent controls in London to be set at 50% of the local council tax bill. Writing to the UK prime minister David Cameron, Abbott said: "A major international city without measures to stabilise rent runs the risk of rents spiralling out of people's reach. It is no coincidence that New York, Paris and Berlin all have some version of rent control. For too long politicians have rejected any form of rent controls but it is time to look at the issue again."