When Marcus Newton thinks about the amount of money Ealing Council spends housing his family in Travelodges he can scarcely believe it.
Every couple of weeks, when the homeless family’s booking expires, the Newtons pack up their belongings and put themselves at the mercy of the West London local authority’s housing team.
For months, the solution has been the same: Take the corporate credit card and book ten days of accommodation in the budget hotel chain at a cost of over £1,000.
For far less money, Mr Newton points out, Ealing could pay the entire cost of them renting a private sector property.
If the family was an isolated case perhaps the huge spending on hotel accommodation would be understandable. But, as the Newtons have learned from their many moves to Travelodges around West London, the budget hotels are filled with homeless families in a similar predicament to theirs at great expense to the taxpayer.
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“With all the money they are spending they could be building new homes,” Mr Newton told Express.co.uk. “We don’t want to live in a hotel.”
An Express.co.uk investigation into the use of hotel accommodation by councils has revealed local authorities like Ealing are paying as much as £250-a-night per room to house homeless families.
As the cost-of-living crisis drives more families to seek temporary accommodation from their local authorities the pressure on housing demand means people are staying in Travelodges as long as nine months.
In some cases, the majority of the budget hotel chain’s rooms are being used by a local authority at a huge cost to taxpayers. It was recently revealed two-thirds of a Travelodge in Enfield was being occupied by homeless families, which was the same as multiple hotels we visited.
On the surface, the idea of living in a hotel doesn’t sound challenging. As a solution to homelessness, given some of the other available options, it could even be interpreted as luxurious. But Mr Newton is quick to counter any suggestion that months living in a Travelodge could be in any way preferable.
“Some days we go without food,” he explained. “There’s no way for us to cook so we have to eat out or have Pot Noodles. It’s too expensive for us all to eat. We wanted to bring in a microwave so we could at least heat things up, but they sent us a warning letter saying you are not allowed cooking equipment.”
As many of the Travelodges housing families are located off motorways, the issue of not being able to prepare meals is compounded by a limited selection of places to buy food. This is exactly the case in the Travelodges on either side of the M4 motorway near Heathrow being used by Ealing Council. Located in and opposite a service station the isolated nature of the hotels means it costs families as much as £70 a day to eat.
But that is far from the only issue at the Travelodges where the Newton family have stayed. “We saw prostitution and drug dealing,” Mr Newton said of one of the M4 hotels. “There was [another guest in the hotel] a nice enough person, but a prostitute. I’ve seen them being dropped off in cars afterwards with lipstick smudged on their face. Around the back of the hotel, I saw people smoking something using foil.” On another occasion, Mr Newton’s partner was propositioned by a man trying to buy sex.
At a Travelodge in Feltham, in west London, the frightening experiences were even closer. “The dog started going crazy at four o’clock in the morning,” Mr Newton said. “I opened the door and there were kids running down the corridors with zombie knives being chased by police.
“One day I was walking back into the hotel with my son and an addict asked him if he could get him some crack. I told him ‘please don’t ask my son for drugs’.”
Another guest at the Feltham Travelodge said the issues with crime around the hotel were so bad “the police should get a room there”. Several hotel guests said heroin addicts and alcoholics had been put up by the council in hotels with families.
The dangers around many of these locations mean families will often stay in their rooms. But the accommodation is not designed to be lived in and has rules which can make things difficult. For example, guests are barred from plugging in large electrical items like laptops, games consoles and fridges. But for a family with a bored child or one needing to study for exams such a restriction is incredibly challenging.
But breaking the rules has serious consequences. Express.co.uk has seen emails threatening families who breach Travelodge regulations with action on their housing status. This has left the families feeling they’re been “set up to fail”.
“People end up making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ [a status which removes the statutory right for housing] by breaking the rules so the council doesn’t have to rehouse them,” Mr Newton added. “One family even got into trouble for having a machine to heat baby milk plugged in.”
In Feltham, Express.co.uk heard how families who hadn’t adhered to the rules around cooking were being ejected from the hotel on a weekly basis sometimes at night.
Ealing Council has confirmed it has around 75 families staying in commercial hotels currently. At a conservative estimate, based on the prices of rooms Express.co.uk has seen, this means it would be costing them well over £100,000 a month.
But given how cash-strapped local authorities are, the question is where are these funds coming from?
As Travelodge doesn’t accept invoices Ealing Council’s bills are not listed in the normal financial transparency data or budgetary disclosures. However, when asked the local authority did not direct us to where the information was listed about who was clearing the credit card bill.
The council did acknowledge some hotel accommodation in Ealing was being paid from a central fund allocated to local authorities by the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities [DLUHC] known as the Homelessness Prevention Grant.
The top recipient of the Homelessness Prevention Grant, the London borough of Newham, revealed between April and August 2022 it spent £1.45 million on hotel bookings for residents in temporary accommodation.
Responding to the issues raised in this article a spokesperson for Ealing Council said: “The council is currently temporarily housing around 75 families in mainstream hotels as an emergency measure, as the usual B&B options are not available.
“This is clearly preferable to those families being homeless, but we know that it is far from ideal. But with such limited supply, there is sadly no other option. Our officers do their best every day to source suitable affordable accommodation while achieving value for public money, but with each passing day, the options are dwindling.
“It has long been the case that Ealing has a chronic shortage of housing that local people on average incomes can afford. Since the summer of 2022, there has been a seismic shift in the private rented sector and the availability of accommodation in Ealing and across London.
“The council has seen an increase in the number of households who are in urgent need of support with their housing, as the cost-of-living crisis and the financial turbulence of recent months mean that the system – already strained – is now under extreme pressure.
“In addition, the Home Office continues to place a large number of individuals and families who are refugees or who are seeking asylum in the borough, with about 850 households currently living in Ealing in a range of accommodation types, including many of the options that the council may ordinarily use for temporary accommodation.
“While Ealing is a place that welcomes those fleeing violence and persecution, the lack of coordination and support from the Home Office means that it is becoming harder and harder to find somewhere suitable to stay for the hundreds of households who ask for our help. We are facing a temporary accommodation emergency, and the market for temporary accommodation in London is completely broken.”
A DLUHC spokesperson added: “Councils have a legal duty to ensure no family is without a roof over their head. Temporary accommodation is always a last resort and councils must ensure it is suitable for families who have a right to appeal if they think it does not meet their needs.
“We are giving councils £1 billion over three years, to help them prevent and tackle homelessness targeted in areas where it is needed most.
“They can use this funding to offer financial support for people to find a new home, to work with landlords to prevent evictions or to pay for temporary accommodation.
“Local councils manage their social housing waiting lists, and must give people who need to move for medical or welfare reasons priority.”
A spokseperson for Travelodge said: “Similar to many hotel brands we do work with local authorities across the UK to provide short-term accommodation. All parties understand that this is a temporary arrangement until the local authority can find a more permanent solution. We do, however, expect all customers to adhere to our terms and conditions during their stay, otherwise they will be asked to leave.
“If a customer that had been booked via a local authority has an issue regarding their temporary accommodation requirements they need to liaise directly with the local authority who has made their specific booking. Our aim is to ensure that all of our customers have a comfortable stay and it is our policy to operate a strict restriction on the number of people that stay in a room. Our family room is designed to cater for two adults and two children and larger families occupy multiple rooms, however we cannot control their movements during their stay.
“We have conducted a comprehensive investigation in response to the points that have been raised [by this investigation] and we can confirm that we have not received any direct reports of prostitution, drug sales and knife attacks taking place in these hotels.
“The welfare and safety of our customers and colleagues is of paramount importance to us and your feedback is greatly appreciated. We will be speaking directly to the named local authorities regarding the specific points that have been raised and how they can further support their residents that are staying with us. We will also share this information with the local police regarding the local community issues.”
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