Camden's admission that it is prepared to think the unthinkable and shift large numbers of people out of the capital will be a reality check for ministers who have in the past claimed no one will have to move as a result of coalition cuts. Other London councils have warned about the numbers of families that will be affected by the introduction of the household benefit cap. Last month Westminster, a Conservative-run borough, estimated 2,327 households would be affected. In Haringey, one of the four councils chosen to test the changes in April, "temporary accommodation" teams are beginning to collect information about the "income, employment status, personal circumstances and household composition" of 1,000 families who may, according to papers seen by the Guardian, have to move to "lower-cost areas outside of London".
Some authorities have also looked at buying properties outside the south-east. In nearby Brent, where 1,100 households will lose £100 a week after the household cap is introduced, the council has "assessed the costs of procurement in different areas of the country such as the Midlands — including Coventry and Birmingham. We have procured properties so far in Luton, Slough, High Wycombe and Hertfordshire." Camden says it has been forced to act because the government's policy does not recognise the capital's local circumstances. The borough has the fourth-highest rents in the country.
Councillors argue work is no route out of poverty because London has the second-highest childcare costs in the world and house prices are pushed up because Camden's average wage is £37,000, 42% higher than the national average. The result is that rents of three-bedroom properties in Camden are at least double the government's maximum welfare payment of £340 a week for such properties in north London. Yet three-children families in Camden, said the council, will have a £175 a week limit for housing benefit due to the cap. The local authority says it has no more council housing available – it has a waiting list – so has no alternative but to "explore out-of-borough housing options. The local housing allowance [government welfare subsidy] in Birmingham and Leicester for a three-bed is £127 a week."
She said: "Not being given that option to choose where you want to live and where your children go to school isn't fair. The government is taking away people's homes and the places where they've made friends. To think that someone has the power to do that over you … Obviously the government made a lot of mistakes and now everyone is taking the brunt of their mistakes. My children are my priority. If I have to move I will but obviously I'm trying to resolve this."
"We will need to set aside additional funding to deal with the fallout of this policy as more people present themselves as homeless but sadly the only long-term solution for some households will be to move. Camden is a much better place because of the diverse population that make up its social mix and sadly these changes mean that some low income households will be moved further away from their communities, their jobs and their support networks such as friends and family."
However last night sources said that because of the fear of a legal challenge, the coalition's welfare minister Lord Freud was planning to bring forward the date at which the rest of country implement the policy. Stephen Timms, Labour's employment spokesman, said: "This government's incompetence is in danger of creating a cap on benefits that actually ends up costing more than it saves. It is becoming increasingly evident that hapless ministers haven't got the first idea what is going to happen when their changes come in or how much hardship will be caused."