'Foreigners' do not jump the council housing queue in Croydon
WITH more than 10,000 people competing for Croydon’s council houses, rumours surrounding allocation are rife. But the often-touted idea that foreign nationals jump the queue is simply not true, as David Churchill and Annabel Howard report
THE perception that vast amounts of Croydon's council housing is being given to foreigners is at odds with the true picture, an Advertiser investigation has found.
A poll of 100 people living on the borough's council estates revealed residents, on average, believe 49 per cent of available stock is given to non-British residents.
But figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show the real figure is actually around seven per cent.
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The data shows that of 592 council properties let during 2010/11, just 41 were given to people registered as foreign nationals.
Meanwhile 90 per cent went to Brits while the nationality of the remaining three per cent was not recorded.
Although a total of 1,094 properties were let that year, for which only 592 of the residents' nationality was recorded, Croydon Council's member for housing Cllr Dudley Mead said the figures smash the "myth" that foreigners are prioritised over local people and are a "fair representation" of the system as a whole.
He said: "We have strict criteria which is not done on the basis of colour or origin, and I have to say very few foreign nationals qualify.
"I actually thought it would have been smaller - about five per cent.
"That the majority of council housing is allocated to foreign nationals is a myth. The facts in the case of Croydon certainly don't bear out that myth. In terms of housing we try to work on the basis of Croydon houses for Croydon people and I think we achieve that. They have to be in Croydon a long time to be allocated a new house.
"The process is complicated, rigorous and very hard and is based on a matter of need.
"The idea that housing goes mostly to foreigners is a lot of emotive language spoken by those that don't know and frankly it stirs up social unrest and it has to be abhorred."
He also branded "nonsense" the idea foreign nationals are given housing within weeks of arriving in Croydon.
However, London-wide figures show Croydon prioritises Brits more than neighbouring boroughs – Ealing and Merton gave 45 and 16 per cent of their newly-let properties respectively to foreign nationals during the same year.
Croydon, which currently has 14,000 homes in its stock with 10,144 families and individuals on the waiting list, is part of the London Wide scheme which means five per cent of the borough's housing has to be made available for people from other boroughs which become oversubscribed.
Following the release of the figures, the Advertiser this week surveyed 100 people from estates across New Addington, South Norwood and Kenley – with people on average saying they thought 49 per cent of council housing is allocated to foreigners.
Our survey also showed some people thought as much as 95 per cent of council housing went to foreign nationals. Of those asked all thought it was higher than 25 per cent, with just one person saying they thought it was as low as 10 per cent.
Margaret Cash, 29, from New Addington, said: "It is quite hard to believe. Everywhere we go we can tell that people aren't British."
Michelle Marsh, 52, also from New Addington, said: "I'm surprised. I thought it would be at least 70 per cent – just from what you see in my area."
However Maria Lillis, 47, of South Norwood, guessed the lowest percentage in the survey.
She said: "I didn't think it would be an outrageous number, just around 10 per cent. There a lot of misconceptions about this sort of thing."
A council spokesman said: "Like all councils, Croydon has to comply with the law in the allocation of housing and its allocations scheme has been drafted to conform to national legislation. There is a huge demand for all forms of housing in our borough and we must prioritise applicants according to their needs."
A foreign national is someone who does not hold a UK passport and is therefore not a UK citizen, meaning the figures relate to either recent immigrants or people who have not applied for British citizenship.
The most common reason given by those seeking council housing in Croydon between April 1, 2011 and March 31 this year was that they had been kicked out by their parents.
Some 362 of the 1,644 who approached the local authority cited parental eviction – with a further 319 saying they had been thrown out by friends or relatives.
The next biggest reason given – accounting for 120 people – was fleeing domestic violence.
Other reasons included mortgage repossession (24), eviction from private accommodation because of arrears (68) and care leavers (55).
Despite the UK Border Agency’s national asylum processing centre being based in Croydon, just 10 of those seeking council housing were refugees.
THERE are currently more than 10,000 families on the housing register but an average of just 1,300 become available each year.
Homes are given on band basis. Band 1 is for families deemed an urgent priority for rehousing – such as those with severe medical problems. The average wait for a three-bedroom house is 1.4 years.
Band 2 is for high priority families whose current home is overcrowded – needing at least two more bedrooms than they currently have – or those who are homeless. The average wait for a three-bedroom house is 2.1 years.
Band 3 is for medium priority families whose need is less great. They may live in shared accommodation or they may have several different types of need, meaning they have moderate problems coping in their current home. The average wait for a three-bedroom house is more than 10 years.
Band 4 is low priorities – single people who need to leave the family home and people with a less serious medical problem that is affected by their current housing. The average wait for a one-bedroom flat is more than 10 years.
Many of the borough’s hotels are full of people waiting for council accommodation, while others unable to secure a council house rent privately.