A Lewisham committee said temporary accommodation (TA) must be inspected in person by the council before children are allowed to live in it following a worrying review.  

The children and young people’s select committee has set out a host of recommendations after its review of the impact of living in TA, which detailed the severe and long-lasting effect it can have on children.  

As of June 2019, there were 2,195 Lewisham households living in TA, including 4,464 children.  

A Freedom of Information request in January showed that more than 2,000 people on the list for a permanent home in Lewisham have been waiting a decade or more.   

The committee released a report in January, which included evidence from parents saying that they found “used condoms, syringes and other drug paraphernalia in communal spaces, rough sleepers in the hallway, and filthy foul-smelling common parts” where they were temporarily housed.  

Parents also reported rats, mice, overcrowding, and landlords being slow to do repairs, as well as treating tenants in a “derogatory” way.  

The report detailed the significant mental and physical impact on children living in TA, including social isolation, bedwetting, and a 25 per cent risk increase of disability or severe ill-health.   

Children living in overcrowded housing are up to 10 times more likely to contract meningitis, while as many as one in three have respiratory problems in adulthood. 

The committee’s final report, set to go to mayor and cabinet on Wednesday (October 7), includes 10 recommendations. 

It said that no families with children under 18, care leavers, or 16 and 17 year olds should be placed in nightly paid accommodation. 

“This is because sharing kitchens, bathrooms and/or toilet facilities with strangers has a profoundly damaging effect on children and young people’s physical and mental health, which can impact on school attendance, academic attainment, and cognitive development,” according to the report. 

The committee recommended that properties be inspected in person by or on behalf of Lewisham Council before anyone is placed – they should then provide a written report with photos on the condition of the accommodation.  

It recommended that the homelessness reduction team looks to identify where children are more likely to be evicted and that a liaison officer be appointed to work with the children and young people directorate and housing “to facilitate joint preventative work”.  

The committee recommended that the housing department collects data on types of placements, numbers of children, and ethnic profiles which it updates at “reasonable intervals”, and that the department “responds swiftly and thoroughly to enquiries from members, officers outside the department and other stakeholders”. 

The committee said “clear and accessible” information should be provided to all households on their legal rights, as well as general information about local amenities.  

It advised that communication with tenants must be “more open” and a culture “that builds trust, transparency and information-sharing be encouraged”.  

The committee said that placing a family in TA outside the borough “should not contain an assumption in advance as to the location of their settled/ permanent accommodation”.  

It suggested creating a new post focused on the welfare of children who attend school in Lewisham but are placed out of the borough.  

During its investigation, the committee heard that a family had to leave the house at 6am to get to school on multiple buses as the train fare was unaffordable.  

“The early start can mean little time for breakfast and the children arriving at school hungry.  

“Even if the child has eaten breakfast, a very early start means a long gap between breakfast and lunch, and hunger can affect concentration,” according to the report.  

Finally, the committee said information from Shelter, which provides advice to school staff on how to support homeless pupils, should be circulated to all schools in the borough.