The councillor in charge of housing across Cherwell council insists homeless people are not being forced to move to other areas.
Cherwell District Council issued an apology for the wording of a monthly performance report in July that detailed how the housing team “has been looking at areas outside Cherwell” for homeless households “to consider moving (to) as a solution” to long waiting times for social housing and the “unaffordability” of private rents in the area.
Another part of the report highlighted “concerning cases where it appears homelessness is not going to be avoided”, anticipating that the “trend is still likely to be an increase in the need for temporary accommodation into the summer months”.
Those connected problems caused a backlash from opposition councillors with the latest performance report, discussed at this week’s meeting of Cherwell’s executive, omitting those phrases and featuring what the council described as a clarification that was read out by Councillor Richard Mould (Con, Bicester East), the portfolio holder for corporate services.
He said: “Cherwell District Council always fully considers the needs of all clients when offering placements. We never impose offers out of the area, but in some cases, it may be in the best interests of the client.
“We take this responsibility very seriously, and to date this year, have only made six such placements and all by agreement. Examples would be to move for safety reasons or to be closer to family to provide additional support needs. These are all right and proper reasons.
“Cherwell District Council always follows due process and critically puts the needs of the client at the centre of our support and advice.
“The phrasing of the previous report was not helpful and if it caused confusion or concern, we unreservedly apologise.”
It added that anyone who leaves the area can choose to come back within two years and still hold the same housing rights.
Councillor Sean Woodcock (Lab, Banbury Ruscote) questioned what had happened at the time and since. “I want clarity on who the apology is actually from. There seem to be a number of areas where this has fallen down,” he said.
“Let’s be frank, the executive item was on July 6. Two days later, across various local press outlets, including BBC Oxford, there were headlines of district offers to move people out of the area because of the lack of social and affordable housing, linking it directly to cost.
“There was no comment from anyone at this authority to rebut or clarify that. In fact no rebuttal came along until I raised it on July 18.”
District leader Councillor Barry Wood (Con, Fringford & Heyfords) replied, “The answer is the corporate ‘we’. We unreservedly apologise… because it was misleading, and the bottom line is that it led to false narratives. That is why we have gone to some trouble to lay it out.”
Portfolio holder for housing Councillor Nicholas Mawer (Con, Bicester North & Caversfield) accused Cllr Woodcock of “wishing to blame all and sundry”.
He said: “A full apology has been made for the way the text was written, but I think the key thing is that we have nothing to be apologetic for over the policy we are pursuing and the way we are treating our residents. They are being treated sensitively and in a collaborative way.
“There was a narrative around that people were being forced to move out of the area, which is definitely not true. It is really critical that people understand that everything we do in terms of housing our most vulnerable people is done with them and in their best interests.”