Thousands of homeless families living in 'dangerous' shipping containers, report says

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

Thousands of children are living in "dangerous" converted shipping containers prone to mould and damp, a report has found.

The Bleak Houses report by the Children's Commissioner for England said there could be more than 210,000 children without a permanent home in England.

Some 124,000 children are officially homeless and living in temporary accommodation, while a further 90,000 are moving from home-to-home.

However the report said it believes the figures could be much higher.

Shipping containers can be uncomfortable in high or low temperatures, the report found. Credit: PA

Shipping containers are being converted but they can be cramped and uncomfortable it colder temperatures, the report found.

Residents in converted container accommodation in Ealing, west London, said they were prone to damp and mould, as well as overheating.

Office blocks and warehouses are also being used as temporary accommodation for families.

At least 13 office blocks in Harlow, Essex have been transformed into 1,000 individual flats.

Some of the temporary homes measure 18 square metre and are being used to house whole families, with parents and children sleeping in a single room. Credit: PA

Some of the temporary homes measure 18 square metre and are being used to house whole families, with parents and children sleeping in a single room.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing and homelessness charity Shelter, called the analysis “damning” and said homelessness was “robbing… children of a decent childhood”.

“No child should be spending months, if not years, living in a converted shipping container, a dodgy old office block or an emergency B&B,” she said.

“The devastating impact this has on a child’s development and wellbeing cannot be overstated.”

Omid Mehdi is a part of a family of six, and they squeeze into two tiny bedrooms in west London, which they were only meant to live in for a couple of months.

It's been two years.

"When it's summer, it's really hot. When it's winter, it's really cold," he said.

"It's tough, but we have to hope for the best."

In a statement, Ealing Council said it has no choice but to use shipping containers like this to house homeless households because of the sheer number of families who need their help and the because of the serious shortage of social housing in the area.

The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield also expressed concerns about B&Bs used as temporary accommodation, creating “intimidating and potentially unsafe environments” for children.

The bathrooms in B&Bs are often shared with other residents and vulnerable adults, including those with mental health or drug abuse problems, Ms Longfield said.

Of the 2,420 families known to be living in B&Bs in December 2018, a third had been there for more than six weeks – despite this being unlawful.

Analysis in the report, released on Wednesday, found that in 2017, around two in five children in temporary accommodation had been there for at least six months.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield expressed concerns about temporary accommodation Credit: PA

Around one in 20 – an estimated 6,000 children – had been there for at least a year.

The report warns that a further 375,000 children in England are in households that have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments, putting them at financial risk of becoming homeless in the future.

Commenting on the report, Ms Longfield said: “Something has gone very wrong with our housing system when children are growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and old office blocks.

“It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time, or to sofa surf."

A Government spokesperson said: “No child should ever be without a roof over their head and we are working to ensure all families have a safe place to stay.

“If anyone believes they have been placed in unsuitable accommodation, we urge them to exercise their right to request a review.

“We have invested £1.2 billion to tackle all types of homelessness, including funding a team of specialist advisers which has, in two years, helped LAs to reduce the number of families in B&B accommodation for more than six weeks by 28%.”