PEOPLE in Oxford in urgent need of housing are being offered properties as far away as Cardiff and Birmingham by council officials.
Single mothers with nowhere permanent to live are among those who have been told they will have to relocate out of the county if they want city council help to find a house.
People on benefits who are being priced out of Oxford’s private rented market are having to turn to the council for assistance.
And officials say landlords are turning them down – leaving them with no choice but to sometimes look further afield for accommodation.
John McNulty, a solicitor for Oxford firm Turpin & Miller, is fighting to keep several families in the city and has accused city council officials of ‘dumping’ people outside the area.
A cap on benefits and changes in the law allowing councils to put people in private accommodation are behind the change – which has seen 12 families offered homes outside Oxfordshire in a year, four of whom have taken the offer.
Lawyers and council officials say more and more landlords in Oxford do not want people on benefits – so bosses are being forced to look further afield to find housing.
The Oxford Mail has been told that people are being offered properties in places such as Cardiff, Cheltenham and Birmingham.
Mother-of-two Elysha Britnell , 22, has been living in temporary accommodation controlled by the council in Cowley for two years, but was shocked when told she should move out of Oxford for the first time to live in Birmingham.
She is a full-time mum to two-year-old Mya and to Lola, who is four months old, and is on child support and income support. She has refused the Birmingham offer.
Mr McNulty says he is now appealing a decision to evict her from the accommodation and discharge her from the council’s care.
Miss Britnell said: “Lola has serious heart problems, so I need to be really close to a hospital for her.”
She says she has no family or friends outside of Oxford, and has never lived anywhere else.
She added: “I’m Oxford born and bred. If this appeal fails I’ll be completely homeless. I have got nowhere else to go. Even if I go to Birmingham, I may as well be homeless, because I have nobody there.”
Mr McNulty said that the most vulnerable people in the city are being abandoned by the city council and moved to places where they are alone.
Mr McNulty said: “There was a change in the law which now lets councils dump people. Now they can find people out-of-area placements and just discharge their duty to these people.”
Single mum-of-two Lisamarie Richards was offered homes in Birmingham and Cardiff, before she says she was given a final offer in Cheltenham.
She said she has until the end of the week to find somewhere else to live after her private landlord in Bampton Close, Littlemore, decided to sell his house.
Miss Richards, 32, said she spent months trying to find another home, but was priced out of the rental market.
Miss Richards, mother to Charlie, 11, and Oscar, one, said: “I will have no-one. I’ve never lived out of Oxford.
“It is heartbreaking to watch my son come home from school at night and cry.”
Miss Richards – who has child support and income support benefits – also said she helps care for her mum Geri Richards, who lives in Blackbird Leys and suffers from the lung disease emphysema.
Mrs Richards, 57, said: “It has got really, really ridiculous.”
How the law has changed:
The Localism Act 2011 has two key changes that mean Oxford City Council can offer people accommodation out of the city.
Councils can now place homeless people in the private rental sector, so long as they have a contract of at least 12 months.
Many private landlords are refusing to accept people on benefits, so councils can be forced to look to other cities.
The law also now lets the council “discharge the main homelessness duty” to find an applicant accommodation if the applicant “refuses an offer of accommodation which the authority is satisfied is suitable”.
It can now discharge that duty of care without the applicant’s agreement.
Mr McNulty says cases of people being offered homes outside the county are becoming increasingly common.
He said: “We’ve been seeing more and more people in this situation. Since December we’ve had eight cases.”
Scott Seamons, Oxford City Council’s board member for housing, blamed the cap on housing benefit.
He said: “Due to cuts in the Local Housing Allowance, it’s become increasingly difficult to place people with private landlords in Oxford.
“There’s too much choice for landlords, so they’re refusing people on benefits.”
He added: “Our first choice is absolutely to keep people in Oxford. I don’t want to see people being pushed out of the city. We’re doing what we can to build new houses. It’s the only way we’re really going to be able to make a difference.”