‘Drop in the ocean’ as 4% of Westminster’s wealthiest give to homeless fund

Just over 4% of the richest households in a London borough with England’s highest number of rough sleepers have contributed to a voluntary scheme to help relieve the crisis.

Westminster is an area of stark contrasts with millionaires in mansions while hundreds bed down on the streets each night.

Nearly a year ago, the Conservative council asked households in the highest council tax band to consider paying an extra £833 to help the young, homeless and lonely.

Council figures on Tuesday showed 644 properties have contributed so far – just over 4% of about 15,800 band H homes, which are valued at more than £320,000.

The local Labour leader said the sum was a “drop in the ocean” compared with cuts to homelessness services in the area possessing the lowest council tax rates in the country.

Since its launch on March 7 last year, the “community contribution scheme” has raised £603,009. It will be spent on youth services, helping rough sleepers off the streets and supporting the isolated.

A Westminster City Council spokesman said a “significant number” of properties had overseas owners or were unoccupied.

“Those replying have been both enthusiastic and generous – in several cases offering donations up to £10,000,” he added.

Band H households received a letter with their council tax bill in March asking them to consider voluntarily paying double their normal council tax amount.

Those who did not initially contribute to the scheme were sent a follow-up letter in November.

Council leader Nickie Aiken said the contributions showed wealthy householders cared about their neighbourhoods.

“When we first floated the idea of a community contribution scheme, cynics said it would flop, and that wealthy householders didn’t care what happened in their neighbourhoods,” she said.

“The hundreds of thousands of pounds being allocated today shows they do care – and they are quite specific what they want this money to go towards.”

The leader of the council’s Labour group Adam Hug welcomed any new money but said contributions “are dwarfed by the scale of the challenge”, with millions cut from the borough’s rough sleeping contracts in recent years.

“We just need to be honest that it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the cuts Westminster has faced year on year with another £36 million in cuts due this year,” he added.

Government figures last month showed Westminster was the local authority with the largest number of rough sleepers in England during a snapshot carried out on a night last autumn.

The total of 306 had risen 41% since the previous year.

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