Welfare reforms could lead to extension of child abuse safety net

An information-sharing system set up to protect children from abuse after the death of Victoria Climbié could be extended because of the government’s controversial welfare reforms.

Umbrella group London Councils is exploring whether the Notify tracking system could follow families displaced by the changes, including those to housing benefit.

Around 10,000 households in the capital could be forced to move home when the government alters the way housing benefit is paid in October 2013, according to a report by London Councils. The potential resulting exodus of vulnerable families from expensive to cheaper boroughs has sparked concerns that some will fall off vital support services’ radars.

The risk of ‘losing’ vulnerable children in the system was highlighted in Lord Laming’s 2003 report into Victoria’s death. The eight-year-old died after suffering horrific abuse, despite contact with three council housing departments and four social services teams. The Notify tracking system was set up in response to that worry. It currently tracks homeless families in temporary accommodation.

A spokesperson for London Councils confirmed it was exploring whether Notify could track families displaced by the reforms. The system would currently ‘not pick up families moving around private rented sector accommodation through changes to the local housing allowance’, he added. ‘There have been discussions to explore whether the scheme can feasibly be extended.’

Concern about the effect on vulnerable families of the welfare overhaul has also prompted a two-pronged attempt by local and national politicians for changes to the Localism Bill.

Haringey Council, the last authority responsible for Victoria’s welfare, wants the Localism Bill to ban inner London authorities from shifting vulnerable families into cheaper, privately rented homes in outer London boroughs. An internal report drawn up last year for Haringey Council’s Labour leader revealed that almost 5,000 households were living in so-called out-of-borough temporary accommodation leased by 31 boroughs.

According to recent council papers, a clause to ‘mitigate the impact of significant migration’ should be introduced into the Localism Bill.

A spokesperson for Haringey Council described the government’s support for authorities dealing with homelessness as ‘nothing short of inadequate’. ‘The council will face ever-increasing demand for services as a result,’ she added.

The national Labour Party is pushing for a separate change to the Localism Bill that would exempt families with children subject to protection measures from the government’s proposed £26,000 benefit cap.

Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston and former chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, this week said the party would push for an amendment in the Lords.

Inside Housing is calling for more equitable welfare reform with its What’s the benefit? campaign.