CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Daylight robbery! Housing costs are too high for cops

Police officers say they’re struggling with price of living in London as study finds only 17 Camden officers live on patch

16 June, 2016 — By Richard Osley

POLICE officers struggling to pay the bills are being priced out of Camden, undermining Scotland Yard’s attempts to get more Londoners on the beat.

The New Journal can reveal that London bobbies have left a slew of messages on the Metropolitan Police’s intranet – private web pages which can only seen within the force – warning that their wages do not stretch to cover the cost of rent or allow them to save for a deposit to buy a property.

The cries for help coincide with the release of research from Highgate councillor Sian Berry – one of two new Green assembly members at City Hall – which revealed only 17 of Camden’s borough police officers live on the patch. In Camden, she warned, police would have to use 87 per cent of their take-home pay to meet the average monthly rent.

It is the latest red alert from public service staff and follows similar warnings from firefighters and nurses that areas such as Camden are becoming unaffordable. Last year, we revealed how a teacher was commuting from as far away as Folkestone to take lessons at one of the borough’s schools.

The messages posted by police officers on a section of the Met’s intranet known as “The Rumour Mill” also reveal frustration that a travel subsidy, known as the ATOC scheme, which previously helped officers live in the commuter belt around London, is being phased out. The pleas for help, an anonymous way of rela­ting concerns to the Yard’s top brass, were released under the Freedom of Information Act.

“How can we save for a deposit when you force us to pay London rent?” said one officer. Another added: “It wasn’t too many years ago when the job openly encouraged officers to live where they wanted to and take advantage of cheaper housing outside London. Come March 2018 the Met will wash its hands of the ATOC scheme and thousands of officers will be unable to afford to travel to work.”

The “Rumour Mill” messages also include a warning from an officer that “morale is pouring out the cracks of the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service)” as officers struggle with the pressure to live in or close to their patch and the temptation to move out of London. Officers and police staff who use the site, which is aimed at stopping unfounded gossip spreading through the force, are either told that their questions are not relevant or receive some form of reply from the Met’s internal commun­ications department.

When asked on “The Rumour Mill” about the difficulty in saving for a deposit on a property while spending so much on rent, the answer came back: “The decision to buy property is a personal choice, like getting married, and not essential to being a police officer.”

The messages kept coming, however, with one officer posting: “I grew up in London but was forced to move out because I’m not paid enough to be able to live there. Officers will still move out due to housing costs. What about positive steps to address this rather than punitive ones.”

There has also been frustration among officers posting to the site that, while travel perks are being removed, several chief officers at the Yard are handed expensive “company” cars. The old joke in policing circles used to be that the last place to get into trouble was the train leaving Euston heading to Hemel Hempstead, due to the number of officers who would be on board having moved out to towns on the line, such as Oxhey, Bushey and Tring.

In fact, the theory was that it was healthy for officers to be able to live away from the turf they were policing. But three years ago, the Met announced plans to recruit more Londoners, in a move police chiefs hoped would create a force which matched the diversity within the capital as a whole, with more women and people from minority ethnic groups.

The ATOC scheme was stopped for new recruits, who were told they had to have lived in London for three of the last six years. This plan has failed to hit its targets, Cllr Berry said yesterday, after she released her first major report since being elected to City Hall in last month’s London elections. Her figures show that 56 per cent of Camden’s police officers live outside the capital.

Cllr Berry said: “If the police service is to have a real understanding of London’s diverse boroughs and communities, we have to recruit and retain more officers who don’t just look like the people they serve, but who come from and live in our communities.”

She added: “With little progress made, the Mayor, the Met Comm­issioner and the new Deputy Mayor for Policing must revisit the issue of where our police live.

“Promises to achieve ambitious goals for ethnic and gender balance depend on making more effective plans to recruit from within London and to incentivise officers to stay in London when their family circumstances and housing needs change.”

She warned that officers only had a chance of keeping more than 50 per cent of their take-home pay once average rents were paid in a handful of boroughs. The statistics in Islington and Westminster paint a similar picture to Camden.

A police spokesman said: “The Metropolitan Police Service introduced a residency requirement in 2014, so all new police recruits have to have lived in London for three out of the last six years. Londoners have a better knowledge and understanding of local issues, the diverse range of communities and an inbuilt insight into London’s varied cultures. We are attracting sufficient officers from inside London to meet our recruitment needs.”

He added: “Existing officers have access to a subsidised travel scheme (ATOC) and free travel on TfL. Officers have access to the various government right-to-buy schemes. Turnover levels remain low, so whilst we keep a careful eye on the impact of high costs of living in London, this is not, at this time, impacting on our ability to recruit or retain officers.”

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