Twenty-one years – that is the longest period an Enfield resident has spent in temporary accommodation waiting to be housed by the council.

The shocking figure emerged at a meeting of Enfield’s overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday (November 7), as councillors discussed new plans to tackle the borough’s housing crisis.

Committee members gasped as it was revealed by Nick Martin, the council’s head of temporary accommodation, under questioning by Cllr Achilleas Georgiou (Labour, Bowes).

Mr Martin said: “Twenty-one years is our longest [stay] so far. The average stay in temporary accommodation is two-and-a-half years.”

Mr Martin did not reveal any more about the case.

Temporary accommodation – which can include private flats or homes owned by the council or a housing association – is meant to be a short-term fix while local authorities find suitable long-term housing for people who have become homeless.

But with homes in short supply, people are having to spend longer periods in temporary accommodation – and that comes at a high cost to the council.

Enfield had 3,410 families in temporary accommodation as of April this year – the second-highest number in England.

The main cause of homelessness in the borough is the loss of a tenancy held with a private-sector landlord, according to a report by think-tank The Smith Institute.

Council bosses now plan to intervene early to stop residents losing their homes and work with private-sector landlords to provide people with long-term tenancies.

The aim is to ensure there are no households in temporary accommodation for more than six months, while saving the council £1 million per year.

The committee discussed the practice by neighbouring councils – including Barnet and Haringey – of placing people on their housing waiting lists in Enfield because it costs them less to do so.

Cllr Edward Smith, (Conservative, Cockfosters), warned it would be “almost impossible to stop private accommodation being gobbled up by other local authorities”.

Joanne Drew, director of housing and regeneration, replied: “It is absolutely true we are a net importer of residents. It is a major concern for us, and we have been lobbying the Government about that issue.

“Really, the only way around this is some legislation or requirement to stop boroughs doing this. We need the Government to help us with that.”

Cllr Tolga Aramaz (Labour, Edmonton Green) pointed out that The Smith Institute report says Enfield faces challenges because it has lower levels of social housing than inner London boroughs.

He said: “I would definitely imagine the only way to [meet the six-month target] is to have adequate levels of social housing. I would want to see something on that basis, of how we can maximise social housing to meet this target.”

Ms Drew responded that bosses were recommending a programme of building 2,500 council-owned homes over the next ten years.

But Cllr Aramaz pointed out that council-owned homes can cover a range of different rent levels, and he called for a commitment to the lowest-cost option, social rents.

Ms Drew said the council had done a study of income levels and found all residents in the borough could afford London Affordable Rents, which are higher than social rents.

She added that the Greater London Authority only provides funding for new-build developments if they are offered at London Affordable Rents.

The council could offer a subsidy to ensure GLA-backed homes are provided at social rents – but that would halve the amount of housing it could deliver, Ms Drew said.