HOMELESS North-East families are being placed illegally in bed and breakfast accommodation – at a cost of up to £700 a week to local taxpayers.

Five local authorities are among scores across England that are being forced to use B&Bs for longer than the six-week legal limit.

Labour, which uncovered the information, described the situation as an “absolute disgrace” – blaming the government for a toxic mix of welfare cuts and lack of affordable housing.

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Guest houses and hotels are meant to be a short-term solution only – because of the misery for families with children, with nowhere to cook, play, or do homework.

Only last year, ministers insisted only a “small number” of councils were booking B&Bs for longer than the six-week limit. In fact, Labour found 125 that are doing so.

They include:

* Darlington – at a weekly cost of up to £350.

* Stockton-on-Tees – at a weekly cost of up to £398.

* Sunderland – at a weekly cost of up to £700.

* Durham and Redcar and Cleveland – although neither of those two councils provided details.

Across England, the average maximum weekly spend was £650 – but the bill for some local councils in the South is an eye-watering £1,500 or more.

Jack Dromey, Labour’s housing spokesman, said: “It is an absolute disgrace that the number of families with children and pregnant women living in bed and breakfasts for months on end has soared.

“The government’s policies are not just causing desperate hardship for those affected, they’re costing taxpayers millions of pounds every week.”

A spokeswoman for Darlington council said four families had been housed in B&Bs for longer than the six-week limit, since 2010.

She said: “In three of these cases, the families had been allocated permanent properties and in the fourth case the family was rehoused out of the area.

“In all four cases, there were unavoidable delays in the properties being ready for occupation.”

Across England, the number of families in B&Bs beyond six weeks has soared by 800 per cent since the 2010 election – to 880.

In December, housing minister Mark Prisk called in councils with high numbers of homeless families in B&Bs to demand action to “address this unacceptable situation”.

And he hit back at criticism by insisting the government had “invested £470m funding to ensure we continue to have some of the strongest protections in the world against homelessness”.

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