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Croydon Council criticised over bed-and-breakfast accommodation for homeless family

Archived press release

Date Published: 20/12/12

Croydon Council failed to offer suitable accommodation to a mother who had been violently attacked in her previous home, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

Her report, issued today, highlights the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation to house homeless families, a problem also recently highlighted by BBC London.

The Ombudsman said: “I am concerned at the way in which frontline staff implemented the Council’s policy for the allocation of interim and temporary accommodation in this case in that I have seen no evidence that anything other than bed-and-breakfast was considered for [the complainant]. I recognise that the Council is a large authority and that its homeless team is under pressure. I also recognise that most people presenting to the Council as homeless have families, which makes it difficult for the Council to offer anything other than bed-and-breakfast accommodation. However, the Council is subject to government guidance which clearly states that bed and breakfast accommodation is not suitable for homeless people with families except as a last resort and then only for a period not exceeding six weeks.”

She added: “The Council has put forward the view that [the complainant]’s circumstances were not considered to be exceptional and therefore the bed-and-breakfast accommodation was considered suitable for her needs. I am surprised by that comment. [The complainant] had experienced a violent attack on her home. Given that the attack involved a hammer and knives and resulted in her partner being hospitalised I find it difficult to understand what circumstances the Council would consider to be exceptional if it does not consider [the complainant]’s circumstances to be exceptional.”

‘Ms Andrews’ (not her real name for legal reasons) applied to the Council for housing for herself and her three children, following a violent incident at her home where she and her partner had been attacked by three men who broke into her property with weapons and assaulted them.

The Ombudsman found fault in the way the Council dealt with Ms Andrews’ homeless application because it:

  • delayed making a decision on the application and in offering her accommodation
  • failed to consider whether the interim accommodation offered to her was unsuitable and failed to identify more suitable accommodation when she refused that accommodation on grounds of accessibility, and
  • failed to consider whether bed-and-breakfast accommodation was suitable for her given that she had left her home as a result of a violent attack and had three young children, when Government guidance indicates that bed-and-breakfast accommodation is not appropriate for homeless applicants with families except as a last resort.

As a result, Ms Andrews was left living in unsuitable accommodation for at least nine months longer than she should have. She also experienced distress and had to take time and trouble in pursuing her complaint.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the Council:

  • apologise to Ms Andrews and pay her £2,500 compensation
  • review its policy and practice in relation to consideration of homeless applications, and
  • undertake staff training for those frontline staff taking homeless applications, particularly around how to assess if an applicant has particular circumstances that would warrant something other than bed-and-breakfast accommodation being offered in the first instance.

Report ref no 11 005 774