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Council criticised after failing to suitably house victim of violence

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Council criticised after failing to suitably house victim of violence

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Legal, Local Government

Council criticised after failing to suitably house victim of violence Council criticised after failing to suitably house victim of violence

Croydon Council has been criticised for failing to find suitable accommodation for a woman who was violently attacked in her own home.

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, found fault in the way the council dealt with Ms Andrews' (not her real name) homeless application.

Ms Andrews and her partner were attacked by three men who broke in to their home wielding knives and a hammer. Ms Andrews' partner was hospitalised as a result of the assault.

When Ms Andrews applied for housing for herself and three children, the council only offered her bed and breakfast accommodation.

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 B&B accommodation was considered.

Dr Martin said that she recognised that the council's homeless team is under pressure and that most people presenting as homeless have families which makes it difficult for the council to offer anything other than B&B accommodation.

However, she said that the council is subject to government guidance which clearly states that B&B 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 circumstances were not considered to be exceptional and therefore the B&B accommodation was considered suitable for her needs. I am surprised by that comment. [Ms Andrews] 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."

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.

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.

Dr Martin recommended that the council apologise to Ms Andrews and pay her £2,500 compensation and that it reviews its policy and practice in relation to consideration of homeless applications.

She also said that frontline staff taking homeless applications should be given more training, particularly around how to assess if an applicant has particular circumstances that would warrant something other than B&B accommodation being offered in the first instance.

The council has apologised for the delay in making a decision on Ms Andrews' homeless application and has agreed to pay her the £2,500 in compensation.

Hannah Miller, the council's executive director for adult services, health and housing, said: "We take the findings of this report seriously and offer our sincere apologies for any distress caused.

“Like many local authorities, Croydon is currently experiencing high levels of homelessness and a serious shortage of temporary accommodation. In the last 12 months we have received more than 2,200 homeless applications and placed 1,470 households in temporary accommodation.

"Despite the high caseloads, it is important that we undertake our assessment process properly in all cases and ensure that there is consistency of approach among housing officers.

"Clearly, expected standards were not adhered to in this case. We have therefore taken steps to improve the consistency of our approach to managing homeless applications.

"These include recruiting permanent staff to reduce the reliance on temporary staff; retraining existing staff; introducing an online self-help tool so customers get advice early, and implementing new procedures so customers’ personal needs are always taken into consideration when deciding the suitability of emergency accommodation."

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