The BBC’s Newsnight programme has taken Croydon Council’s emergency housing “policy” apart, exposing them as breaking the law twice over, while failing the borough’s homeless, many of them young children, who are forced to stay in squalid, overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation, while being horrendously expensive for Council Tax-payers.
The BBC programme described Croydon’s conduct as “an indictment of modern Britain”, and even had a government minister live on air declaring that Croydon should change its practices immediately.
After a shame-making report for our borough, demonstrating neglect and abandonment of the homeless, consigning young children to live for weeks in unhealthy, even dangerous conditions, not a single member of our Conservative-controlled council came forward to justify their policies.
Instead, Newsnight interviewed the council’s chief executive, Jon Rouse, who was unable to answer the reporter’s questions convincingly. Just what you’d want from someone paid £248,000 per year.
Rouse denied any unlawful behaviour by Croydon Council and said it was working hard to get families out of bed and breakfast accommodation as quickly as possible. What Rouse, nor the programme-makers, mentioned was that part of Croydon’s solution is the forcible transportation of families hundreds of miles away from their roots, to local authorities, often in the north, which offered similar B&B accommodation, just more cheaply.
Rouse’s denial of any illegality was contradicted by the report, which showed parents with young children consigned to staying in rooms barely bigger than the bed they contained, forced to endure damp conditions, rodent droppings, fire hazards, and a lack of security enabling intruders to get in, and for longer than the six-week maximum laid down by the law.
The B&B hotel featured in the film was home to six households, each forced to live in a single room, with a total of 17 people having to share one kitchen, three toilets and two baths.
Housing minister Don Foster, interviewed after the filmed report, declared that what is being done “is doubly illegal by Croydon”.
“It’s illegal because they’ve got people in bed and breakfast for more than six weeks, and secondly illegal because they’ve got people in property that is clearly unacceptable,” Foster said.
He added that this was “at a time when we’re giving Croydon £1 million a year to deal with homelessness and a further £750,000 to deal with changes in benefits”. He was less able to say what solutions his government might offer for the long-term issues of homelessness and lack of social housing.
Official figures hiding the true scale of the problem
Croydon Council claimed that it had no families in B&B accommodation for more than the legal maximum of six weeks in 2011, although Newsnight said it has evidence that some families were accommodated in this manner by the council, politely suggesting that “official figures may hide the true scale of the problem” – less politely, this can be described as a council cover-up.
It also shows that the 180 such cases uncovered in Croydon this year by Newsnight as representing an alarming rise in homelessness in the borough.
It is Council Tax-payers who foot the bill for our council’s mismanagement in failing to provide sufficient council homes of the right kind – too few of the private developments in the borough demand adequate amounts of affordable housing in return for planning permission, yet hundreds of expensive and “exclusive” “executive apartments” stand empty, unsold (un-sellable?), or unfinished.
From trawling through the council’s invoices, Newsnight discovered that Croydon Council has in the first seven months of 2012 paid £1.5 million – averaging more than £200,000 per month – to just one hotel group alone, EuroHotels, the owners of the Gilroy Court Hotel on London Road, for providing temporary accommodation.
Jane Pritchard, a housing lawyer featured on the propgramme, is threatening to take Croydon to court to try to force it to move long-stay families out of B&Bs. “The law provides that when you are in B&B as a homeless applicant and you have children with you or you are pregnant, the council should not provide you with B&B unless it’s in exceptional circumstances and even then for a maximum of six weeks.
“So the minute Croydon Council put someone in a B&B and are not positively looking for an alternative for them, they are acting unlawfully,” she told the BBC.
Rouse went on camera to deny this. Somewhat unconvincingly. “We are concerned,” Rouse said. “But we are behaving legally. We review all cases on an ongoing basis and clearly as we’re coming up to that six-week threshold, we’re particularly concerned to see if we can identify alternatives for those individual households.”
Rouse also claimed that the B&B featured in the report was regularly – weekly – inspected by council housing and environmental health officers. The BBC reporter suggested that this might not, in fact, be the case, knowing that the programme had hired an independent environmental health inspector who had declared the B&Bs used by Croydon Council to be inadequate and potentially dangerous, as well as illegal.
The inspector, Philip Moxon, said: “Accommodation like this is not suitable for families, certainly with little children. They shouldn’t be here.
“We’ve looked at the electrics, we’ve looked at the heating; we’ve looked at the fire precautions; we’ve looked at the facilities that these people have and they are totally inadequate.
“There are issues here which are in breach of the law and the sad part about it is that the local authority are putting families into property which is potentially dangerous, and against the law,” said the inspector.
How did the Croydon inspectors, who Rouse said attend the B&B “at least once a week”, manage to miss all this? Or fail to get something done to correct the situation?
According to the Labour opposition on Croydon Council, much of the problem, and the exponential growth in the number of homeless in the borough, has been caused by the policies of the ConDem government.
Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, says that the borough is reeling from a 68 per cent cut to affordable housing new builds imposed by the coalition, with 500 homeless residents now living in B&B accommodation, paid for by the council. “This is a direct result of political choices,” Newman said.
It is something with which Rouse seemed to agree, as he told the BBC: “The problem is the lack of availability of private rental dwellings.
“The introduction of caps on the local housing allowance rates means less private rented stock is available to people on benefits.
“The second problem is that people who would have moved on from the private rented sector to buy their own home, haven’t done so. And so again that causes a lack of availability at the lower end of the housing ladder.”
Rouse’s politician bosses, not normally shy when the TV cameras are on, were notable by their absence from this film. Which since it is their policies that they have instructed Rouse to implement, seems a little odd.
Where was Our Brave Leader, Mike Fisher? Or Cuddly Dudley Mead, the Captain Mainwaring of Croydon, who is supposed to be the cabinet member for housing at the Town Hall? Perhaps they were too busy overseeing the on-going construction of the £145million new council headquarters building, being built barely a mile away from the squalid and dangerous B&B that they send some of the borough’s poor and vulnerable to live in.
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