Croydon has been paying up to £26,000 per month to a housing “trust” which has provided sub-standard, dilapidated accommodation in a hostel for vulnerable women in the borough, apparently without the council checking that proper support services were being provided.
In one case this year, a vulnerable woman had been missing for a week from the refuge before staff reported her absence to the police.
A report this week by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism revealed that the London Housing Trust, which owns the hostel was failing to provide the expected 24-hour supervisory service for the hostel to protect the women, many of whom had been subjected to domestic violence.
The BIJ report accuses the London Housing Trust of exploiting the benefits system for profit.
The Trust’s founder, Stephen Dellar, who is described as an “entrepreneur”, has resigned as a trustee of the London Housing Trust following the BIJ report, which was also featured on BBC London News. The housing association regulator, the Homes and Communities Agency, has launched an investigation into the trust’s activities.
Established in 2010, London Housing Trust operates more than 40 hostels across London, offering “supported housing” to around 200 vulnerable, homeless people.
The Croydon hostel provided 16 rooms as “supported accommodation”, for which Croydon Council was paying up to £408 per week per person in housing benefit. This is five times the weekly amount Croydon usually pays as housing benefit; it was able to pay more than the capped amount for benefits because the London Housing Trust offered additional services as part of the “supported accommodation” arrangement negotiated with the council.
But staff and tenants at the Croydon hostel interviewed by the BIJ claimed that the promised caretaker service, charged at £97 per week per person, and 24-hour support for its vulnerable tenants were not being provided.
London Housing Trust dispute these claims. “We have payroll evidence to support our 24-hour staffing commitment. No residents have suffered any disadvantage because of inadequate staffing levels,” they said.
However, the BIJ report states that they “spoke to four tenants at the property who said LHT staff called there during working hours, but did not do so every day, and that their one-to-one sessions with ‘key workers’ were infrequent”. In the absence of staff, some residents were subjected to harassment.
One vulnerable tenant, with a history of domestic violence and mental health issues, went missing from the Croydon refuge in March. It was a week before the Trust’s staff reported the absence to the police.
The Trust told the BIJ: “Between March 19 and 24, several attempts were made to contact the person; we did not consider them to be a ‘missing person’ at this stage as our policy allows the person to be away from the accommodation for up to four days without notification.”
The journalists’ investigation has led to the London Housing Trust removing from its website the false claim that it is a charity. The investigation also discovered that Stephen Dellar, who was the trust’s director and financial director, owns eight properties either personally or through a company, which are then leased to the Trust, in a clear conflict of interest.
Most shocking of all is that despite Croydon Council paying the London Housing Trust tens of thousands of pounds every month to provide a safe refuge for vulnerable women, council staff do not appear to have conducted adequate checks to ensure that the services we were paying for were being delivered, nor that the tenants’ rooms were of an acceptable standard.
Louisa Woodley, the council cabinet member responsible for adult social care, was not available when Inside Croydon contacted her.
The National Housing Federation, a membership organisation for housing associations, has suspended the London Housing Trust from membership until “a full investigation has taken place”.
The Federation is anxious that cases such as the London Housing Trust, and Croydon Council’s slack management of its arrangements, may be used by the Conservative Government to remove the exemption from benefit caps for supported housing because the system is being abused.
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