Ombudsman discovers Croydon has 27 families in temporary B&B accommodation for longer than the six-week legal limit
Croydon Council’s housing department, already under critical scrutiny in the aftermath of the Regina Road scandal, has been ordered to pay a mother thousands of pounds in compensation for its failure to provide her and her son with an adequate home.
Councils have a legal duty to rehome people placed in temporary accommodation within six weeks. In this case, the mother and child were left in a small room in a B&B for nine months, in the middle of the covid crisis.
The Local Government Ombudsman passed down the ruling against Croydon Council last week, the latest in a long line of adverse findings against the local authority. Croydon Council has never published any of the Ombudsman’s reports on its own website.
It is only a few weeks since the Ombudsman ruled against Croydon after a cancer patient and her four children were ‘cooped up’ in a single room throughout the covid pandemic because council officials failed to check their own temporary accommodation policy.
Ombudsman reports never identify the victims of local authority abuse or negligence, and in this case referred to “Ms Y” and her son, “Z”.
Their reports says, “Ms Y complained the council placed her in unsuitable temporary accommodation, which was made worse by the covid-19 pandemic.
“The council was at fault.
“It was also at fault for not proactively assisting Ms Y to find accommodation between July 2020 and February 2021, and not telling her it had cancelled her housing register application when it discharged its homelessness duty in March 2021.
“It will apologise, make changes to its processes, and pay Ms Y £2,800 to remedy the unsuitable accommodation.”
According to the report, the mother and son were in “unsuitable” bed and breakfast accommodation from June 2020 to April 2021, “sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities with strangers during the covid-19 pandemic”.
It says, “The accommodation comprised a room with two single beds, and the use of a kitchen and bathroom shared with other families. The toilet was situated in the bathroom so if the bathroom was in use, they had to use the toilet in the bathroom on another floor.
“This meant unavoidable social mixing during the covid-19 pandemic. Ms Y said there were regularly other families moving in and out, so they were sharing with strangers and maintaining hygiene was difficult.”
The son, Z, “had to sit on a bed in the same room as his mother whilst schooling was online”.
As the Ombudsman points out in outlining the duties and responsibilities of the council, “Bed and breakfast accommodation can only be used for households which include a pregnant woman or dependent child when no other accommodation is available and then for no more than six weeks.”
The Ombudsman reports lays out how, in attempting to help Ms Y find more suitable accommodation, Croydon suggested a private rented home outside the borough which was many miles from her son’s school and which was unaffordable for her.
The council also claimed that it send Ms Y “regular listings of private rented properties that she could consider but that she did not engage with it”. When the Ombudsman investigated this claim by the council, they found the council had sent her two emails, “which appear to be apparently dated April and July 2021” – that is, after she had already been in the B&B for nine months.
The Ombudsman tells us that Ms Y had never been homeless before and that she did not understand how the council housing system worked, nor to what she and her son were entitled. It was only in February 2021, after she engaged the assistance of a lawyer (“Ms X”), that the council began to treat her case with greater urgency.
Even then, what council officials said, and what they actually did, fell below a reasonable standard of expectation.
Para 24 of the Ombudsman’s report serves as an example: “On 3 March  the council told Ms X it had identified two potential properties for Ms Y and would contact her within the next two days. Neither Ms X nor Ms Y heard from the Council until 24 March, when the Council offered Ms Y self-contained private rented accommodation, which she accepted. Ms Y moved into that accommodation on 1 April 2021.”
In mid-May, the solicitor filed a formal complaint about the treatment of her client by the council, saying that, “It felt like the council had forgotten Ms Y.”
The council responded to the complaint in July, but this was never received by the lawyer. After the lawyer contacted the council again in August 2021, she raised a Stage 2 complaint. Again, she received no response from the council. The following month she lodged the complaint with the Ombudsman.
What the Ombudsman discovered exposes multiple errors and omissions by council housing staff, who apparently even failed to distinguish between the B&B business that was housing Ms Y, and other, not-for-profit accommodation provided by housing associations or the council itself.
The Ombudsman trawled through the correspondence between the council and Ms Y. At one point, the council said that it had checked that the B&B accommodation provided was suitable. “I have seen no evidence it did so,” the Ombudsman’s report says.
“If it had checked, it may have identified the accommodation was no longer suitable, for example, because Ms Y was sharing with her son, and they had no private bathroom to change in.
“It would also have identified that Ms Y had been in B&B accommodation for more than six weeks… Having established the temporary accommodation was no longer suitable, the council should have found her alternative temporary accommodation.
“Ms Y and [Z] suffered a significant injustice as a result of the council’s failings as they remained in unsuitable accommodation for a further eight months until the council discharged its housing duty in late March 2021. The injustice was aggravated by the need to share facilities with other families, who kept on changing, during the covid-19 pandemic.”
The Ombudsman has ordered Croydon Council to “Apologise to Ms Y for its failure to provide appropriate assistance to secure accommodation for her between July 2020 and February 2021, for the unsuitable accommodation it provided between July 2020 and March 2021, for its failure to tell her it had ended her housing register application, and for its failure to respond to her complaint at Stage 2 of its complaints process.”
The council has been told to pay £2,800 “to remedy the injustice caused by eight months in unsuitable B&B accommodation”.
In addition, Croydon must, “Review its policy and process in relation to the provision of bed and breakfast accommodation to families and pregnant applicants”, to ensure its approach is in line with best practice, and provide appropriate guidance to relevant staff. They also have to provide the Ombudsman with a new “Temporary and Emergency Accommodation Strategy”, and need to report to the Ombudsman “on the progress made in increasing the supply of temporary accommodation, particularly for families who would otherwise be in B&B accommodation”.
The Ombudsman says that Croydon must also “review its complaints process”.
According to the Ombudsman, during the course of the investigation of this case, Croydon Council admitted that there were currently 27 other families who were housed in B&B accommodation for longer than the six-week legal limit.
- Inside Croydon publishes these Ombudsman findings, together with links to the full report, because Croydon Council refuses to do so itself
From our archive: My living hell spending 18 months housed in one room in a Croydon B&B
Read more: Ombudsman orders review of Croydon’s temporary housing
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