Council offices’ public area closed after ‘very serious incidents’

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Following the alleged serious assault of a vulnerable woman refugee, the council has shut its Access Croydon walk-in area, making the local authority even more remote from the people it is supposed to serve. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES

No access Croydon: the council’s offices have been closed to the public

Access Croydon, the public walk-in area in the council offices at Fisher’s Folly, has been closed indefinitely following “several very serious incidents” which have raised safety concerns for staff and members of the public.

One of the shocking incidents is known to have involved a homeless, 26-year-old black woman who claims to have been verbally and physically assaulted by three security guards, when all she had done was to turn up at Access Croydon for an urgent housing interview.

The young refugee, known to be a suicide risk, required hospital treatment following her traumatic experience at Croydon Council. The incident is now subject to formal complaints.

The council’s town centre customer contact centre on the ground floor of what some still persist in calling Bernard Weatherill House was supposed to provide one-on-one access to council services, allowing council tenants to pay their rent, or for residents to check their Council Tax and housing benefit accounts, arrange for parking permits or a bulky waste collections, or deal with other mundane services such as ordering a new waste bin or requesting a repair.

For most of the last decade, successive council administrations have conducted a cost-cutting drive to go “digital first”, cutting staff while getting the public to try to navigate the council’s ill-designed website or use their crap app, all in an effort to eliminate personal contact with residents as much as possible. Contacting the council by telephone has become an almost impossible task for most Croydon Council Tax-payers.

But Access Croydon has remained the place where vital face-to-face meetings between officials and residents can take place, often on emergency matters such as housing.

Yet even this service has been denied to residents so far this month – although the important matter was not raised or discussed at last week’s meeting of the full council, where councillors are supposed to scrutinise the performance and decisions of the local authority’s paid officials, headed by council chief executive Katherine Kerswell.

Bunker mentality: Katherine Kerswell

According to an internal council memo, seen by Inside Croydon, “the difficult decision” to close Access Croydon was taken following “several very serious incidents” happening in the offices “which have highlighted the need to review how we are set up”.

The memo, sent on September 29, appears to have been written in the aloof, patronising tone of Kerswell that has become so familiar to council staff over the past three years.

It continues: “The safety of our staff and residents is an absolute priority so we will be looking at a number of areas where we can make improvements.

“This will include practical things like how the front desk is configured and security staff ratios, through to the wider resident journey and exactly how, where and when residents interact with us.” This really was written by someone who does not want to have to come into contact with the public…

The note went on to say that despite Access Croydon being closed, “Please be assured we are not closing the service.” That’s because there will be “our intercom system in place for anyone in urgent need”. So that’s all right then.

“Teams will also have a duty physical presence in BWH [meaning Fisher’s Folly], so we can support residents as quickly as possible while we carry out these important works.”

There is a dark and sinister side to all this, in that the closure has only come in response to what even the council’s memo writer described as several very serious incidents.

Fisher’s Folly: the council offices are now more remote from the people they are supposed to serve than ever

The shocking account of just one of those incidents, involving the vulnerable and homeless young refugee woman, indicates that the issues with Access Croydon lay not with “the wider resident journey”, but with the training and conduct of council staff, and the bunker mentality of many directors.

According to a formal complaint lodged with Mayor Jason Perry, the woman “was confronted by three male council security officers who forcibly removed her, causing her harm and distress”.

This incident was recorded on audio and video, with the person lodging the complaint stating, “We must emphasise that the cruelty witnessed in these events is unacceptable.”

The woman, the complaint says, “screamed and was visibly shaken, her body was exposed and injured”.

This, remember, was a woman who was attending Access Croydon for an appointment called by a member of the housing staff, which had already been cancelled by the council official at least three times before. Left without any accommodation, the vulnerable woman had spent weeks with nowhere to live, forced to sleep on London buses.

According to the account of the incident, the woman “suffered injuries to her right wrist and abdominal area and bleeding from her legs, in addition to her genitals.

“She was hospitalised and later discharged.”

The Metropolitan Police sent two male officers to attend the incident, which the complainant claims “reported that the three male security officers were simply ‘doing their job’.”

Croydon Council has as yet given no indication when Access Croydon might reopen.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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13 Responses to Council offices’ public area closed after ‘very serious incidents’

  1. Sally Harper says:

    The sooner useless KERSWELL is kicked out of the Council, the better.

    There is no question Croydon has many challenging issues but if Kerswell’s response is to shut things down rather than engage with the root causes and importantly adapt short term so facilities remain open, what hope does this borough have?

    Why can people not see what a lazy, uninterested, underperforming leader she is?

    She sneaked in the back door and now should be kicked out of the front.

    Croydon deserves better!

  2. Andrew Pelling says:

    Croydon council is here to tax you, not to provide a service.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Are you going to stand again and stop it?

      • Karen Anders says:

        Will you Andrew Pelling?

        • Andrew Pelling says:

          It is kind of you to ask Karen. If I could mount a credible electoral challenge I would run for elected office again.

      • Andrew Pelling says:

        Very kind of you to ask Ian. If a credible challenge can be made I would run for elected office again.

        Labour needs replacing as the progressive choice in Croydon. Under the Conservatives the council is mislaying money again and nationally the Tory performance is just so poor.

  3. Ken Towl says:

    “Simply doing their job”? Their job description must make interesting reading.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      I think that was perhaps a HR euphemism for

      Doing as we have told them to do in the crap enviroment we have provided to them and our abject failure to support them when it hits the deck. We are only closing to prevent being taken to court for negligence.

  4. Don White says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. In 2019 I visited intending to view public records which the law requires the Council to have available for inspection at any reasonable time. I was denied access. Despite having a copy of the relevant legislation with me the person I was allowed to talk to on the lobby phone refused to come down.

    I wrote complaining to the Chief Executive, but of course received no reply whatsoever.

    I complained to my local MP. Eventually I got him to reply. But he only parroted the Council’s excuse to me that I should have made an appointment. The Law says otherwise.

    So, I made an appointment. Again, I was barred by the security goons.

    I wrote again, complaining. I was only told again, eventually that I should put my request in writing but how would I know what I wish to research until I see it?

    So, I asked for two sample pieces of information. On one I got a bland reply with no supporting evidence and the other, I was told, was too complicated for them to look at.

    I gave up – which was what they wanted me to do.

  5. Lancaster says:

    ” This really was written by someone who does not want to have to come into contact with the public ”

    Or their own staff and team members; absolutely zero people skills.

  6. Ian Kierans says:

    The safety of our staff and residents is an absolute priority so we will be looking at a number of areas where we can make improvements.

    “This will include practical things like how the front desk is configured and security staff ratios, through to the wider resident journey and exactly how, where and when residents interact with us.”

    There are so many examples of where Residents are not an absolute priority and are ignored so that statement is patently bollocks.

    I am not even going to go in to how much Fisher spent on that building and the 15% we are all paying for a Public access area for needed services including emergency that is not and never has been fit for purpose – as she intimates in that paragraph.

    Can you imagine any other public service saying this.

    Their respective employers have regular assessments at very regular intervals and safeguards in place that are updated regularly.
    So what has gone wrong at Fishers folly? Again!

    Irrespective. When a Public service takes the stance Ms Kerswell has, they are no longer providing any service to the most in need.

    This is an admittance they have been unable to take reasonable steps to prevent assault of their staff or customers, and unable to contine to provide a service to those most in need.
    No service – no money or vis a vis.

    What an abject admittance of defeat and rank failure in office!

  7. Sarah Bird says:

    What exactly are the very well paid officers, at all levels actually employed to do at great expense, if not serve the public? Is the clue not in the job title ? Has the concept of work and serving the public passed them by? If so, they should seek alternative employment . I have yet ,to receive a response from the council tax department in many months ,as the paper trail confirms or from Jason Perry direct whom I have emailed direct . This is disgraceful not least in light of the independent reports and the assurances from Jason Perry of improvement. Not seen any improvement whatsoever . Neither has one I have spoken too. Why are they even employed?

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