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
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.
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.
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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