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Councils’ use of bed and breakfast accommodation failing young people and families, says Ombudsman
In a report published today, the LGO highlights the human impact of councils' inappropriate use of bed and breakfast to house the most vulnerable.
A large family inhabiting a single room for months on end; attempted suicide; a child living in a tent for a year; and a family having to wander the streets rather than return home. These are some of the stories behind the increasing number of cases the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is investigating about council homelessness services – in particular in relation to families and young people.
As a result the LGO is calling on local authorities, central government and policy makers, to learn from the experiences in the report and use them to drive up standards. The LGO also proposes a series of questions that councillors could consider asking their local authorities when scrutinising the delivery of homelessness services.
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:
“My challenge to local and central government, to policy makers, and to our elected representatives is to listen to the individual cases of people whose voices are too often hidden in the homelessness statistics.
“Their complaints provide the opportunity to learn, to use that learning to deliver service improvements and provide public services that are accountable to, and meet the needs of, local people.
“Despite councils telling us that financial pressures and changes to the welfare system are affecting their ability to provide suitable accommodation, this cannot be a justification for failing to meet statutory duties. The impact of not providing a safe and suitable home cannot be underestimated.”
The LGO has seen a 14 per cent rise in the number of complaints about homelessness services over the last two years.
The law allows councils to accommodate families in bed and breakfast accommodation for up to six weeks, but it also says that it is unsuitable and must be for a maximum of six weeks. Councils have to tell families placed in bed and breakfast accommodation that it is unsuitable and that it must secure alternative suitable accommodation within six weeks. Statutory guidance says that bed and breakfast accommodation is unsuitable for 16 and 17 year olds altogether, even in an emergency.
Many of the cases in the report involve people being housed in temporary bed and breakfast for longer than six weeks.