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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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System “failing families”

November 05 2013


A the 17-year-old forced to live in a tent for almost a year; a mother who fled domestic abuse and was housed in a B&B with single men who scared her so much she walked the streets with her three children rather than return home.

And a 12-year-old girl who made an attempt on her own life while living in a single cramped room with her mother for almost five months. Perhaps you”ve heard similar stories.

Even so, the new report by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) on the sharp increase in complaints about accommodation offered to the homeless in England makes pretty shocking reading.

It focuses on the "worrying trend" of councils putting an increasing number of the most vulnerable into bed and breakfast accommodation, including families, pregnant women and 16-18-year-olds.

Complaints to the ombudsman have risen by 14 per cent in two years, it revealed last month, with councils struggling as a result of funding cuts to provide the necessary services.

According to law councils can accommodate families in bed and breakfast accommodation but only for up to maximum of six weeks. They must inform families of these regulations and attempt to find alternatives.

Statutory guidance says that bed and breakfast accommodation is unsuitable for 16- and 17-year-olds altogether, even in an emergency.

However complaints included many examples of cases where councils routinely use B&Bs.

To highlight this the report includes the story of 17-year-old Bruce who slept in a tent for a year rather than go into B&B where he feared he would resume his previous drug use. Jennifer, who fled private rented accommodation with her children but was not given any help when she turned down an offer of B&B accommodation also features, along with others.

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.

“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 ombudsman said there had been an increase in the number of homeless people in the UK, and with it an increase in the pressure on council homelessness services.

In 2012/13, 53,540 households were accepted as being homeless, compared with 44,160 the previous year, the report said. Recent statistics show about a third of those who ask for help are turned away.

On 31 March 2013, there were 4,500 households in bed and breakfast accommodation compared with 2,310 on the same date in 2011.

The government said extra money had been provided to councils to ensure that they continued to operate "one of the best support networks in the world".

Earlier this year, a £1.9 million fund was launched - with help for seven of these councils to find better ways to meet the housing needs of vulnerable families.