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Councils leave homeless in ‘simply unacceptable’ situations, report finds

Many local councils still fail to ensure homeless families are not stuck in bed and breakfasts for longer than the six-week limit, it said.

Homeless families are routinely being housed in damp or infested temporary accommodation for weeks on end, a report into local councils has found.

Too many people are being left in situations which are “simply unacceptable in modern society”, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said.

Many local councils still fail to ensure homeless families are not stuck in bed and breakfasts for longer than the six-week limit, and some do not advise people of their rights to have their accommodation reviewed, the report warned.

Around 450 complaints and enquiries about councils’ homelessness services are made to the ombudsman each year, while more than two thirds (around 70%) of those investigated are upheld.

The “Still no place like home?” report, published four years on from a similar analysis by the same body which found that councils were leaving families in bed and breakfasts for longer than they should, found that many negatives “have remained disappointingly familiar”.

One family with two young children reported finding cockroaches in the bed and breakfast where they spent 26 weeks after being evicted from their private rented accommodation, the latest report found.

The council paid the couple £1,750 and apologised after failing to properly follow up the reports of pest infestation.

In another case a council paid out £5,700 to a mother-of-three whose diabetic baby son had to be taken to hospital after the family were housed in various bed and breakfasts and a hostel.

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(PA Graphics)

The ombudsman found the unsuitable living conditions were responsible for “many, if not all” of the child’s admissions to hospital.

In his foreword the ombudsman Michael King said: “Unsurprisingly, our cases show some people are still spending far, far too long in unsuitable accommodation – two-and-a-half years in one case.

“We are also routinely seeing people housed in poorly maintained accommodation with significant damp or infestations.”

He said some councils had made efforts to address issues around homelessness, but added that his report echoed the findings of a National Audit Office assessment in September which concluded that the ending of private sector tenancies has now become the main cause of homelessness in England.

He added that the problems identified in London in the 2013 report had spread further, including to councils in Berkshire, Sussex, Kent and Northamptonshire.

Mr King said: “The increasing cost of private rents has meant we have seen a shift towards more people in professions such as nursing, and their families, becoming affected.”

Councils are doing their best to help families who become homeless, but are struggling in the face of high demand and rising costs, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman said.

Martin Tett said: “Councils are facing immense pressures when it comes to temporary accommodation, having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of homeless children every month, and the cost of providing temporary accommodation has trebled in the last three years.

“Local authorities do all they can to place people in the best accommodation available, but the reality is that, with limited housing options, councils often find themselves having to extend stays in temporary accommodation, as the only alternative is that families and individuals find themselves out on the streets.”

He called on the Government to lift the housing borrowing cap to allow all councils to borrow to build, and to adapt welfare reforms to ensure housing remains affordable for low-income families.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution, but we are determined to help the most vulnerable in society. That’s why we are providing over £1 billion up to 2020 to prevent and reduce all forms of homelessness and rough sleeping.

“We are also bringing in the Homelessness Reduction Act – the most ambitious legislation in decades, that will mean people get the support they need earlier. Councils have a duty to provide safe, secure and suitable temporary accommodation.”

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