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Ombudsman ruling could leave Croydon Council open to more legal action, warns cabinet member

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A LANDMARK ruling over the use of bed and breakfasts as emergency accommodation may leave the council open to legal action by other homeless families, housing chief Dudley Mead has said.

Last week the Local Government Ombudsman ordered Croydon Council to pay £2,500 compensation to Shemiyah Andrews for placing the mother-of-three and her children in a B&B.

The report reiterated government guidelines which state that homeless families should not be placed in such accommodation for more than six weeks.

Mr Mead, cabinet member for housing, said the ruling set a "dangerous precedent" which has left the council vulnerable to similar complaints from dozens of the 543 families currently in emergency accommodation.

However, he confirmed the council will continue to use B&Bs due to the lack of available alternatives.

When asked about the ombudsman's report, published last Thursday, Cllr Mead replied: "I'm pretty angry about it, to put it mildly. We have a crisis going on and all the ombudsman can do is criticise.

"It could set all sorts of dangerous precedents. What I would say is that we will rigorously defend our actions in all these cases because I think we have been given an impossible situation.

"We have very little resources to deal with. What people don't consider is that we lost 60 houses during the riots. A lot of the stock we had has gone and hasn't been replaced. We are in the middle of a perfect storm."

The ombudsman ordered the council to apologise to Ms Andrews, 31, after ruling that housing officers had failed to take into account that the mother-of-three had declared herself homeless after fleeing her home in terror when threatened by intruders armed with hammers in April 2010.

The council offered her a place at Gilroy Court, in Thornton Heath, which the report deemed "unsuitable".

In total the council took 23 weeks to deal with Ms Andrews' homelessness application, failed to recognise her "desperate need" for accommodation, despite 37 phone calls, and also failed to consider anything but B&B accommodation, despite government guidelines.

As well as instructing the council to apologise and pay compensation, the ombudsman said frontline staff should be retrained in how to assess whether an applicant's particular circumstances warrant something other than B&B accommodation.

Cllr Mead said the council had considered appealing but decided it would not be a good use of public funds.

He said: "Of course we have apologised, but we feel the criticism is extremely harsh.

"I feel a great deal of sympathy for officers who are working under a lot of pressure only to have their slightest mistakes reported to the ombudsman .

"It would take enormous cost and resources to fight the ombudsman and I wasn't willing to do it."

Government guidance indicates that B&Bs are not appropriate for families but, as a last resort, should only be used for six weeks. Figures in October showed that of 254 families in Gilroy Court, 189 had been there longer than recommended.

A homeless family placed in a B&B in Wandsorth told the Advertiser this week that they intended to complain to the ombudsman.

Ombudsman ruling could leave Croydon Council open to more legal action, warns cabinet member


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