Bed and breakfast accommodation should never be considered suitable to house homeless young people, according to the Local Government Ombudsman who has ordered a council to pay compensation in a recent case.
The ombudsman’s comments came during an investigation into the conduct of Lancashire County Council, when it placed a violent and vulnerable teenager in public B&B accommodation without assessing his needs as a looked-after-child.
The vulnerable teenager became homeless after he was arrested and bailed for making violent threats and his family refused to take him in.
The young man had complex behavioural, emotional and communication difficulties and his behaviour and drug use had become increasingly problematic after leaving the special school he had been attending in July 2013. He lived for a period of time with his father when his mother found it too difficult to deal with his violent behaviour.
After an earlier arrest, the council completed a core assessment of his needs without consulting his mother. He was assigned a worker from the council’s youth offending team as part of a child-in-need plan.
The YOT worker raised concerns about the boy’s behaviour and felt he was “aggressive and volatile and was capable of carrying out violent threats,” according to the ombudsman.
After his most recent arrest the court granted him bail and issued a directive that it was for the council to decide where he should live, because the court was unable to find a family member willing or able to provide him with accommodation.
Despite concerns about the boy’s level of violence, the council’s children’s services department placed him in public B&B accommodation without any consultation with the housing department.
An LGO spokesperson said: “The teenager spent five days in B&B accommodation, but during that time the council did not carry out a new assessment of his needs—something that it is required to do by statutory guidance on homeless young people.
“The council did not realise that in providing him with accommodation it was treating him as a ‘looked-after child’. The duties to looked-after children are very specific and he shouldn’t have been allowed to stay in a B&B, or without significant support.”
Earlier this year, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) cleared a social worker of misconduct for placing a homeless teenager in B&B accommodation because it found this was in accordance with Knowsley council guidance, which made it clear B&B accommodation was not necessarily unsuitable.
The teenager in that case was housed in B&B accommodation because he was difficult to place and it was the best the council could provide in the context of what was available.
Children’s services are obliged to provide accommodation and support to homeless 16 and 17 year-olds, as outlined in the Southwark judgment.
Ombudsman Jane Martin said she was concerned councils were struggling to meet this obligation, without resorting to bed and breakfast placements.
She said: “Placing homeless young people in bed and breakfast accommodation—even in an emergency—breaches statutory guidance, which exists to ensure vulnerable young people are not left to cope unsupported, alone and at risk of exploitation.
“The publication of this report gives local councillors the opportunity to ask question of their authority to establish whether it can accommodate vulnerable homeless young people like the teenager involved here.”
The council has been instructed to pay the teenager’s mother £500 in compensation and to ensure its policy for homeless 16- and 17-year-olds includes a reference to B&B accommodation never being suitable, even in an emergency. The council will also have to carry out a review of whether it is meeting its duty regarding the provision of sufficient accommodation for its looked-after children.
The council has accepted these recommendations.