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B&Bs never suitable accommodation for homeless children and young people, Ombudsman warns

Vulnerable teenager housed in B&B for 5 days

Bed and breakfast accommodation is not suitable to house young homeless people – even in an emergency – the Local Government Ombudsman is reiterating.

The message has been prompted by an LGO investigation into Lancashire County Council, after a vulnerable teenager with significant behavioural problems was housed by the council in a B&B when his home life broke down.

The teenager, who had complex behavioural, emotional and communication difficulties, and who was a cannabis user, left the special school he had been attending in July 2013. He moved in with his father as his mother was finding it difficult to deal with his violent behaviour.

During the time the teen lived with his father, his behaviour and drug use became increasingly problematic; he was arrested and bailed on several occasions. In November 2013 the council completed its Core Assessment of his needs without consulting his mother, and acknowledged the process had taken too long. It offered the father and the teenager a support package which they declined.

A Child in Need plan was drawn up which said a worker from the council's Youth Offending Team (YOT) would provide support for the teenager. When the YOT worker met the family he had concerns about the boy's behaviour; he felt the teen was aggressive and volatile and was capable of carrying out violent threats. After one particular threat, the teenager was arrested and held in police custody for two days until his court appearance.

The court bailed the boy and directed that he should live and sleep as directed by the council. As no family members were willing or able to take him in, the council's Children's Services department placed him in public B&B accommodation. This was despite his YOT worker's concerns about his level of violence, and without any consultation with the Housing department.

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 should not have been allowed to stay in a B&B, or without significant support. The first time the council visited him at the B&B, was two days into his stay.

The mother complained to the council about how it managed the family's situation. She was not happy with the council's handling of her complaint and contacted the Ombudsman.

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, 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.

"We shared our findings on councils' inappropriate use of B&B accommodation to house families and children in a national report in 2013, and it is troubling that I am still reporting on individual cases like this.

"I am particularly concerned that the council is struggling to meet its obligation to have sufficient appropriate accommodation, and is therefore unable to confirm this situation would not arise again. The publication of this report gives local councillors the opportunity to ask questions of their authority to establish whether it can accommodate vulnerable homeless young people like the teenager involved here."

To remedy the complaint, Lancashire County Council has been asked to apologise to the mother for failing to involve her in its Child in Need assessments and for the additional time it took to consider her complaint at all three stages of the complaints procedure.

The council should also:

The council has accepted the recommendations.