Councils 'inexcusable' in failing homeless teenager
Two councils have been ordered to pay a teenager thousands of pounds after failing to accommodate him as homeless causing him to live in a tent.
The Local Government Ombudsman released the decision today over Kent and Dover councils’ treatment of the 16-year old, named as J, who suffered physical and mental ill-health as a result.
Both the local authorities failed to see him as a ‘child in need’, which goes against two court rulings by Baroness Hale of Richmond saying social services should not ‘pass the buck’ onto housing in relation to homeless 16 and 17 year olds.
Inside Housing highlighted the issue at the start of last year, showing many councils were still not dealing with 16 and 17 year olds according to Baroness Hales’ directive.
Local Government Ombudsman Anne Seex said: ‘These failures are inexcusable. They happened after important court rulings had clarified the roles and responsibilities that housing authorities and children’s services authorities have to homeless children of 16 and 17.
‘J was remarkably determined and resilient in the face of crushingly difficult circumstances and was well supported by the youth centre. The failures of the two councils could have easily tipped him into a spiral of drug use and crime.’
Ms Seex asked the councils to apologise to J and pay him £10,100 compensation – each to pay half.
J had been in foster care but became homeless at 16 when he was returned to his mother and did not want to live with her because of her relationship with an intravenous drug user.
He applied for housing to Dover Council but was turned away and although a youth centre told Kent children’s services about him they did nothing for six months.
Although Dover Council would not accept him as homeless, they did offer him bed and breakfast accommodation then a one-bedroom flat, but he refused them because he thought he would be tempted by drugs and crime in the areas.
Under pressure from local services, the council eventually offered him a flat but demanded an adult guarantor for the tenancy. For six weeks it refused to accept a £1,000 guarantee from Kent children’s services.
Ms Seex was particularly critical of Dover’s demands about a guarantee, saying they were ‘obdurate’.
Before he was given the flat, J spent months sleeping in a tent, sometimes in snow, or on a friends’ sofa. The tent was vandalised and he suffered physical and mental health during the period. His feet were frequently wet, he had back pain and lost a lot of weight, and developed a chest infection. He also had to sell or give away some of his belongings.
Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb, said: ‘Despite several court rulings in recent years confirming local authorities’ responsibilities to homeless teenagers, many homeless 16 and 17 year olds are still not getting the support they need and are entitled to when they approach them for help.
‘Today’s report highlights how vital it is that local authorities comply with their legal responsibility to implement effective joint protocols for assisting homeless 16 and 17 year olds.’