The Local Government Ombudsman has warned councils not to place homeless young people in bed and breakfast accommodation, even in an emergency.
The LGO issued the alert as it sanctioned Lancashire CC for housing a teenager with drug and behavioural problems in a B&B.
The boy had left his special school and lived with his mother, but she struggled to deal with his violent behaviour so he moved in with his father.
His behaviour and cannabis use worsened and he was arrested and bailed several times. The council carried out a core assessment of him without involving his mother and acknowledged that the process had taken too long.
After threatening his father, the boy was arrested. The court bailed him and said he should live as directed by the council. His bail conditions said he should not contact his father and no other family members were willing or able to take him.
The council’s children’s services department placed him in B&B accommodation, where he spent five days, but did not consult the housing department. It did not carry out a new assessment of his needs as required by statutory guidance on homeless young people.
The council did not realise it should have treated him as a looked after child and was regarding him as a homeless person. But statutory guidance says homeless 16- and 17-year-olds should not be placed in bed and breakfast and nor should looked after children.
The boy’s mother complained about not being involved in the assessment of her child’s needs and about how her complaint was handled. The Ombudsman ordered the council to apologise to her and pay her £500.
It said the council should improve its policy to say that B&B accommodation is unsuitable for homeless 16- and 17-year-olds even in an emergency. It said the council should also not use hotel accommodation without support and should review whether it is providing sufficient accommodation for its looked after children.
The council has accepted the recommendations but was unable to confirm to the Ombudsman that it would not happen again.
Local Government Ombudsman 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.”
A spokesman for Lancashire CC said: “When young people are in danger of becoming homeless we do all we can to ensure they are kept safe, including arranging temporary accommodation to keep them off the streets.
“Following on from the recent complaint, the Ombudsman has recommended that we review some of our processes. We have put together an action plan and are working with our partners to make the improvements they have suggested.”