Brighton and Hove City Council has been ordered to pay £300 to a mother who claimed she was evicted from notorious temporary accommodation in revenge for inviting a journalist to interview her there.
The young mum invited BBC journalist Simon Cox to visit her and her two-year-old son at their temporary home in Windsor Court in October last year – a week later she was evicted over claims she racially abused the caretaker.
Baron Homes, which rents bedsits in Windsor Court to homeless families placed there by the council, has previously been accused by campaigners of evicting tenants who make complaints.
A local ombudsman report published yesterday said Baron Homes had not been able to provide any evidence of the “racist abuse” it used as grounds to evict her, not even in its own caretaker’s statement – and questioned the timing of the complaint, which came five days after Mr Cox’s visit, and more than a week after it was alleged to have happened.
It said the council had failed to properly investigate her complaint, causing her “unnecessary distress”.
However, Brighton and Hove City Council said this was an isolated case, and that it did not recognise the term revenge evictions.
The mother had been complaining that her bedsit was unsuitable, and that she had been banned from receiving visitors – although this was not specified in her tenancy with Baron Homes.
She had decided to speak to the BBC about the poor quality, and on 18 October, Mr Cox interviewed her and another mother in her room there.
During the visit, the caretaker pushed into the room and told Mr Cox to leave. He did so, and two days later asked Baron Homes for a comment about the “poor conditions” there.
Meanwhile, the mother had complained to the council about Mr Cox being told to leave – but the officer she spoke to misdirected this to the wrong team and it was not pursued. She also complained to Baron Homes who told her she had no grounds for complaint.
On October 25, five days after being approached by Mr Cox, Baron Homes emailed the council to say the mother had shouted racial abuse at the caretaker when he had told her to leave, and wanted her rehoused.
The following day it said it had given her a verbal warning and that the caretaker had logged a complaint about her – but no details of the warning, which the mother disputed receiving, and no evidence of the caretaker’s complaint were provided.
Baron Homes finally sent the council the caretaker’s statement two weeks later, on 8 November – it centred on an incident the day before Mr Cox visited, and made no reference to racist language.
However, the council’s complaint procedure twice found that the eviction was reasonable – at the first stage because of the alleged racist abuse, and at the second because she should have sought permission to invite a journalist to visit her.
The ombudsman’s report, which was sent to relevant parties in August and published today, said: “Provider A [Baron Homes] has given inconsistent information to the council stating a verbal warning was given either on the day of the incident with the caretaker or ‘previously’.
“Furthermore Provider A says Ms D [the mother] used racist language against the caretaker. This was accepted by the council as grounds for an immediate eviction. Provider A has never submitted any evidence to the council showing that Ms D did in fact use racist language and so was in breach of the lease agreement.”
The report also questions why Baron Homes did not contact the council sooner after “such an allegedly serious incident”, instead waiting until five days after the journalist contacted them.
It also criticised the use of a crime number despite the police telling officers that the incident log did not mention Ms D – and why Baron Homes was not questioned about this discrepancy.
And it said that the council should have been more critical of Baron Homes’s statement that the mother should have sought permission for Mr Cox’s visit, pointing out that there is no reference in the lease to this requirement.
The report continued: “I see no reason why the council did not consider this case in more depth at stage one and two [of the complaints process]. Had it done so it would have been apparent that there were significant failings in how the case had been handled.
“Ms D was caused unnecessary distress because of the failings I have identified. Had the council acted without fault, I cannot say whether Ms D would have been evicted – that was always a decision for Provider A to make.
“However, Provider A would have had to better account for its decision making and show it had adhered to the contract management agreement.”
Mr Cox’s interview with the mother was never broadcast, but his radio documentary Hidden Homeless did feature an interview with another mother who lived there at the same time, Terri Taylor, who complained about the cramped conditions there.
It also featured homeless campaigner Daniel Harris, who took him to his then home, Percival Terrace – another bedsitt block leased by private owners to homeless tenants placed there by the council.
Mr Harris warned Mr Cox that no journalists were allowed there either. He also highlighted the huge costs of providing temporary accommodation via third party private landlords, which he said the council spent £15million on from 2013 to 2015.
In June this year, while the ombudsman was still investigating the mother’s complaint, a report about evictions from temporary accommodation such as Windsor Court and Percival Terrace was debated by the council’s housing committee, following concerns raised by residents, campaigners, councillors and Caroline Lucas MP.
It said that of the 939 households placed in emergency accommodation in 2016/17, 5.3% were evicted – and said all of these had breached their licence conditions. This would have included Ms D.
Today, a A council spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the term ‘revenge evictions’.
“Our housing and new homes committee has looked into issues around people being evicted from temporary accommodation, and found no evidence to support this term.
“The managers of the temporary accommodation we use have the right to evict people for issues such as persistent unacceptable behaviour or criminality.
“We consider each case of eviction on its individual merits.
“We investigate all complaints made, and people have the option of going to the ombudsman if they are not satisfied with the way the council has handled their complaint.
“The ombudsman verdict highlighted related to one specific case. We have acknowledged there were faults in our processes in this instance and have written to the client to apologise for this.
“As the ombudsman report acknowledges, we have already reminded our housing provider about the importance of robust record keeping.
“We are continuing to work with all our housing providers to drive up the standards of our emergency accommodation and to make sure our management processes are robust.”
The management of Windsor Court were contacted for comment, but had not responded by the time of publication.
The June report said: “We found that all evictions were as a result of breaches of the licence agreement e.g. the eviction was due to persistent unacceptable behaviour.
“No evictions were carried out where there was only evidence of a reported disrepair. No evictions were carried out where there was only evidence of a complaint about staff conduct.
“We have also considered those cases where residents have approached the media directly or indirectly (i.e. via a third party) or raised issues direct to housing in regard of staff conduct or repairs.
“In all instances there is no evidence that there was an eviction in revenge but rather there was evidence that the eviction was due to breach of licence conditions.”