East Sussex County Council is set to ‘explore legal action’ following the death of another person at a troubled homelessness accommodation in Newhaven.
The death, which officials said occurred at Kendal Court last Friday, was reported to the East Sussex Health and Wellbeing Board on Tuesday (December 14), during discussion of an ongoing dispute over homelessness placements.
The dispute revolves around Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) placing homeless residents with complex needs into Kendal Court, something which East Sussex County Council (ESCC) considers to be inappropriate.
Speaking at the meeting, ESCC’s Conservative leader Cllr Keith Glazier said: “Having brought it to their attention so many months ago a neighbouring council who we want to work with taking a view that they could place people into East Sussex to die seemed a bit hard at the time. But it has happened again.
“The fact that so many have happened now in one spot can’t be coincidence; there must be something that links it.
“I just don’t know, as the chair of this board, how we can stop it. We are taking more legal advice because obviously if the fundamental difference is that Brighton’s interpretation of [the Care Act] is different from ours and are content that the decisions they are taking are within the law then we are going to struggle.
“If I was the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council and if I was the chair of their health and wellbeing board I would be asking my officers ‘how can this happen again?’”
The meeting follows several months of back and forth between the councils over the dispute.
According to meeting papers, BHCC has told ESCC it is not ‘intentionally’ placing people with complex needs into Kendal Court and is of the opinion it is fulfilling its statutory duties as set out in the Care Act.
ESCC disputes this, arguing its neighbouring authority is acting ‘unlawfully’ by failing to properly assess the care needs and not accepting responsibility for people placed into Kendal Court.
ESCC also says that it considers that it would be ‘impossible for BHCC to have been unaware of the fact that a large number of the individuals BHCC is placing at Kendal Court have complex needs’.
According to ESCC, attempts to engage with its neighbouring authority have failed to deliver the changes it is seeking.
In light of this, the county council is set to take further advice ‘to explore the legal action available … to ensure that BHCC fulfils its statutory duty’.
This course of action was welcomed by a number of Health and Wellbeing Board members, including Conservative councillor Phillp Lunn, who said: “I find it all quite shocking.
“From my perspective certainly we need to take further advice to explore legal action. I would support that wholeheartedly.
“This is not the right level of engagement in my opinion and we have to do all that we need to do to get this message across to them as strongly as possible.”
A similar view was taken by Liberal Democrat John Ungar. He said: “I am absolutely disgusted. Absolutely disgusted. This is just unbelievable. When we think councils have a duty to co-operate with each other and see that there is basically a brick wall.
“It just unbelievable that a council could act in this way.
“I am really upset that there is another life being lost. I would suggest that the way forward is to quickly get an alternative barrister’s view so that we know we have both feet firmly on the ground and take court action.”
He added: “It beggars belief and at the end of the day these are people who need support and the people who are meant to be supporting them are just walking away and washing their hands of it.”