A study by ‘The Independent‘ looking into the conditions of private hostels and B&Bs in the North-east has revealed ‘a distressing picture of neglect.’
With many suffering from benefit cuts and more and more finding themselves out of home, many charities and councils are referring these people to unregulated private hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation that could see people facing greater risks.
The study found that hostels housing alcoholics often had a licensed bar on site, and those taking in people fighting addiction may be placed with other drug users or dealers. Women were also found to become more vulnerable and were faced with sexual exploitation as according to the report’s author, many young women were placed in the same accommodation as older men or former prisoners out on probation.
“Dealers could get in and deal, or pressure people who owe them money,” explained Sheila Spencer, co-author of the study. “The other thing that’s been really quite shocking is sexual favours: people getting in to provide sexual favours for the people running the hostel, or the people running the hostel could abuse vulnerable women living in there by letting them off their rent [in return for sexual contact].”
It was found that in many private hostels the security was inadequate, meaning that many were subjected to theft, and there was a loss of control over who had access to the building. Other findings highlighted that some homeless clients found that their benefit books were being confiscated by hostel owners. Alongside this many hostel buildings were in a need of repair works with one hostel reported to remain open even with a hole in the roof.
Writing the report on behalf of the North-east Regional Homelessness Group, Ms Spencer said that the situation was also being repeated across the country. A housing adviser in London, who asked to stay anonymous, claimed he knew of B&B owners who blackmailed families, charging them if they stayed with friends or family overnight and threatened to tell the council that housing support was no longer needed for them if they refused to pay up.
With the removal of the Supporting People funding stream and austerity cuts alongside new rules that allow councils to place homeless people in private rented accommodation, private homelessness services are now entirely unregulated. All hostel owners only need to apply for a licence to run a house of multiple occupation and may only be inspected once every five years.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Councils work closely with partners to place people in secure, appropriate accommodation and provide the most comprehensive support they can. However, this is only getting tougher as a result of job losses, rent increases and welfare cuts. Councils could go further and faster to support the development of badly needed new homes while investing in existing ones, if government removed some of the obstacles that stand in their way by giving councils greater financial flexibility.”
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: “There are still a minority of rogue landlords who exploit vulnerable people and force their tenants to live in overcrowded and squalid conditions which is unacceptable, adding the Government has given councils £3m to take on rogue operators in their area.”