Tuesday 17 September 2013
Press release for immediate release
Press contact: Elisabeth Winkler 0777 399 8642
220 vulnerable people face homelessness
Bristol City Council reneges on legal agreement
Residents say Council is breaking law
Press conference: 4 pm Tuesday 17 September 2013
Venue: YHA, 14 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA. Map
BRING MEMORY STICKS for two-minute film of residents' interviews
Interviews and images available
B-roll available for news broadcasters.
A group of Bristol residents threatened with homelessness are taking political and legal action to secure their homes run by Bristol Foundation Housing (BFH) charity.
Bristol City Council slashed funds by 79 per cent in August, ending payments (agreed at 2011 tribunal - see Note 7) for support and supervision from trained staff and 24/7 reception.
Bristol Foundation Housing Residents' Association has petitioned the Bristol mayor and local councillors to find a solution. Petition on press page.
The charity's hostels house vulnerable adults, including people with people with learning difficulties, mental health issues, and women taking refuge from domestic violence.
The council based its decision to cut funds on a Council review - the residents’ association says the interview process that led to the review was unlawful.
BFHRA co-chair Michael Phelps says: "A leading barrister has told us: 'The decision is illegal as BCC have failed to take into account all information regarding the services provided by BFH, or to make sufficient enquiry.'"
BFHRA has raised funds to get legal advice from South West Law [above] South West Law's Mariam Seddon is collaborating with other lawyers including Stone King in Bath to help residents request a copy of the dossier under the Freedom of Information Act. She says: "We are discussing appropriate remedies, which may include judicial review."
BFHRA co-chair and resident, Michelle Hume, says: "We are asking the Council to re-instate payments while this issue is sorted out." Michelle's case study on press page.
Despite the charity's requests since March [examples available] to see the controversial review, Bristol City Council has so far refused, in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.
Pauline Field, a resident and former nurse, says, "Before I agreed to be interviewed, I asked: 'Can you get me kicked out of here?' and the man interviewing me said 'No'. I was told the review was 'to see what they could do to improve things.' What they've done is use their report to actually get us kicked out, and claim that most of us don't need any extra help.”
BFHRA co-chair Josh Evans says:
"I was surprised at the questions. I was asked about the staff, the building, the condition of the building, about the company, things I shouldn't know about and wasn't able to answer. He only asked a few questions about myself. The emphasis was on the company. I was referred by the Probation Service to BFH and I struggle with reading and writing. I need help looking for work, filling out forms, sand budgeting. But I was assessed as having little or no support needs. How could that decision be made based only on those few questions about myself? If it weren't for BFH I would be in prison." Case studies on press page
The charity went into voluntary administration in August to clear its debts and become solvent again. The recent cuts have threatened the charity's future. The Administrator's report states: “The decision by the Council to reduce payment by 79% will likely have a terminal effect on the prospects of achieving a successful restructuring of the Company. The decision was apparently reached without meaningful dialogue and the review upon which the decision was made has not been disclosed.”
Neville Catton, of Cook & Co solicitors, Bristol, says: "It is possible Bristol City Council is deliberately stalling and withholding the report because it knows that the charity will be dissolved long before the Information Commissioner has forced the Council to release the report."
However, landlords Connolly & Callaghan are determined to keep the charity going.
Connolly & Callaghan is currently trying to save 42 BFH beds for the city and 75 beds in other local authority areas.
Director, Martin Connolly, says: “Every BFH bed space is an opportunity for somebody to turn their life around. So the loss of 103 beds in the city is substantial.”
"In order for BFH to avoid liquidation Connolly & Callaghan will gift circa £2.6 million of debt owed to the company," says Martin Connolly, who has been helping homeless people for 28 years.
Several attempts have been made to speak to Bristol’s first independent mayor, George Ferguson.
The covering letter accompanying the BFHRA petition sent on 14 September says: “When you hear what we have to say, we know that you will want to help us, to restore our homes, and our support, from BFH...We are having to raise our own legal funds to get the right to even see what we consider Bristol’s own Dodgy Dossier, the Supporting People review of January...We need to work together to make Bristol a City of Sanctuary. If South Gloucestershire managed to sit down with BFH then we are sure you can too.”” . Petition and covering letter on press page
Attendees include Councillor Daniella Radice; a representative of Kerry McCarthy MP; lawyers from South West Law, Cook & Co and Stone King. and Alan Goddard from Crisis Centre Ministeries.
Interviews and images available
B-roll available for news broadcasters.
Contact: Elisabeth Winkler 0777 399 8642
1. Connolly & Callaghan (C & C) has been building and running social housing for nearly thirty years. It is also the landlord of and benefactor to community enterprise, Co-exist, at Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, a popular tourist destination in Bristol. C & C won 2009 Environmental/Conservation Development of the Year for Pennywell Green, Bristol. Martin Connolly is a major shareholder of a local company producing carbon negative buildings.
2. Connolly & Callaghan (C & C) provides emergency accommodation and food for some 250 statutory homeless people every night of the year in premises in and around Bristol. This service is unaffected by the current reduction in exempt/enhanced benefits.
3. The charity Bristol Foundation Housing (BFH), supported by Martin Connolly, was founded in 2008 to break the cycle of homelessness by providing support and supervision to learn life skills including job seeking. It encourages and supports vulnerable adults including homeless people and those with substance abuse and mental heath problems, and/or ex-offenders to live more fulfilled and stable lives.
4. BFH specialises in ‘exempt accommodation’ where tenants receive extra care support or supervision, making them exempt from normal limits on housing benefit claims. BFH has provided detailed evidence of its positive outcomes thanks to these enhanced services. Without the enhanced element of the housing benefit and staffing, the hostels cannot operational putting vulnerable people at safeguarding risk.
5. Unlike most homeless providers, Martin Connolly of C & C avoided what he called "the trap of Supporting People" and chose exempt housing benefit status, making up the shortfall from income from his other property. "
6. There has been long-running dispute between BFH and Bristol City Council over payments of enhanced benefit due by Bristol City Council since July 2008, including two tribunals in 2009 and 2011.
7. According to its 2011 press release, Bristol City Council sees exempt accommodation as a “legal loophole”. It wrote to the government in 2011 “to look at this gap in the regulations as a matter of urgency”.
8. Following tribunal proceedings in 2011, Bristol City Council agreed to pay exempt benefits for just over half of BFH properties. As a result seven out of 16 city-wide BFH hostels closed, and only nine remained.
9. In December 2012, Bristol City Council Supporting People's team conducted a review of BFH's services. BFH were led to believe by the team that the results were broadly positive and that feedback would be constructive and solution-focused.
10. On 1 August 2013, BFH placed into Administration by the High Court in Bristol. In C&C’s view, the management and trustees had overspent. Going into Administration was intended to restructure the charity, and put it into a solvent state, free of debt and loss.
11. On the 14 August BFH was informed by Bristol City Council that payment of all housing benefit was being stopped with immediate effect. The grounds for this action were that the charity was in Administration and therefore not fulfilling its obligations to residents; and secondly the findings of the Supporting People review.
12. Under pressure from the Administrator, Bristol City Council re-instated payments. On the 19 August 2013, it announced without warning or discussion, a 79% cut to exempt accommodation. Without staff support, the hostels cannot function, as the tenants have severe and complex needs. As a result, seven out of the nine city-wide hostels must close and vulnerable people will be evicted. This affects 150 vulnerable people in Bristol, and 220 if the charity is forced to liquidate.
13. The Administrator’s report states: “The decision by the Council to reduce payment by 79% will likely have a terminal effect on the prospects of achieving a successful restructuring of the Company. The decision was apparently reached without meaningful dialogue and the review upon which the decision was made has not been disclosed.”
14. Although residents will continue to receive normal housing benefit, the 79% reduction in exempt accommodation/enhanced benefit will no longer pay for support and supervision from trained staff and 24 hour-supervision.
15. Vulnerable people experiencing difficulties need stabilised supported accommodation, reducing adverse burden on the NHS, police and other social and emergency services. According to the BFH admissions team: "Due to BFH closing its doors to new admissions in the face of reduced funding, nine offenders are still in prison because they have no address to be released to." Richard Rowley, development director of No Offence says: "Reoffending is being fuelled by ex-prisoner homelessness. Accessing suitable and tailored support is vital in contributing to reducing the risk of reoffending."
16. The UK has one of the highest levels of homelessness in Europe with more than 4 people per 1,000 estimated to be homeless.
United Nations housing official, Raquel Rolnik, has recently completed an investigation of the UK's housing crisis.
Elisabeth Winkler 0777 399 8642 | email@example.com
Elisabeth Winkler on Twitter: @ewinkler