BBFI have been approached by local authorities to work to help find solutions to the problem of council car parks and other civic buildings being used as camp areas by people who are sleeping rough.
This is a safety issue, not least for the rough sleepers themselves: car parks are not safe places to sleep, and the appalling multi-storey car park fire at Liverpool’s Echo Arena in January 2018, where a number of rough sleepers were present but thankfully none lost their lives, must serve as a warning. We recognise that councils cannot encourage or turn a blind eye to buildings being used in this way when they are not safe sleeping spaces; additionally, there are legitimate concerns about providing a parking environment which feels safe, clean and non-intimidatory for all users.
But we also believe that tackling the issue by using security staff to move on rough sleepers is unacceptable, putting an undue burden on staff who are not trained to deal with the issues that may be involved, and likely to result in rough sleepers being put in equally or more vulnerable situations.
BBFI work in partnership with local authority support workers who know most rough sleepers by name, and liaise with key workers at local hostels before approaching rough sleepers. Our staff who work in this area are selected officers who have significant experience of working with vulnerable adults.
Street homelessness and rough sleeping result from complex factors, frequently including state institutionalisation or incarceration and very often involving mental ill-health. Bully-boy tactics and heavy-handed law enforcement risk contributing to this cycle. But it is important that councils do not become ‘enablers’ of unsafe camps, and that the dedicated parking services they provide should be usable for their intended purpose by motorists (who may also belong to vulnerable groups).
Enforcement interventions addressing street homelessness and rough sleeping were surveyed by Crisis in 2017 and it was found that informal interventions (including defensive architecture and simple ‘move on’ requests) were much more frequent than formal use of any legal penalties, but that such interventions were rarely accompanied by support or advice.
BBFI’s commitment to working with local authority key workers and to understanding the individual, often complex, issues of people who sleep rough, is the cornerstone of our approach, with use of the formal enforcement measures of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 as a last resort.
“Paul has a detailed knowledge of Council procedures and is down to earth and culturally aware… I would have no hesitation in recommending Paul to carry out this type of operation in the future.”
“BBFI have the infrastructure, specialist staff and knowledge to start a fraud team and effectively run it.”
“In the first six months BBFI investigated 100 cases and closed 53. The housing officers in partnership with BBFI have recovered the keys to or issued Notices to Quit (NTQs) in eleven cases and 47 are open and under investigation. Some of the open investigation cases are under long-term surveillance. This equates to a property recovered or NTQ issued every seven days worked.”
“Total costs spent on the BBFI services to date total £25k. Taking into account the 3 cases where RTB applications were withdrawn and assets retained in our stock as well as three cases where vacant possession was gained without costs of legal action we estimate the savings to the housing association to be upwards of £300k”
“I am proud of what we have achieved so far with the continued help of BBFI.”
“Through the partnership our staff are being upskilled to enable them to carry out more complex investigations.”
“We did not have the resources or the experience to tackle such a far reaching problem and had no idea where to start. We decided to hire professionals, BBFI on a trial basis which became more permanent.”
“As a result of 31 investigations the right to buy team working with BBFI have uncovered fraudulent application and housing benefit fraud. Five applications have been withdrawn, each of which had a potential discount of over £100k. Of the 31 applications investigated nine have completed the intended home ownership and have purchased their homes and 17 are still under investigation.”