‘IT’S HER FAULT, HONEST GUV!’ HOW BRISTOL’S HOUSING CHIEFS TRIED TO PLAY THE BLAME GAME WITH AT-RISK YOUNG MUM

If this wasn’t such a serious issue – the abject FAILURE of Bristol City Council’s senior ranks to obey the law and find an appropriate place of safety for a young mum who has been the victim of sickening domestic violence – then the inept way council officers have attempted to QUIETLY BRIEF against ‘Ms X’ to councillors and others would be funny.

Today, though, they’ve come out into the open with a statement attributed to “a Bristol City Council spokesman” explaining that, err, they think it’s all Ms X’s fault!

We dissect it line-by-line below…

We take very seriously people experiencing domestic violence or abuse. It is a high priority within our rehousing policy, and we have a number of protocols with Next Link and the police.

On her initial approach to the council, Ms X was offered a place in a refuge or safe house by both the council and Next Link…

…Which Ms X very clearly said from the outset she could not accept, for the very pertinent reasons she articulated then and now…

…was offered a lock-change service, and was also offered help to find a new private tenancy. She declined these offers…

…having noted that a private tenancy would give much less chance of security than a local authority or other social housing property, and be considerably more expensive!

She applied to Home Choice to go on the housing register. Unfortunately…

Now there’s an interesting word, “unfortunately”…

…there was then a delay in assessing her place on the housing register…

By “delay” they actually mean that managers within BCC repeatedly failed her – at a time when there were real dangers to her physical wellbeing from her abuser, who continued to contact her, and she most needed to be in a place of safety rather than wading through the quagmire of council red tape.

…which is not acceptable.

No, it’s not acceptable. It wasn’t acceptable three months ago when it happened, nor two months ago, one month ago or even one week ago.

We apologise wholeheartedly…

“Wholeheartedly” – a nice, cosy, emotional word to imply that ‘hey, we have hearts too!’ Except, of course, they’re sitting in their comfortable offices enjoying their management perks whilst making what in effect are life-and-death decisions about the likes of Ms X.

…for this and we are reviewing how this happened.

Note that they have only apologised NOW, after being embarrassed in public – is that really an apology worth having?

Ms X was placed on the register in Band 3, a priority band which includes other victims of domestic abuse, homelessness cases and others urgently needing to move…

Of course that begs the question, if people being threatened with serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse are not the most preeminent concern, then who is? Managers’ mates?

She has been bidding on properties, but unfortunately has been restricting her selection of property type and location…

Aha! There’s that word “unfortunately” again! Note that the statement uses the same word to describe something that the council did – the “delay” in properly processing the housing application – and something that Ms X did. That suggests that they are comparable: ‘we were a little wrong, you were a little wrong’.

Except what the council did was make an error that is in their own words “not acceptable”; what Ms X did was make a choice about what was most suitable for her and her child.

Let’s have another look at Bristol City Council’s own policy on Domestic Abuse: “[Don’t] Pressurise an individual into a specific course of action… [Don’t] Be judgmental of the individual’s choices and actions”. Seems pretty clear.

And yet this statement attempts to suggest that if the original banding was a mistake, then so if Ms X not wanting to be forced into unsuitable housing. It puts her exercise of free choice on a par with the potentially life-threatening mistakes of senior council officers – could there be anything more judgmental (or offensive) than that?

Had she bid on all suitable properties there are 11 that have been advertised,

Note that there is not even an attempt to actually discuss the quality or suitability of those properties – do you not wonder why?

…and since her application was placed in Band 3 she would have been the successful bidder.

And guess what: there’s no way anyone could verify this! In other words, they’re making stuff up as they go along.

Either that or they’ve got a really good crystal ball up at City Hall. Perhaps Mayor Fergo could use it to place a bet at Paddy Power on a rank outsider to win – then he won’t need to cut the budget for things like rehousing vulnerable people

Ms X has a support worker at Next Link, and the Safer Bristol…

In case you were unaware, the ‘Safer Bristol Partnership’ is a multi-agency quango managed by, erm, Bristol City Council!

…domestic abuse coordinator has reviewed the case.

And who is this mysterious, all-seeing, all-knowing wise person? Have they met with Ms X? Are they a Bristol City Council employee or from another agency? Name them!

Their conclusion is that all agencies have done what they should have.

Now that is a real surprise! But, um, by “all agencies” they can’t possibly mean to include Bristol City Council, can they?

Presumably not, seeing as BCC is an organisation which even by its own admission FAILED to properly band Ms X in the first place. It also WASTED three months, IGNORED Ms X’s wishes to not be dumped in a refuge, and has used THREATS – such as exposing her full identity to the mainstream media, withdrawing all possibility of housing support, and briefing inaccurate information to those who have shown an interest in the case.

…in order to help.

If that all counts as “help” then heaven help those you really don’t like!

We continue to offer on-going support and the case is a priority.

Hang on, did you say “the case is a priority”? If that’s true, why has the council never said that to Ms X, either verbally or in correspondence?

Overall, the whole statement reeks of desperation. This whole sorry affair began more than three months ago. The BRISTOLIAN has been reporting on it for five days.

Yet the best this motley crew of management mediocrities and self-styled ‘communications gurus’ could come up with were some half-baked half-truths, the odd smear, and a bunch of wildly inaccurate claims.

Shameful, pathetic, beneath contempt.

7 thoughts on “‘IT’S HER FAULT, HONEST GUV!’ HOW BRISTOL’S HOUSING CHIEFS TRIED TO PLAY THE BLAME GAME WITH AT-RISK YOUNG MUM

  1. thebristolblogger

    Well isn’t it nice that this mysterious, nameless Safer Bristol Domestic Violence Coordinator has reviewed the case and concluded everyone’s done what they should have done?

    In other words one unaccountable high-earning city council manager has concluded that a couple of other high-earning city council managers have done everything right. Well, fancy that!

    Does that mean Hooper and Sylvester ignoring emails mentioning death threats and a substantial threat was actually doing what they should have?

    That’s useful to know I suppose. It’s official! Council managers don’t have to give a toss!

    Anyway, I thought councillors were supposed to scrutinise the work of council managers? Why are managers scrutinising each other instead while councillors are kept out of the picture?

    Reply
  2. Chloe

    This is a terrible article. I used to like the Bristolian but you’re articles are so biased and one-sided, and make far too many ridiculous assumptions. I’m not defending the housing dept – I battle with them every day and know how shit they can be, but I have a fairly good working knowledge of the housing system in Bristol and a lot of this article is frankly, bollocks. I can’t respond in full cos I’m on my lunchbreak but will make a couple of points. What a crock of shit to suggest that “manager’s mates” have higher priority on Home Choice than victims of domestic violence. The priority system is dictated by the Housing Act 1996. All victims of domestic violence, victims of harassment, people who need to move for health or other compelling social reasons, are placed in Band 3. Band 2 is for slightly more vulnerable groups – Care-Leavers aged 16/17, people with serious mental health problems that are being exacerbated by their current housing situation, people moving on from supported housing placements etc. Band 1 is for exceptional and urgent situations. Anyway that took ages to write and I’m back to work now so can’t make any more points, but I had many good ones…

    Reply
    1. Jooohn Ag

      We have consistently and clearly stated that the problem is not with the housing workers on the ground, but the senior managers.

      The “managers’ mates” comment was clearly a piece of rhetorical hyperbole which in no way diminishes the efficacy of the overall rebuttal. It also relates to a matter (or matters) which we cannot currently publish on.

      You have not addressed how this press statement, put out to the media under the council’s name, contains many prejudicial and unsubstantiated claims, as well as what we would generously call inaccuracies

      Neither the context surrounding this press release, nor the behind-the-scenes briefings made by certain officers against the character, situation or choices of Ms X, make for a particularly edifying picture.

      We at The BRISTOLIAN are proud to stand up for and alongside those who having survived domestic abuse try to make the right and appropriate choices for themselves, and we make no apologies for that.

      We commend the hard work of the housing workers at the sharp end, both in BCC and other agencies, who do their damnedest to help rehouse people in challenging circumstances.

      We utterly condemn those who despite the power and resources available to them fail DV victims, endanger them or attempt to bully them into inappropriate courses of action.

      Reply
    2. thebristolblogger

      Chloe, your argument seems to consist of saying because Ms X has been placed in some bureaucratic ‘band’ it’s not a problem for any of us if she gets beaten to death. Well, it is a problem to some of us actually. We want more than to know she’s in ‘band 3’, which means nothing to most people. We want her safe. Sorry about that.

      Reply
      1. Chloe

        That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m not defending the housing department, I was just pointing out that she was placed in the correct priority band, which is dictated by law not senior managers. I’m not saying it’s excusable but a senior manager wouldn’t have made the error of delaying her application or putting her in Band 5 initially – that would have been done by someone on the ground (unless something sinister went on). I’m not denying that it’s an awful situation, I deal with worse situations with the housing dept all the time in my job trying to support vulnerable young people, but I just don’t see what more they could have done in this situation, apart from not making the error with the Home Choice rehousing application. The issue is that there is very limited social housing stock and more homeless/inadequately housed people than there are places for them to live. She didn’t feel able to accept the emergency accommodation she was offered (I’m sure for very good reason), so she’s now on the Home Choice register for rehousing, and in the correct band. There’s not anything else they could have done, is there? I’m not trying to argue I’m just genuinely interested in what you think they should have done? Cos,there’s hardly any decent emergency housing. Short of booking her into a hotel, what other option do you think they had?

        Reply
  3. thebristolblogger

    Bristol City Council placing serious domestic violence victims in band 3 is not “dictated by law”, which requires they are rehoused.

    Placing these people in band 3 is a particular interpretation of the law by council housing managers and lawyers that they believe meets “statutory requirements”.

    However, this is open to debate and one Bristol law firm we’ve spoken to informally believes this could be successfully challenged. The difficulty is finding a victim of domestic violence who would be able to go through the tortuous British legal system successfully.

    What housing managers could have done in this situation is use the huge amount of discretion they have in these matters and placed Ms X into band 1 via the convenient “exceptional and urgent need” catch-all contained therein. Or they could have made her a direct offer …

    The fact that there is limited housing stock due to the political class’s failures over the last 30 years is not the fault of domestic violence victims and they should be the last to suffer because of it.

    Reply
  4. Chloe

    Ah OK thanks for that, that is helpful to know. I have another service user in a similar situation so knowing this could help me fight her case, if I can find out who to write to. If I send you my email address could you let me know which law firm you spoke to?

    I fully agree with your last paragraph.

    Reply

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