Northamptonshire safeguarding board refuses to make homeless deaths report public
The Northamptonshire Safeguarding Adults Board (NSAB) is refusing to make public a report which reveals the number of homeless deaths in the county.
Despite commissioning a report into issue the board, which has responsibility for pulling organisations together to protect vulnerable adults, is refusing to make the document public.
It claims the data contained in the report is not its to share and instead belongs to the individual local authorities that collated the information.
NSAB has told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, which asked to view the January 2019 report, that the publication will not be made public.
Robin Burgess, who is chief executive of homelessness charity the Hope Centre in Northampton said it is a ‘scandal’ that the homeless deaths in the county are not being taken seriously.
His organisation has recorded 18 homeless deaths in Northampton alone in 2018 and nine Northampton deaths in 2019.
Mr Burgess said it was a serious issue which needed to be documented properly in order to understand the true scale of the issue.
He said: “They failed to comply with government guidance issued in 2018 which said that all local authorities should record all homeless deaths. That has not happened.
“It is a scandal that homeless deaths are not being taken seriously in this county.”
A report in the Homelessness and Rough Sleeper strategy which has recently been adopted by a number of councils, gives a clue to what is contained in the NSAB secret report.
It says: “The Chief Housing Officers Group and Northamptonshire Safeguarding Adults Board have put arrangements in place for investigating such deaths, identifying trends and issues of concern, and agreeing action that can be taken by agencies to reduce the likelihood of any future fatalities.”
The actions agreed to be taken are being kept under wraps and are therefore not open to scrutiny by elected councillors or the media.
NSAB was set up as part of the 2014 Care Act. It is chaired by Tim Bishop who says on the board’s website: “As the Independent Chair of NSAB, I assist partners to hold each other to account when necessary, but also to support each other to work together to safeguard adults most at risk of abuse or neglect. I also act as the spokesperson for the Board and ensure that the legal duties we are charged with are undertaken.”
The board’s strategic plan for 2019-2021 is just four pages long and while listing street homelessness as a theme for the year it does not go into any detail.
The board’s annual report for 2018-19, which was presented to county councillors at the end of last year, reports a low number of deaths.
It says: “In October 2018, as part of a countrywide exercise, members were asked to consider deaths of homeless people. Members were advised that there had been very few homeless people that had died on the streets in the county. A further report was presented to board in January 2019 and the board continues to work on this important issue.”
Robin Burgess says the reason why local authorities figures on deaths are typically low is because of their strict definition of homelessness, which can mean that people who die while not literally sleeping on the streets, or not in touch with local agencies.
He says there should be a joined up approach with voluntary agencies and statutory bodies joining forces to record the number of people who die while homeless.
The latest homeless death in Northamptonshire was of 46-year-old Jonathan Upex who died on December 31 while in temporary accommodation at the Euro Hotel in Wellingborough.
Northamptonshire Police have referred Jonathan’s death to the adult safeguarding board which will then decide whether a Safeguarding Adults Review will be held.
The reviews look into the actions of agencies who were involved with the vulnerable adult and assess whether more could have been done to prevent the death.
So far none of the recent homeless deaths in Northamptonshire have led to a Safeguarding Adult Review.
The numbers of homeless on the county’s streets has risen sharply over the past few years. Experts say the rise is linked to the rise in rent costs coupled with cuts to benefits and public services that help people at times of crisis.
Mr Burgess estimates there are currently 70 people sleeping rough in Northampton and said 130 people visit the Hope Centre each day.