Revealed: Councils give more than £1m to provider of unlicensed Swiss Cottage HMO where there are allegations of drug use and crime

Westminster City Hall, left, and Islington Town Hall. Photo: Ken Mears/Robin Sones

Westminster City Hall, left, and Islington Town Hall. Photo: Ken Mears/Robin Sones - Credit: Archant

A provider for vulnerable young people has pocketed more than £1m from councils despite running an unregulated facility for at least seven years.

The three-storey, semi-detached house in Swiss Cottage looks after young people aged 16 to 21 who are leaving council care.

The provider on the site, Complete Care London (CCL), has received more than £1m for placements since 2015, including housing benefit from the young people.

But it has emerged that a basic House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence was never applied for – despite it being the law since 2015.

In Camden, landlords must seek an HMO licence for any property lived in by three or more people, including in old buildings converted into flats.

And although CCL has an onsite office, there is no legal agreement in place as to how the unit should be run, as Camden Council never gave it permission to run as a supported living space or hostel – although an application was made back in 2014 and the council knew about the use of the space since 2011.

An advocate for a young person on the premises, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I was alarmed to discover this house did not have an HMO licence.

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“It is also supposed to be drug-free and yet drugs are used there.”

Neighbours said they knew little about the unlicensed property.

A woman living in the road, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s a black box. We don’t know who is running it. We have seen youths taken away in handcuffs, and recently police were there to take a Vespa scooter away; the policeman said to me it was being used for drug dealing by someone in the premises.”

When approached by a reporter in November a site manager who refused to give his name said it was a “children’s home”.

The entity based on the premises appears to have changed over time. In 2008 a limited company called Complete Care London Ltd was based there, but it dissolved in 2009.

In 2014, a man called Gurol Akdeniz applied retrospectively to Camden Council for the change of use, writing that it was already running as “a semi-interdependant [sic] providers accomidation [sic] for young people”.

This came long after Camden’s enforcement officers learned how it was being used, with complaints received in 2011 and 2013.

In 2014 planning officers were under the impression the provider was a “semi-independent charity”, although no such registered charity exists.

In the application, another man, Azar Cafarov, said the site was running a shared lives (SHL) scheme, an activity that may need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

The type of care, he wrote, depended on the individual’s needs; a separate plan stated staff’s duties included “attending to medical treatment”.

Eight neighbours objected to the application at the time, citing a catalogue of issues including drug-taking, anti-social behaviour, littering and altercations involving police.

One said: “I have lost tenants several times who simply cannot cope with the stress of living next to a badly run hostel of drug using, disturbed, anti-social displaced youngsters under the care of a profiteer.”

Another said: “We are not exactly sure how the organisation has been running up to this point but we’ve already had a series of troubles.”

No decision was ever reached by planners at Camden Council about the change of use.

That means there is no agreed management plan for the site – meaning CCL does not have to give anyone access to the property, or make the nature of its services known to the public. An HMO licence was applied for last week.

A police spokeswoman said police understood it to be a “privately run hostel”, adding: “The Safer Neighbourhoods Team have been aware of a small number of incidents in the past and attended.”

A spokesperson for Camden said an enforcement investigation remained open.

CCL has declined to comment.

The payments made

Since 2014 CCL has received more than £1m for placements from two nearby councils.

Westminster Council has handed over between £243,000 and £257,000 in weekly payments each year until 2018/19, when it fell to £56,512: making a grand total of £1,074,050.

The council said it has one person placed at the Swiss Cottage site who has been there for four years.

It also said CCL runs a female-only facility in Barnet, which accounts for some of its payments.

A spokesperson said: “We demand the highest standards for our vulnerable young people. We take a zero tolerance approach and will take action if there is any evidence of anti-social or criminal behaviour affecting staff, residents or the local community.”

Islington has had one young person placed at the Swiss Cottage site in the past year, but the cost of the placement is not yet publicly available.

A spokesperson said: “We are satisfied that the quality of care the young people are receiving is good and suited to their needs, and that staffing levels are appropriate to safeguard and monitor their welfare. We have found no evidence of poor care at this provision, which we have visited a total of 11 times in the last six months.

“We would always expect any private provider to ensure it complies with the local licensing and planning requirements.”

Meanwhile, Hackney Council has paid £38,467 to CCL for a single placement elsewhere.

The local authority said it had no knowledge of the Swiss Cottage site, but said it would not commission such placements for looked-after children.

A spokesperson added: “The accommodation supplied to us requires the provider to have a HMO licence.”