Housing ban on paedophiles `puts children at risk'

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The Independent Online
Local councils should not impose blanket bans on housing convicted paedophiles, the Chartered Institute of Housing said in new guidelines released yesterday.

"Hard-line approaches" often do little more than drive child-sex offenders underground, putting children at more risk, the organisation warned.

The institute has produced the first guidelines for housing workers in England and Wales to deal with the highly sensitive issue of convicted paedophiles in the community. The move follows a series of incidents across the country when convicted or suspected paedophiles have been driven from their homes by angry neighbours. Some councils have used their powers under the Housing Act effectively to exclude most or all sex offenders from housing registers.

In Middlesbrough, the local authority announced that it would formally exclude sex offenders from estates. In Birmingham, however, a council worker was suspended for allegedly alerting mothers on an estate that a paedophile was moving into the area.

The institute argues against banning paedophiles, saying such an approach could expose an authority to a legal challenge. Instead it urges local authorities to work with other agencies including the police, social services and probation.

"A hard-line approach may mean the ex-offender becomes homeless or is housed in the private sector and other professionals may find it more difficult to manage their rehabilitation," say the guidelines.

The institute also notes that it is impossible to form a stereotypical definition of a sex offender. Children are more at risk from people they know (two-thirds of victims know their abusers) and half of abusers were or had been married. "What police are most concerned about is not being able to trace someone with a history of sex abuse," said the institute's chief executive, Christine Laird. "It's very important to know where sex offenders are located within the community so we can ensure the community is protected."

The document has been officially endorsed by the Local Government Association, which represents nearly 400 housing associations in England and Wales.

"What we are interested in is ensuring that a national framework is created to deal with housing sex offenders so it is not left to individual arrangements by police," said Jeanette York, the organisation's housing policy officer. "This is the first step towards addressing regional inconsistencies and maintaining public confidence."

The initiative was also backed by Victim Support, which offers counselling to victims of crime. "We have to welcome what they are doing with regard to rehousing sex offenders," said a spokesperson. "It is an emotive issue and one of concern to vulnerable members of the public, the victims."

John Wadham, of the civil rights group Liberty, added: "Obviously sex offenders need houses in exactly the same way as does everyone else. If we can't house them then they are more likely to reoffend.

"The key question is where sex offenders are to be housed rather than whether or not they should be housed."

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