Nearly 150 families across Sutton have been housed in temporary accommodation for longer than the statutory limit as the council hit back at accusations of exploiting a “legal loophole”.

In 2017 the council put 145 families in shared bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than six weeks, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE).

But the campaigners say B&Bs are “completely unsuitable” for children and accused local authorities across England for “using a loophole to avoid any illegality”.

Louise King, director of CRAE and director of policy and campaigns at Just for Kids Law, said: “Bed and breakfast accommodation is completely unsuitable for children – babies and very young children have nowhere to play, crawl and learn to walk and older children have no privacy and nowhere to study or socialise with friends.

“Children have told us shocking stories about living in accommodation infested with rats and being forced to share filthy bathrooms with adults they do not know.

“Despite it being illegal to house children in B&Bs for longer than six weeks the children we have spoken to have been forced to live there for months on end.

“This data suggests that local authorities are now using a loophole to avoid any illegality while still failing to provide suitable accommodation for families for long periods of time.

“The Government must take urgent action to put a stop to this unacceptable situation.”

Sutton Council itself doesn’t own any B&Bs but does put up families in shared B&B accommodation during emergencies whilst alternatives are found.

A spokesman for the authority confirmed the figures obtained by CRAE but said the number has been “considerably reduced” since 2017.

Of the 145 families in shared B&Bs in Sutton 74 were accommodated for more than six weeks, but in the following year only 26 stayed for longer than the statutory limit.

Meanwhile, 13 were there for seven weeks, 12 for between seven and 11 weeks, and one remained in a shared B&B for three-and-a-half months.

He added: “The council acknowledges that bed and breakfast accommodation is not suitable for children. Every effort is made to move families to alternative accommodation as quickly as possible.

“All bed and breakfast accommodation used to accommodate homeless families meets the Government accommodation standards, as set out in the Homeless Code of Guidance.

“The council is not exploiting a ‘legal loophole’ in the provision of accommodation to homeless households and delivers services within the statutory regulations and guidance.

“Where a household remains in a bed and breakfast for a period over six weeks, that household is prioritised for a move to a more suitable accommodation.”

The data revealed by CRAE comes following the publication of their new report, 'The State of Children's Rights in 2018'.