Failure to deal properly with a homeless pregnant woman
Archived press release
Date Published: 21/01/10
Hammersmith and Fulham Council failed to consider taking a homelessness application from a pregnant woman when she left her accommodation.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council failed to consider taking a homelessness application from a pregnant woman when she left her accommodation, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Tony Redmond. In his report, issued today (21 January 2010) he says that the woman “suffered some injustice because she was not provided with the level of support and assistance she could reasonably expect as a person who was homeless and in priority need.” She was not placed in temporary accommodation while the Council investigated the circumstances that led to her homelessness.
‘Ms Kenza’ (not her real name for legal reasons) complains that the Council failed to give her adequate advice and assistance when she became homeless after she left her private rented accommodation following an incident of domestic violence. She was eight months pregnant at this time.
Housing officers had encouraged her to find accommodation in the private rented sector through the Direct Lettings Scheme and they did not explain that she could also make a homelessness application. She was not provided with emergency accommodation when she became homeless, but was subsequently provided with emergency accommodation by the Council’s Out-of-Hours Service. She says that, later, she spent four nights sleeping rough in a park. She also alleges that she was subjected to racial and sexual discrimination by Council officers.
The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice. The standard of record keeping by housing officers in this case was so poor that it hindered the Ombudsman’s investigation of the complaint and fell so far below acceptable standards that it amounts to maladministration.
He says: “It has not been possible to resolve some conflicts of evidence because of the absence of detailed contemporaneous notes recording housing officers’ contact with Ms Kenza, [voluntary agency] caseworkers and other professionals.”
Officers did not consider taking a homelessness application from Ms Kenza after she left her accommodation even though she had told a housing officer she was homeless. The Council applied too strict a test when deciding whether it should provide Ms Kenza with temporary accommodation by insisting she provide proof of homelessness first. The Council also failed to follow its own procedures for referring victims of domestic violence to a specialist domestic violence housing advocate for support and advice. The liaison and exchange of information between officers in the Children’s Service and Housing Service about a vulnerable service user was also ineffective.
However, in the absence of any specific incident or comment made by an officer, the Ombudsman does not uphold Ms Kenza’s complaint that she was subjected to racial and sexual discrimination.
As a result of the Council’s failings, Ms Kenza was not provided with the level of support and assistance she could reasonably expect as a person who was homeless and in priority need. She was not placed in temporary accommodation while the Council carried out a full investigation of the circumstances that led to her becoming homeless.
The Ombudsman recommends that the Council:
- apologises to Ms Kenza for its shortcomings in handling her request for housing advice and assistance;
- pays her compensation of £750;
- reminds all housing officers of the need to maintain accurate and detailed records of their contacts with service users and their advisers and advocates;
- reviews its systems for sharing information between Children’s Services (and Adult Services in relevant cases) and the Housing Service about vulnerable service users;
- ensures that the established procedure for referring service users to the domestic violence housing advocate are followed; and
- ensures that all forms used by the Housing Service are dated and ensure that records of service users placed in emergency accommodation by the Out-of-Hours Service are copied to the housing officer responsible for the case.
Ref no 09 001 262