London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (10 009 069)

Category : Housing > Homelessness

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 10 Feb 2011

Summary

The Council failed in its duty to a pregnant young woman who applied for assistance as a homeless person.

The complaint

The Ombudsman said: “This vulnerable young woman was badly let down by Richmond at a time when she was in urgent housing need. The council failed to offer advice and assistance, despite having a clear duty to do so”.

‘Miss Browning’ (not her real name for legal reasons), a young woman in her twenties, was asked to leave her parents’ home after she became pregnant. She went to stay with her sister and niece in a one-bedroom housing association flat in the Richmond area. She could not continue to stay with her sister, but she wished to live near her so that she could benefit from her support. She requested assistance from Richmond Council as a homeless person in priority need.

Miss Browning complained that the Council refused to take a homelessness application or make enquiries, and that it failed in its duty to provide her with interim accommodation. She said she was told by an officer in the Housing Options Service to make a homelessness application to another London borough instead. The Council accepted that this should never have happened. When Miss Browning later approached the borough of Wandsworth for help, her homelessness application was dealt with properly and she was provided with permanent housing.

The Ombudsman said: “The Council should clearly have accepted that this visit triggered its duty to take a homelessness application and make enquiries, rather than turning Miss Browning away. It was wrong for the Council to evade its duty by telling her to apply to Wandsworth instead. Because no application was taken, no enquiries were made and no interim accommodation was offered. Nor was Miss Browning offered any other advice or assistance. The notes recording Miss Browning’s visit to the Housing Options Service were poor and the handling of this case was careless. There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to prevent access to housing assistance.”

Recommendations

The Council accepted that it was at fault and agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendations to remedy the injustice.

The Council will enter into a reciprocal housing agreement with the London Borough of Wandsworth to enable Miss Browning to move to suitable accommodation in its area. A Richmond officer interviewed Miss Browning and she will be nominated for a one-bedroom flat in her first preference area. The Council also agreed to pay Miss Browning’s removal expenses (up to £500) and a further £500 compensation to recognise the distress and inconvenience she suffered and her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.

Remedy agreed with Council: 10 February 2011

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