London Borough of Hounslow failed to provide adequate help to a homeless woman fleeing domestic violence.
The Ombudsman said this period must have been extremely difficult for the complainant. “She was staying in overcrowded conditions while making a four-hour round trip across London to get her children to school and continuing in employment. She has made clear the impact this had on her and her children and I am very pleased she does now have more suitable local accommodation.”
The woman and her two small children left her mother-in-law’s property, where she had been living for six years, because of domestic violence involving her partner. She moved to her mother’s home in east London (where her two brothers were also already living), and continued to take her children to school in Hounslow – a four-hour round trip – and work three days a week in central London.
She approached the Council as homeless. It did not offer temporary accommodation and concluded she was not fleeing domestic violence and it was reasonable for her to return to her mother-in-law’s property. After a review request from the complainant’s solicitors, the Council overturned its ‘not homeless’ decision. A new decision on her homelessness application was never reached.
The Council referred her to its rent deposit scheme that assists those who are having difficulty finding accommodation or cannot afford to pay a deposit. It involves the Council paying a returnable deposit of one month’s rent direct to the landlord or agent of the property involved. The complainant twice identified properties that might suit the scheme, but both times the Council failed to act. The second time she borrowed money to pay the deposit herself so she could move into the property.
The Ombudsman found that the Council:
- failed to offer temporary accommodation following the review decision on the homelessness application
- failed to reach a fresh decision on the application
- failed to take action to pursue a property identified that might have been suitable for the Council’s rent deposit scheme
- failed to progress matters once a second property was identified, and or take action when the case officer was on leave, and
- failed to respond adequately to the enquiries made by the Ombudsman’s investigator.
To remedy the injustice caused by the Council’s maladministration, the Ombudsman recommended that the Council:
- refund the complainant with the amount it would have paid under the rent deposit scheme
- pay the complainant £500 in recognition of her distress, additional costs and unnecessary time and trouble, and
- review its procedures to ensure that:
- officers dealing with homelessness cases are clear about their statutory responsibilities, particularly about the provision of temporary accommodation
- it keeps proper records of all significant contact with applicants or third parties and replies to reasonable enquiries
- it makes officers aware of the steps to take if contacts with letting agents do not result in appropriate information being provided, and
- it provides the Ombudsman with full and timely responses to enquiries on any future complaints.
LGO satisfied with Council's response: 12 March 2012