Ombudsman criticises Newham Council over woman’s tenancy

London Borough of Newham delayed almost 18 months in cancelling a temporary tenancy when a tenant moved into permanent council accommodation, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

In her report, issued today, she says that the delay resulted in rent arrears of nearly £4,000 accumulating and, for this reason, the Council refused her an emergency housing transfer when the woman fled domestic violence a few years later.

The Ombudsman says: “Given that the Council arranged the transfer, I think it is reasonable to expect it to have cancelled the tenancy after two weeks… leaving rent arrears of just £138.”

She adds: “I think it is very possible the complainant would have paid this off herself if she knew it would have enabled her to move and keep her secure tenancy… If the arrears had been cleared, I can see nothing that would have prevented an emergency housing transfer being sanctioned by the Council in 2008.”

When the tenant moved into permanent Council accommodation in July 2003, the Council failed to cancel her tenancy at the previous (temporary) property until nearly 18 months later. As a result, rent arrears of nearly £4,000 accumulated on her account, and for this reason the Council refused her an emergency housing transfer when she fled domestic violence in 2008. She therefore had to make a homelessness application, and she and her children returned to living in temporary accommodation.

In 2011, the Council decided that it should have cancelled the temporary tenancy within two weeks of her leaving it, which would have reduced the rent arrears to £138. But it failed to reconsider granting her a management transfer to restore her to a secure tenancy.

The tenant did not think the reduction in her arrears was sufficient remedy for the injustice caused by the Council’s failings. She believed she should be given a management transfer to a secure tenancy and compensation for the time she spent in temporary accommodation since 2008.

The Ombudsman finds that the Council’s failure to cancel the temporary tenancy for nearly 18 months was maladministration. If it had acted promptly, the complainant’s rent arrears would have been at a much lower level, and the Ombudsman considers it likely that the complainant would have paid them off. Once the Council adjusted the arrears, its failure to reconsider her for a housing transfer was also maladministration.

The Ombudsman recommends that, to remedy the injustice, the Council should:

  • apologise to the complainant
  • pay her £250 compensation for her time and trouble caused by the Council’s delay in reconsidering her for a management transfer, and for its delay in providing the Ombudsman with information, and
  • reconsider her for a management transfer in light of the reduced arrears and her other circumstances at the time.

Report ref no 11 006 128

Article date: 06 November 2012