A homeless family should not have been forcibly evicted at short notice from temporary accommodation arranged by Maidstone Borough Council, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.
The family had been living in accommodation arranged by the council with a private landlord. But, following allegations about minor breaches of the tenancy agreement, the landlord evicted the family and told them to pack immediately.
During the eviction process, the landlord moved the family’s belongings outside and prevented them from accessing parts of the flat – including not allowing the young children to use the lavatory.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found a number of faults with the way the council handled the family’s situation.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:
“Maidstone council sided with the landlord and allowed him to unlawfully evict this family with little notice, without hearing the family’s point of view.
“The council has told me it could not prevent the landlord from evicting the family. But it is not acceptable for the council to simply have terms dictated to them by their suppliers which then contravene the law. The council should expect and deliver the same standards through a third party supplier that it would deliver itself, and that is especially important in such a personal service as the housing of a family with young children.
“I now ask Maidstone council to accept all the recommendations I have made and reflect on my report.”
The family claimed homelessness at Maidstone Borough Council in March 2015, and applied for housing. They were left waiting in a carpark in the cold for a number of hours while the council’s out-of-hours service found them accommodation.
The family were placed in bed and breakfast accommodation and by the end of the month were offered a self-contained flat.
The day after the family moved in they told the council it was unsuitable: the young daughter needed a cot, and neighbours were complaining about noise from the children.
The family also complained the landlord was verbally abusive. The landlord complained to the authority that the family had ‘moved furniture around’ and the young child had drawn on the walls. The family were warned by the council they may be evicted if there were further issues.
The family were forcibly evicted by the landlord in July and the family paid for their own bed and breakfast accommodation for nearly a week while they asked the council to review its decision to discharge the full housing duty.
Following intervention from homeless charity, Shelter, the council reviewed the family’s case and decided the family should have had four weeks’ notice to leave the flat. The family were given accommodation for four more weeks, but were also handed a ‘notice to quit’ letter giving them a month to leave any temporary accommodation provided to them by the council.
The family asked for a review of the council’s decision and this was reversed in September. A few days later the family were found permanent housing.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found fault with the council for:
- the way it handled the family’s homelessness application
- allowing an unlawful eviction, and not giving the family 28 days’ notice to leave the flat
- not investigating allegations of the landlord’s harsh behaviour on the day of eviction
- not giving the family the chance to give their side of the story before making a decision based on evidence from both parties
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.
In this case, the council should apologise to the family and pay them £500 for belongings including a television that were either broken or lost during the unlawful eviction. It should also pay them £550 for the bed and breakfast accommodation and £370 for their removal and storage costs.
It should also pay them £750 which reflects some of the cost of takeaway food for the two months the family was in the bed and breakfast after the eviction; and a further £2,000 to reflect their avoidable distress.
Article date: 28 November 2017