Family housed in London tower block had no cold water

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised a London council after it placed a young homeless family in a tower block with no cold water and a lift that only worked infrequently.

The family was placed in the ninth floor flat by London Borough of Haringey after the temporary accommodation they were initially placed in was infested with mice.

The one-bedroom flat, in an ageing tower block due for demolition, had no cold running water in the kitchen leaving the family to climb flights of stairs with a pram and large bottles of water because the lift was often broken.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for placing the family in the flat when officers knew there were problems with the water supply. It also criticised the council’s response to the family’s request for a review of the accommodation’s suitability, and to their complaints.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“This is yet another case of a council housing a family in what I have described in the past as Dickensian conditions. The family spent 10 months in accommodation which had initial heating problems, no cold water, and inadequate lifts, having been moved out of one with a rodent infestation.

“The flat was patently unsuitable, and the lack of cold water meant it fell below minimum acceptable standards. This caused the family real hardship.

“I welcome the council’s readiness to accept my recommendations to remedy the problems this family faced, and hope the changes it will make ensure no other family faces the same situation.”

The council accepted it had a housing duty to the family in 2015 and moved them to the tower block in October 2016.

When they moved in, the family found several problems including a lack of heating because of the disconnected gas meter. They asked the council to review their accommodation at the end of October saying their prematurely-born baby son was at risk of respiratory problems as they suspected damp and mould on the bedroom ceiling.

It was the end of November before a surveyor visited the flat, telling the mother the stains on the bedroom ceiling were not mould, but smoke damage.

The family should have received a suitability review decision no later than the final week of December, but this did not happen. By February 2017 the mother told the council there was still no progress with the repairs, still no cold water in the kitchen and she could not use her washing machine. She was spending £20 a week on bottled water and a further £15 on laundry costs.

In the same email, the mother reported frequent lift breakdowns and anti-social behaviour. She said the lift often remained out of order for days or weeks at a time.

The council put the family on the list for a transfer in March but the family did not get a review decision as promised that month. In July, another manager wrote to the family accepting the flat was unsuitable and apologised for the council’s poor communication.

During a meeting that month, the council agreed to provide the family with bottled water but this never materialised. The family were finally moved to a two-bedroomed property at the end of August 2017.

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 has agreed to apologise to the family and pay them £300 a month for the 10 months they were placed in the unsuitable accommodation.

It will pay an additional £20 a week to reimburse them for the bottled water they had to buy, and £15 per week for their laundry costs.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to tell the Ombudsman what steps it has taken to ensure any other homeless families placed in the block do not experience the same problems. It will also put robust systems in place to log and track the progress of review requests and remind officers of the requirement to issue written decisions on every review request.

Article date: 23 February 2018

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