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Council places woman and autistic son in flat below nuisance neighbour

A mother and her autistic son were caused severe distress after they were placed in temporary accommodation below a neighbour who had previous warnings for anti-social behaviour, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found they were placed in the unsuitable accommodation by Brighton and Hove Council after it told them they would not be provided with another flat if they refused.

The investigation found the council at fault for placing the family in the accommodation, despite a weight of evidence provided by professionals that the son’s severe autism meant he was particularly sound sensitive, with loud noises causing him acute stress and anxiety.  The council should have done more to investigate the problems with the flat and find more suitable temporary accommodation.

The Ombudsman also found fault with the council’s delay in reimbursing storage charges and a delay in responding to the mother’s complaints.

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

“This family were caused significant stress being placed in thoroughly unsuitable accommodation by the council, and at one point they were even split up because of the neighbour’s poor behaviour.

“While I appreciate the strains councils are under to find the right accommodation, particularly in areas of high property prices, they still need to ensure the suitability of the accommodation they are offering.

“I now call on the council to revisit the report and provide the remedy I have recommended to the family.”

The council accepted it owed the mother the main housing duty in 2014, and she was initially placed in self-contained temporary accommodation leased from a private landlord.

When the lease expired, the council placed her in a downstairs flat in another council’s area. At the first viewing the mother knew it would not be suitable – as she heard a lot of noise from the flat above. However, the council proceeded with the offer and told her the only alternative would be bed and breakfast accommodation.

After an advisor contacted the council on the mother’s behalf, the council carried out a suitability assessment and decided the property was not suitable. The mother said the tenant in the flat above swore frequently and made a lot of noise. The flat also did not have enough room for the son’s sensory equipment.

While the family was waiting to move from the flat, the mother reported noise nuisances and in one instance her neighbour threatened to stab her and kill her son.

A housing officer contacted a neighbouring authority, who said there had been a nine-year history of anti-social behaviour with the neighbour, and that it had issued three Anti-Social Behaviour Orders against her. However, these enquiries were not made until almost two months after the family moved into the unsuitable accommodation.

The family finally moved into more suitable accommodation two months after moving into the flat.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case, the council has been told to apologise to the mother and pay her £750 to recognise the injustice caused to her and her son for leaving them in unsuitable accommodation.

It should also pay them £100 for the six month delay in reimbursing storage charges and a further £150 for the time and trouble caused by its delay and poor handling of the complaint. 

Article date: 18 July 2018