Homeless family left in crowded conditions while council delayed making decision

A mother and her five children were accommodated in a damp and mouldy single bedroom, too small for the number of people, by Ealing council while it took too long to decide their homelessness status.

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation found the council’s delays added three months onto a six month stay in the unsuitable accommodation.

The Ombudsman’s investigation also found that, while the council was not wrong to place the family in the accommodation in the short term, it should have continued looking for a more suitable place.

The Ombudsman recognised the efforts the London Borough of Ealing has made to review how it meets its demand for suitable accommodation, but has called on it to write to all people currently placed in unsuitable housing and inform them of their rights.

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

“Councils have a duty to ensure accommodation they place families in is suitable for their needs. And, while I appreciate the strains councils are under to find suitable accommodation at short notice for large families, in this case the council should have kept looking for something more appropriate.

“The family was left in overcrowded accommodation which had significant repair issues. This is not the first case this year in which I have reported on the poor housing families are being left in.

“I am pleased the council has agreed to most of my recommendations, but it still needs to accept and acknowledge others may be affected by similar issues raised in the report.”

The family were placed in the room, which had its own cooking and bathing facilities, by the council after they were made homeless. The council said the family needed a property with three bedrooms.

The mother complained to the council about its suitability. She said it was not affordable, unsafe as it was too close to her former partner, and not close enough to her mother and the children’s schools. It was on the third floor, and she struggled to climb the stairs due to pelvic pain when she was pregnant.

She told the council the room was damp and mouldy, had leaks in the electric cupboard, and had no working heating.

The Ombudsman found the council wrongly recorded the accommodation as not overcrowded.

The Ombudsman has also criticised the council for the accommodation’s affordability. It assessed the woman as being able to pay less than £40 per week for accommodation, yet she was left with arrears of £5,000 when she left because she was being charged several hundred pounds a week. This has now been waived.

The council eventually found the family were intentionally homeless, and therefore did not have a housing duty towards them. This meant the council accommodated the family for longer than if it had made a swifter decision.

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 agreed to apologise to the woman and pay her £300 a month for the five months the family lived in unsuitable accommodation.

It will also apologise for the delays in dealing with her homelessness application and pay her £100 to acknowledge the frustration this caused.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public.

In this case it has reviewed its progress in sourcing suitable and affordable accommodation and identified the action it needs to take to ensure it has a sufficient supply of suitable accommodation for homeless people.

It has also reviewed the resources within its homelessness and temporary accommodation departments to ensure it can meet demand.

The Ombudsman recommended the council writes to people already in accommodation identified as unsuitable, and advise them of this, and their right to complain.

The council says it will identify and write to any households living in overcrowded bed and breakfast accommodation, but to meet this recommendation, it should look at all aspects of suitability, and not just overcrowding.

The council says it would not knowingly or deliberately place anyone in unsuitable accommodation, however this conflicts with the Ombudsman’s findings in this case.

Article date: 07 June 2018

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