Council delays leave disabled woman in unsuitable temporary accommodation for too long

A disabled woman, who had previously been sleeping rough in an airport, spent too long in temporary fourth floor accommodation provided by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The woman, who had previously had a stroke, had been diagnosed with severe tinnitus and arthritis, leaving her with chronic balance problems and dizziness.

The council provided her with accommodation up four flights of stairs, despite the woman, her GP and solicitor telling the council of her medical conditions.

When the woman complained, the council told her she could either accept the accommodation, or return to the streets.

The council’s delay left the woman spending 14 months too long in unsuitable accommodation that she struggled to access, and which her GP claimed caused her health to deteriorate.

The Ombudsman’s investigation also found the council at fault for taking 20 weeks to review its decision, when it should have taken just eight. And the report, published today, criticises the council for confining the review decision to the single issue of whether the woman was homeless, when it should have considered its full duty towards her.

The Ombudsman also found fault with the way the council considered the woman’s mobility needs, despite being provided with compelling evidence.

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

“This woman waited too long to find out what duty the council owed her because she had to go through reviews of each individual criterion. The courts have confirmed that a request to review one criterion, such as priority need, is a request to review the whole decision on the duty owed: she should have only had to ask for one review.

“On top of this, the council failed to consider the problems the woman faced when she was placed in the unsuitable fourth floor accommodation: she struggled to climb the stairs and she had falls. The uncertainty about her situation increased her anxiety at what was an already difficult time.

“I now urge the council to accept the recommendations in my report, which should ensure other homeless people do not have to suffer the same problems.”

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 should apologise to the woman and pay her £3,500 in recognition of the hardship caused by her 14-month stay in unsuitable accommodation.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case, the council should ask applicants to read the suitability of accommodation assessment form and sign to indicate their agreement.

It should also produce a briefing note to remind officers of the duty to keep the suitability of interim accommodation under review and to respond promptly if they receive information that indicates a person’s accommodation may be unsuitable for their needs.

It should also overhaul its process for dealing with homelessness reviews to eliminate delays and ensure the review officer reviews the whole decision afresh by considering all relevant criteria. This includes any new material or facts which have come to light since the original decision.

Article date: 11 April 2019

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