Homeless family left in damp and cockroach-infested properties by London council

London Borough of Haringey did not deal properly with disrepair issues at the two properties where it placed a homeless family, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found.

Problems the mother and her children encountered in the temporary accommodation included cockroach infestations, issues with the gas supply, mould, damp and broken locks.

Some of the problems at their first property were not resolved by the time the family moved out, while many of those at the second property should have been picked up before the family moved in.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault in how it dealt with the family’s requests to have the suitability of the properties reviewed, and how it handled their reports of the disrepair problems. It also criticised the council for directing the family to the wrong Ombudsman after dealing with their complaints.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King said:

“We issued a report last year about the way Haringey council carried out property suitability reviews. The council agreed to make changes to its procedures. Clearly these changes have not been sufficiently rigorous, so I am pleased the report has prompted the council to conduct these reviews itself rather than use an external contractor.

“It is good administrative practice to keep good records of what work needs to be carried out, when it is to be done and when it has been completed – particularly in private let situations such as this.

“I welcome the council’s acceptance of many of my recommendations to resolve the situation for this family, and hope its commitment to audit other cases will ensure those who may have been similarly affected will have their situations put right too.”

The mother first requested a suitability review of her family’s temporary accommodation in December 2017, but the council neither decided the review nor offered them a new property until four months after the request. This was double the statutory timescale. When she asked for a suitability review of her second temporary accommodation, this took eight months to complete.

The council leased both properties from private landlords. At the first property, the mother reported problems with the boiler and gas supply, and at one point was left without heating, hot water and cooking facilities for eight days. She also complained about damp, mould, cockroaches, and problems with the flat’s security.

In the second property, the mother complained about the general disrepair of the property before she moved in, that she needed to hire a cleaner because it was so dirty, and there was rubbish in the garden which was never removed.

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 family.

The Ombudsman has also asked the council to pay them £1,600 in recognition of the faults identified. It has only agreed to pay part of this amount. The council should also reimburse the cost of cleaning the second property and for buying curtains and blinds.

The council has agreed to conduct an inspection of the second property with the mother present, and give her a clear schedule of works to be carried out.

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 conduct an audit of other suitability review requests received between December 2017 and December 2018 to identify any failures to follow the statutory timescale and offer a suitable remedy for any injustice caused.

The council will also review its record keeping of temporary accommodation repairs to ensure it has complete records of what happens on every repair request and it follows up on any jobs not completed.

Article date: 11 April 2019

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