A father who gave up his life abroad at short notice to look after his children was denied his housing rights by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found.
The man had been living and working abroad when the courts removed his children from the care of his ex-partner in December 2012. He returned to the UK to look after them and was placed in an unaffordable flat by the council. He and his family have been living there ever since, and have been given no opportunity to appeal.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council’s actions denied the father his rights as a homeless person whom the council had a legal duty to help. The council’s records show that when the father applied as homeless, it decided it owed him the full homeless duty. It should have sent the father a notice explaining this, but instead arranged a six-month private let without explaining the consequences if he signed for the property.
Had the council acted properly, the flat would have been temporary accommodation, and would have remained so till it made an offer of accommodation under its allocation scheme or settled accommodation under its homelessness duty. Until the council made a final decision on his homelessness application, it had a duty to provide the father and his family with interim accommodation.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:
“The council failed to discuss the ramifications of accepting the property to the family when it arranged the private let. The council should have either explained that by accepting the flat the council would no longer have a duty towards them, or it should have offered the flat as temporary accommodation, with all the review rights that entails.
“Instead, the council effectively acted as a gatekeeper, did not give the family a homelessness decision and denied them their review rights.
“Had the council acted properly in this case, it would not have had to pay a significant sum to the private landlord to make up the difference in the rent.
“I would now urge the council to consider my report and accept its findings.”
The father made a homeless application at the end of 2012 and the council found the family a three-bedroom, privately rented flat. The father explained to the council he could not afford the £850 a month rent, but signed a six-month tenancy.
Over the next few years the rent was raised in increments to £1,025 a month, and because of the benefits cap the family’s housing benefit was reduced in the same period. In 2017 and 2018, the family received notices seeking possession because of rent arrears.
The council offered the family one room in a hostel with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The father declined the offer.
The council has paid more than £10,000 to the landlord to cover the family’s housing benefit shortfall, but the family still lives in the unaffordable 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 asked to apologise to the father and place him top of the list for each eligible property he bids for until he makes a successful bid.
The council should also pay the father £4,500 for failing to deal with his homelessness and housing applications correctly and the delay in rehousing his family to settled, affordable accommodation, and the stressful possession proceedings. The payment will also cover the arrears of £500 he still had after the council made discretionary housing payments and the time, trouble and distress the council caused him.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public.
In this case, the council should tell people in its allocations scheme and housing register review decisions letters about their right to complain to the Ombudsman.
Article date: 21 March 2019