Ombudsman finds council placed homeless disabled child too far from school

Wandsworth council has apologised to a homeless mother after placing her in unsuitable accommodation two hours away from her disabled child’s school.

At first, the mother – who also has mobility issues – and her family was placed in a flat which was accessed via a rusted external staircase in September 2021. At one point the mother slipped down the stairs that were still icy while carrying a younger child. The council’s own children’s services department described the stairs as ‘treacherous’.

The family was moved to a second interim property, but this was also a long way from the child’s school – which was named in his Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan. The school raised its concerns about the impact the long days were having on the child. It noted his attendance had reduced and he was often late, missing core subject learning.

The family was offered a more suitable property in the borough in November 2022, but this was not ready for her to move into until May 2023.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s investigation into the woman’s complaint found significant delays by the council when deciding whether it owed the main housing duty to the family. It also found the council failed to properly assess the family’s housing need – and neglected to ask about the child’s special educational needs (SEN) or his EHC Plan when deciding where to place them.

It also failed to properly assess whether either property was suitable for the family, and whether it considered the distance to the children’s school, or the impact of the boy’s SEN, on that journey.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social care Ombudsman said:

“When assessing families’ homelessness situations, it’s really important that councils look at the circumstances in their entirety and take into account any medical or special educational needs, before deciding the interim or temporary accommodation offered.

“In this case, I am particularly concerned about the lack of joined-up working between the council’s homelessness and education teams.

“While I appreciate suitable accommodation is difficult to find for families, particularly in London, at no point did the council consider offering the family transport to get the child to school, which may have gone some way to alleviating the pressure on them. And in fact when the mother did apply, the council refused to consider her application because she was living in another council’s area.

“I am pleased the council has accepted the recommendations in my report, and hope the valuable lessons gained from this family’s poor experience will help ensure other homeless families’ situations are considered more holistically in future.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and pay her £10,000 for the injustice caused by its failings. It will also pay her a further £3,800 to reflect the additional costs she had getting her children to school.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to share the lessons from the investigation with its housing and homelessness staff and remind relevant staff of the need to properly consider the applicant’s housing needs when carrying out an assessment.

It will also review its processes and remind staff about the many lessons learned from this case, including around suitability of accommodation, home to school transport, and transferring children’s EHC Plans to receiving authorities.

Article date: 25 January 2024

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