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Child left in pain for years because of council delays

A young person spent three years in unnecessary pain because delays by Lambeth council meant they could not have a crucial operation, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found.

The child has significant medical needs and uses a wheelchair. The child was living in a property secured by London Borough of Lambeth with their mother and sibling. An Occupational Therapist (OT) told Lambeth council the property was not suitable for the child in 2019.

The property could not accommodate the child’s wheelchair so it had to be left outside, and the child found it difficult to move around inside without it. And because it was so unsuitable specialist equipment for carrying and lifting the child could not be installed, and the special bed and supportive seating they needed to relieve pain and keep them safe when eating, drinking and sleeping could not be put in place.

The property was so unsuitable, medical specialists said the child could not have a key operation until they were in more appropriate accommodation.

Despite being told how unsuitable the accommodation was repeatedly by the family, their school, social workers, occupational therapists, and the child’s medical team who raised safeguarding concerns, the council did not take any action.

The OT told the council the child’s health was deteriorating: they were in constant pain, needing medication and injections and added: “the long-term impact of [them] being unsuitably housed means [they] will have no bones in [their] hips to keep [their] legs in place. This will make it more difficult to support [them] with manual handling and positioning. [They] will also never be able to be supported in standing.”

The family was finally rehoused in a suitable property in October 2022. By the time they were rehoused, the original operation was no longer an option.

The Ombudsman investigation found numerous significant faults with the way the council dealt with the family’s housing situation. The council should have accepted it had a duty to the family in April 2019 but delayed making this decision for nine months. Additionally it took 21 months too long to accept it had a main housing duty to the family and failed to look for more suitable accommodation for them. The Ombudsman’s investigation also criticised the council’s poor communication with the family and the poor handling of their complaint.

Nigel Ellis, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Chief Executive, said:

“This family spent three and a half years in accommodation that was quite obviously unsuitable to everyone but the council.

“While I appreciate the family needed quite specific accommodation which would be difficult to source, we have found no evidence the council made any efforts to find anything suitable for much of the three years they were in the property.

“As a result the child and their mother were put to a significant and avoidable risk of harm over a prolonged period.

“The council has now agreed to a wholescale external review of its housing service, which I hope will go some way to preventing situations like this from happening to other vulnerable families.”

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 family and pay them a combined £20,000 for the time spent in unsuitable accommodation at avoidable risk of harm, pain and lack of dignity they suffered.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to commission an independent external review of its homelessness service.

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