Councils reminded of their duty to homeless families following Ombudsman investigation
Local authorities are being reminded about the need to house homeless families appropriately, following two separate investigations into the London Borough of Redbridge by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The families were each placed in hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation for around eight months by the council, before being found appropriate accommodation. The legal limit for bed and breakfast accommodation is just six weeks.
Others in the borough will now benefit from the Ombudsman’s recommendations. The council has agreed to ensure it moves other families from unsuitable accommodation without delay and will adopt a policy on allocating temporary accommodation.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:
“While I recognise the pressure councils – particularly in London – are under to provide suitable accommodation for large numbers of homeless families, the law is clear on this. Families should not be left in unsuitable accommodation for so long. The fact there are pressures, does not diminish the council’s duties, or the impact felt by the families.
“Our investigations point to these two families being part of a wider problem in Redbridge with numbers of families spending too long in temporary accommodation. However, the council appears to be making steps to reduce the problem and to act on my recommendations to put things right for the two families.”
One family, made homeless after their landlord re-possessed their home, was placed in interim accommodation involving two rooms on separate floors. There were insufficient beds for all family members and the parents had to sleep apart, one in each room, to safeguard the children overnight.
When the parents split up and the father moved out, the whole family had to sleep in just one room, worsening the shortage of beds. The family spent more than eight months like this before being found suitable accommodation.
The second family of five, including a son with autism and learning disabilities, were placed in a room in a privately-owned building housing other people, some distance from the borough.
The family claimed the room was causing their son’s medical condition to worsen and affecting both his, and therefore the rest of the family’s, sleep patterns. They complained about their poor living conditions, including damp, poor mattresses and vermin. The council accepted the accommodation was unsuitable within two months of the family moving in, but it was six months later when the family was found other accommodation.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.
In this case, the council has agreed to apologise to both families.
It will pay the first family £2,200 to recognise their distress and the time they were left in unsuitable accommodation.
It will pay the second family £2,300 for the same reasons.
The council has also agreed to give families written notification of the law each time it places them in unsuitable temporary accommodation, and ensure it finds appropriate accommodation within six weeks. It will update the Ombudsman on its implementation of these measures.
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