Ombudsman finds systemic problems with Barnet’s homelessness services during investigation
A homeless woman was turned away five times by the London Borough of Barnet after she lost her home, a Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) investigation has found.
Because the council failed to review her situation properly, the woman was left street homeless over the winter months, and spent nights sofa surfing with friends or sleeping on the night bus. At one point she was hospitalised for 10 days due to a severe asthma attack.
The woman first approached the council for help in January 2015 after she was evicted by her private landlord. The council provided her with a place in a hostel for three nights, but failed to determine whether it had a duty to her as a homeless person.
She approached the council four further times over the following 15 months, but on each occasion she was told she was not a priority need and given advice on contacting charities for support. On no occasion did the council give her a formal decision about her homeless status, that they are legally obliged to do. This meant she had no way of challenging the council’s decision.
The woman and her father complained to the Ombudsman. During the investigation, the council told the LGO that if it “were to issue formal decisions to all those seeking housing assistance there would be significant challenges with the number of Housing Needs officers being required to conduct such a high volume of assessments and write the subsequent decision letters.”
Local Government Ombudsman, Michael King said:
“Councils are legally required to issue a written decision to people who approach them as homeless. Without this those people are left in limbo; denied their review and appeal rights, and are potentially without access to accommodation which they might need.
“The LGO issued a special report on councils’ duties to homeless people in 2011 and I am disappointed to see councils are still making errors in this area. As shown in this report, failing to deal with homeless people properly can have very real and serious consequences for some of the most vulnerable in society.”
Since complaining to the LGO, the woman has received an apology from the council and has been offered temporary accommodation, which she has refused.
The Ombudsman has also recommended the council provide the woman with a written decision on her homelessness application, and pay her £300 to reflect her lost review and appeal rights.
It should also pay the woman’s father £200 to reflect his time and trouble in complaining on behalf of his daughter.
The council should also ensure that in future, homelessness applications are taken and decision letters issued in all appropriate cases.
Barnet Homes delivers the homelessness service on behalf of the council. The council retains responsibility for the service. In our report, we refer to the council, rather than to Barnet Homes. This is because the council is accountable for any failings in the service.
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