National Ombudsmen
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Ombudsman criticises York Council about family overcrowding

City of York Council moved a homeless family into a house that was overcrowded from the moment they moved in, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

In her report, issued yesterday, she says “This has caused the family a serious injustice. They have been forced to live in overcrowded conditions for over two years and the two daughters, now aged 11 and 12, have had to share a bedroom barely big enough for two single beds.”

A family of four, including two daughters of 9 and 10, applied for housing on the ground they were homeless. The Council offered them a property with two bedrooms, but one of them was too small by law for the children. The father complained that the Council insisted he accept the property anyway, and had since then failed to give him adequate priority on the housing register to enable him to move to a bigger property within a reasonable period of time.

The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice because:

  • the Council did not comply with the law by placing the family in a property that was too small: she expects the Council to be aware of the law and carry out basic checks on the properties it lets to ensure it complies with its statutory obligations, and
  • while the family continues to live in the property, the Council is in breach of the law and could be prosecuted for the offence.

The seriousness of the situation was made worse by the fact that, even when this matter was brought to the attention of the Council by the complainant, his MP and the Ombudsman’s office, the Council still insisted it had acted within the law, thus prolonging the family’s unsuitable housing conditions for a further six months.

The Council had already increased the level of priority for the family, backdating it to the date they accepted the tenancy. The Ombudsman recommended the Council raise this to the highest priority to ensure they were rehoused as quickly as possible. While the Council was considering this, the father bid successfully on a three-bedroom property of his choice.

In addition, the Council has agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendations to: 

  • pay the complainant £2,000 compensation for the family’s significant distress, frustration, time and trouble because of having to live in unsuitable accommodation for two years longer than necessary, and
  • review its guidance to housing officers on its duties under overcrowding legislation and government guidance, and arrange refresher training for all housing officers involved in making offers of accommodation to ensure their knowledge and practice is up to date.

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