National Ombudsmen
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Southwark Council housed family in temporary accommodation for 18 months

Southwark Council (London Borough) left a vulnerable family in cramped, temporary accommodation for 18 months with little contact – then tried to evict them with only nine days’ notice.

The finding comes after an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), which upholds a complaint from the mother of the family.

The investigation also uncovered that Southwark Council took 15 months to respond to the mother’s complaint she made to the council about its decision that the family should return to its permanent address.

The complainant and her four children fled her council flat in September 2010 after threats of violence and fear for the safety of her sons from being recruited by local gangs.

The LGO’s report finds that the council did not either treat the complainant as homeless or carry out a prompt and full risk assessment, but housed the family in overcrowded temporary accommodation until more information could be obtained on their level of risk.

In November 2010 the council decided that the family could return to its permanent accommodation. The mother, still in fear of returning, disputed the decision and lodged a formal complaint in January 2011.

It wasn’t until March 2012, after living in various temporary homes, that the council made a decision on the case. With little contact in the interim, it wrote to the complainant to advise it was cancelling the temporary accommodation and they should return to the permanent home within 9 days.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“The council failed to take responsibility for resolving the situation, and as such the vulnerable family was caught in a black hole between different departments and agencies. To let this state of affairs drag on so long, and without any meaningful liaison with the family, is indefensible.

“However, I welcome the improvements Southwark has made to its procedures as a result of the investigation – we want councils to be able to learn from the complaints we receive about them and translate this into higher service standards for the public.”

The council has agreed to the LGO’s recommendations, which include paying the complainant £2,000 for the distress caused by living in temporary accommodation for too long; reviewing its risk assessment decision with up-to-date information from the complainant; and writing off rent arrears caused by the failure of the council to implement housing benefit policies correctly.

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