Homeless family failings

Ombudsman says council at fault for family being left in B&B

Haringey Civic Centre

By Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Disabled children were left in bed and breakfast accommodation because Haringey Council did not do enough to stop a family becoming homeless, according to an official report.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found a mother and her six children had to stay in the B&B for several months after being evicted from their home, causing “avoidable distress and financial loss”.

While the local authority claims it is an isolated incident, the Ombudsman’s report says others “may have suffered a similar injustice”.

Haringey Council has apologised and agreed to pay £1,500 in compensation to the mother, as well as covering her court costs. It will also carry out a review of other homeless cases and provide extra staff training.

The mother of six children, some of whom have disabilities, complained to the Ombudsman in November 2019 while her family were facing eviction from their privately rented home in February 2020.

She had originally made a homeless application to the council in February 2019 because she thought she and her family were not safe at her current address. But instead of helping her find accommodation before she was evicted, the council asked the family to stay in the property until the eviction date – despite a senior housing manager advising colleagues this was not legally appropriate.

The council told her five-bedroom properties in Haringey were rare and she may not be able to be housed within the borough, even though she had told officers that her family’s support network was in Haringey.

When the council eventually offered alternative accommodation, one of the homes was too far away from their support network and the other was in need of repairs.

The family were evicted on 11th February and placed in a hotel – where they were still living when the Ombudsman’s report was written in June.

Family members had to live in different rooms, which the report says is “particularly challenging” for the mother because some of her children have disabilities. She also had to pay for one night using her own money because of booking problems.

The Ombudsman found the council “failed to have regard to or act in line with” an official code of guidance when dealing with the case.

The family were placed in B&B accommodation because of a lack of planning, – even though this should only be used “as a last resort in an emergency and then for the shortest time possible”, the report adds.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King said: “London Borough of Haringey should have acted sooner when the mother alerted them to the possibility her family would be made homeless.

“With large family homes difficult to find in the area, it was all the more important for the council to act swiftly to secure alternative, emergency accommodation before the family were evicted.

“The council has assured me this is an isolated example of poor practice, but I am concerned that some of the issues raised during the investigation may have had an impact on other people.”

Councillor Emine Ibrahim (Labour, Noel Park), cabinet member for housing and estate renewal, said: “We expect the highest standards for our residents, and I am deeply sorry that we didn’t meet these on this occasion. The Ombudsman found fault with the way this resident’s assessment was carried out, and the correct procedure was not followed.

“Homes for Haringey have taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again, including extra training to ensure officers are able to make the right decisions in future. The family are now in a five-bedroom home that meets their needs and have been receiving appropriate support. We have agreed to pay compensation in line with the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

“One thing I want to be clear on is that unfortunately, due to the family’s very specific needs, we wouldn’t have been able to find immediate suitable accommodation at the time and we would have still had to place the family in emergency accommodation.

“There is a national housing crisis and, following decades without council house building across England, there is a huge shortfall of family homes. In Haringey we are working hard to deliver 1,000 new council homes at council rents, but decades of damage have to be reversed.”