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Council’s failings left family to sleep in car
Friday, 30 March 2012
A HOMELESS family with two young children had to spend a night in a car because Newham Council wrongly refused them temporary accommodation.
In a report issued last week, Local Government Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin found that, even when the council confirmed the family’s homelessness, there was a delay of nearly seven weeks in dealing with the case.
“The family was in acute housing need; in my view they were let down by the council,” Dr Martin said.
“I am concerned that officers investigating the man’s complaints repeatedly stated in their correspondence with him that their colleagues must be satisfied a person is homeless before they agree to provide interim accommodation. That demonstrates a misunderstanding of the law.
“The correct test is whether the council has ‘reason to believe’ a person may be homeless and in priority need.”
The Ombudsman added that the complaint revealed ‘unacceptably poor standards of record-keeping by officers in the prevention team’ and urged that the home visiting policy be reviewed and clearer guidelines issued for officers.
The complainant and his wife and children had all lived in one bedroom at his mother’s house. They were on the council’s housing register and had been nominated for an offer of a housing association property that was under construction. In early March last year he gave the council two weeks’ notice that his mother had asked them to leave, but the council failed to act.
On the day they had to leave, the family attended the council’s Housing Options Centre to request housing assistance because they were homeless.
After speaking to three different officers, they were told no accommodation would be provided until a visit to the mother’s house had been carried out. The complainant was advised to attend a police station if he could not find a accommodation, however the police were unable to help and the council kept no record of the advice issued, who declined the request or the reasons why.
Having spent the night in the car, the mother agreed to take them back until the council confirmed their homeless status. An officer visited on March 23, but the case was not past on for assessment until May 9 and the family remained at the mother’s until July.
As well as recommending the council review its policy and procedures, the Ombudsman also called on the authority to send a letter of apology and £300 in compensation to the complainant.
The council will now consider the report and tell the Ombudsman what action it will take.
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