An Essex authority has been found to be at fault for causing “distress and upset” to a physically disabled woman and her daughter who suffers with severe mental illness, after it failed to provide them with suitable interim accommodation following being served a Section 21 eviction notice by a private landlord.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) determined that Epping Forest District Council was at fault for injustices caused to the complainant, named in the inspector’s report as Ms D.
The decision was made last December, with the council agreeing to first apologise to Ms D by January 19, and distribute written reminders to relevant staff members to ensure they are aware of the authority’s legal obligation to provide applicants presenting as homeless, or at risk of homelessness, with suitable interim accommodation.
In December 2022, Ms D, who has mobility issues and uses both a mobility scooter and a wheelchair, was served a Section 21 notice by her landlord. A Section 21 notice, often referred to as a ‘no-fault eviction’, notifies tenants of a landlord’s intention to repossess their property with a minimum of two months’ notice.
Following this, Ms D contacted Epping Forest District Council to begin the process of receiving interim accommodation for herself and her daughter, whose mental health difficulties are described as ‘severe’ and who has a history of suicide attempts.
In March 2023, the council responded to Ms D after contacting health professionals to supposedly gain a greater understanding of her circumstances. It said that it owed Ms D and her daughter the prevention duty, but offered them hotel accommodation in a different authority area from April as it was satisfied that this would be acceptable.
However, Ms D informed the council that the hotel room would not be suitable for a number of reasons. There were three steps into the hotel building which she could not manage because of her mobility issues, alongside a lack of a designated car parking space. She also reiterated that the location was too far out of the area in order for her daughter to attend a local mental health service, which she would not be able to attend if they were relocated due to her difficulties using public transport.
Ms D also said that she felt as if the council’s alternative offer of a first-floor flat was “insulting”, as it was already aware of her reduced mobility. She and her daughter would additionally be unable to live in shared accommodation due to her “volatile” behaviour resulting from her mental illness. On these grounds, Ms D alleged that the council had breached the Equality Act 2010.
Despite Epping Forest District Council stating there was no evidence of this, the LGSCO’s inspector determined that the authority had failed to explain to Ms D how it had concluded that it was satisfied with its offers of interim accommodation and how it had reached its decision. The LGSCO also noted that the council had submitted no evidence that it had carried out a suitability assessment.
The council informed Ms D that interim accommodation across the district was in extremely short supply. It said that if she remained unhappy, she could request that her landlord allow her and her daughter to remain in the privately rented home until served a formal possession, which her landlord agreed to.
At the end of their report, the inspector wrote: “The council’s faults would have caused [Ms D] distress and upset. It also left her feeling the council ignored her health issues and disabilities. The council needs to remedy this injustice.”
Epping Forest District Council has been contacted for comment.