Waltham Forest residents compensated for council failings

Waltham Forest Council paid more than £7,000 to compensate residents for its failings in the previous financial year.

The complaints include a disabled man forced to defecate in his bed after being housed in an unsuitable flat and a woman whose fears about her vulnerable father were dismissed.

The amounts paid out ranged from £50 up to £2,400 and added up to a total of £7,488, split between 11 people.

The residents were among the 29 people to complain about the council to the Local Government ombudsman between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020.

Nine of the complaints were dismissed, while in five cases the council had already “provided a satisfactory remedy” before the complaint was looked into.

With identifying details removed, here are the six cases where Waltham Forest Council had to pay £300 or more to compensate its residents.

Ignoring concern about dementia sufferer

A woman identified as Ms A was awarded £300 in compensation in July last year after the council chose not to investigate whether her vulnerable father was being exploited.

Ms A’s father, who suffers from dementia, abruptly left her mother for another woman, insisting he would manage his own finances and medication when he had not done so previously.

Ms A was worried about the woman’s influence over him and alerted the council in March 2018 but the case was closed without further investigation.

In August, her father was attacked by the woman he had moved in with and taken by police to an emergency care home placement. He moved back into the family home in October.

The council recognised it had closed the case “prematurely” and without telling Ms A and did not assess if her father “had the capacity to make his own decision” to move out.

It initially charged Ms A for the time her father was in the care home but waived this charge after she argued he had been placed there by the council rather than the family.

The ombudsman found: “The council’s failure… led not only to months of frustration for Ms A, but also, potentially, to a more difficult situation for (her father) and his family as a whole.”

Aggressive enforcement agent

A woman identified as Miss X was awarded £438 in compensation in February after having to pay a fine issued to a car she no longer owned.

Miss X’s car was written off following an accident in 2017 and collected by a third party. Though she no longer owned the car, she started to receive tickets, including from the council.

Miss X claimed that, despite explaining what had happened, an enforcement agent “threatened to break into (her) house and take away (her) goods” if she didn’t pay the council’s fine.

She paid the fine and then attempted to contact the council for a refund repeatedly but was unable to get through. Her claims regarding the agent were not investigated.

The ombudsman notes: “While I do not have evidence the enforcement agents used by the council were aggressive, the council should have investigated the allegations and the information provided by Miss X showing she was not liable for the debt. 

“The council has accepted some fault and refunded the fine. It says it has also refunded any fee Mrs X paid to the enforcement agents.”

Unsuitable accommodation and lost belongings

A woman identified as Ms X was awarded £700 in compensation in August last year after the council placed her repeatedly in unsuitable temporary accommodation and lost her belongings.

Homeless woman Ms X was housed in a one-bedroom flat by the council but, in March 2018, a social worker decided this was no longer suitable as she had regained custody of her son.

Two weeks after he left care, Ms X and her son were moved into an unfurnished flat. They were moved out after a little more than a month as the building was due to be redeveloped.

They were then placed in a furnished one-bedroom flat and the council agreed to store the furniture and appliances Ms X had purchased for the previous home.

After a successful appeal, the council agreed to move Ms X to another two-bedroom flat on the grounds her current home was too small.

The electricity in the home did not work for three days and her supposedly stored property could not be found for half a year, when it was discovered still in the second flat.

The council initially offered Ms X £200 in compensation but the ombudsman decided this was not enough to “remedy the injustice caused”.

It noted that her time in unsuitable accommodation “caused frustration, avoidable distress and time and trouble in bringing her complaint to the council” and negatively impacted her son.

Missing parking fines

A man identified as Mr X was awarded £750 in compensation in August after the council gave “confusing and incomplete information” about a number of parking fines.

In February 2018, enforcement agents acting on behalf of the council clamped a car leased by Mr X’s company in an attempt to recover debt from unpaid fines.

The fines were unpaid because they had been sent by post to the company’s previous address, as the car was still registered there.

Mr X contacted the council and was told there were 44 fines outstanding, 11 of which had been passed on to the enforcement agents, but was not told why they were issued or how to appeal.

On the same day, his company received a letter stating six fines had been reissued and Mr X paid these, assuming this meant the entire matter was settled.

However, 16 fines, totalling £4,448, remained active with the enforcement agents, unbeknownst to him. Agents visited his company to seize goods unless they were paid £1,625.

The ombudsman noted: “Most of the documents issued to the company’s old address were returned to the council as undelivered so it was aware Mr X had not received them.

“The confusing and incomplete responses to Mr X’s queries have caused him frustration and time and trouble.”

At the time of the investigation, there were still 21 fines unpaid, although the council said it would not be seeking further action.

Leaving disabled man in unsuitable flat

A man identified as Mr B was awarded £2,150 in compensation in May last year after he was left in unsuitable accommodation by the council for four months.

In 2018, Mr B suffered a spinal cord injury that meant he will use a wheelchair for life. As his rented home was not wheelchair-accessible, he asked to be housed by the council. 

The council did nothing about his application for more than three weeks and Mr B eventually had to visit the housing office, accompanied by hospital staff, waiting for five hours to be seen.

Despite accepting they had a duty to house him, the council failed to arrange accommodation in time for Mr B’s discharge date, meaning he stayed in hospital longer.

He was then placed in a flat for four months that was not wheelchair-accessible, as there was a step to get into the building, the bathroom did not fit his chair and he could not reach the cooker.

The ombudsman notes: “His inability to get into the bathroom meant he had to empty urine down the kitchen sink and had to empty his bowel manually while lying on the bed.”

Mr B was awarded £1,400 for the injustice related to unsuitable accommodation and £750 for the inconvenience, discomfort, uncertainty and time and trouble caused by the council.

Housed in unsuitable home for almost a year

A woman identified as Miss X was awarded £2,400 in April last year after the council placed her in accommodation that meant she had a four-hour daily commute for almost a year.

In October 2017, the council housed Miss X, a mother of three young children, in Barnet, meaning she had to travel to Waltham Forest for the school run and to Westminster for work.

In January 2018, the council agreed to rehouse her. After months with no updates, Shelter complained on her behalf twice, in April and in June, but did not receive a response.

In September, the council offered her a private rented home in Tower Hamlets and discharged their duty to house her when she refused it.

Between June and September, the council housed four people who had not been waiting as long as her in three-bedroom homes. 

Two needed an adapted property, one had a child taking GCSEs and the fourth was a “decant” from an estate being regenerated. 

The ombudsman found: “We understand the pressure on councils, particularly those in high rent areas, to find enough good quality temporary accommodation. 

“Nevertheless, the law places a duty on a council to secure suitable temporary accommodation and it is clear the council did not do this.

“Miss X had hours of commuting every day, which was exhausting for her and her children. She also had extra expenses because of the extra transport costs.”

She was awarded £200 a month for the 11 months she was at the property and an extra £200 for her “time and trouble”.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter