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Ombudsman criticises council after failure to pay agreed grant leaves family living on building site

Croydon Council will pay more than £10,000 in compensation to a family left to live with a half-finished house extension because the London borough had stalled in paying an agreed grant.

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation said the family, which included four children, were left with the incomplete building work for almost two years as a result of the failings.

The grant was agreed upon after the family took on the care of another child as part of a Special Guardianship Order (SGO). As part of this, the council arranged to provide £40,000 for an extension to the family's two-bedroom home to ensure there was enough space to care for the four children.

The family secured a bank loan for their part, and builders started on the extension. But because the council did not pay the grant on time, the builders stopped their work. The house and garden were left in disarray for 21 months while the family chased the council for the balance, which was finally paid in November 2021.

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At one point, the parents wrote to the Family Court to withdraw the Special Guardianship Order "as they felt they could not manage their care without the agreed support from the council," the report detailed.

However, they eventually decided to continue with the SGO subject to the right support, the report noted.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said the council's delays caused the family "considerable stress and disruption: they've not had proper access to the front or back of their house, walls were left with large holes open to the outside and part of the extension that had been built was flooded when it rained".

He added: "Indeed, some of the work that was completed before the hiatus needs remedial work before the building can be finished.

"I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations to put things right for the family."

Croydon agreed to the Ombudsman's recommendations to pay the family £10,500 to recognise the unsuitable conditions they were left in and a further £250 for bringing their complaint.

It has also agreed to pay for any remedial work that needs to be carried out because the work was left unfinished for so long, the Ombudsman said. If the work now costs more to finish, the council will pay the difference.

Additionally, it will also pay outstanding invoices for the child's nursery fees which had initially been agreed as part of the Special Guardianship process, and continue to pay these till the child starts school later this year.

Finally, the council will review how it considers complaints under the correct statutory process, following the investigation.

A council spokesperson said: "We are really sorry for the impact our delayed support had on this family. All funds have since been paid in full, along with the compensation agreed. We have apologised to them and re-established a positive relationship with the family via our social care services.

"We have learnt important lessons from this case and improved our internal procedures and checks for support plans. The approval and management of these plans now has greater senior oversight, including regularly monitoring progress on their delivery."

Adam Carey

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