A county council has agreed to pay £24,000 after a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation into a case where a mother of three, who also took on the care of her two grandchildren, had to sleep on a mattress in her living room for more than 10 years because the local authority did not deliver the support it had agreed to.
The LGO said the woman, who already had young children living with her in a small three-bedroomed terraced house, was promised an extension by Lancashire County Council as part of a care order granted in 2005.
It found that for more than 10 years while waiting for the council to arrange the extension, both the mother and her daughter had slept on mattresses in her living room. The whole family lived in significantly overcrowded conditions, the LGO said.
The woman had bought her house as agreed with the council and plans were drawn up in 2007 to add an extra bedroom and shower room, and to extend the downstairs kitchen/dining area and utility room.
However, it was not till 2011 the council agreed a budget for the work. The project was beset by delay, and the cost of the proposed works increased significantly.
By 2016 the proposed costs had increased by £50,000 and the council told the woman the extension would no longer be built.
The woman complained to the Ombudsman, whose investigation found the council:
- delayed getting an agreement for the extension;
- reneged on its agreement to build it once the costs had escalated;
- delayed deciding whether to provide the family with a people-carrier type vehicle in response to the court order. It eventually paid for a vehicle in 2016.
The Ombudsman also criticised Lancashire for not agreeing to pay for storage of some of the family’s belongings over a three-year period.
The council has agreed to:
- write and send an apology to the woman;
- pay her £24,000 to reflect the avoidable distress she and her family suffered living in overcrowded conditions for 10 years;
- pay her £500 for the distress and uncertainty she suffered because of its failure to make a decision in line with the care order on funding for a people carrier;
- reimburse all her storage costs for the period of December 2016 to January 2019.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Lancashire County Council agreed to extend the woman’s property as part of a care order, which was made to promote the welfare of her two vulnerable grandchildren. The council failing to comply with the order is extremely serious, and it could have put the children’s placement at risk.
“Throughout the period five children have grown up and become young adults – because of the overcrowding, the whole family has struggled with a lack of privacy and emotional development. The extension would have significantly improved their living conditions had it been built as agreed.
“While the remedy we have recommended cannot make up for the long-term distress of living in such overcrowded conditions, I hope it can go some way to providing for a stable future for the family.”
A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: "We have fully apologised to the person involved, and we are very sorry for the distress our failings have caused.
"The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has identified a number of actions and we've drawn up a plan to address all the shortcomings that were outlined in the report."