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Ombudsman criticises council for mother of 6 left in bed and breakfast accommodation

A recently housed Haringey mother that had been living in a bed and breakfast since February 2020 was failed by her local council because it did not do enough to prevent her from becoming homeless, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

The mother, some of whose children are disabled, had been living in privately rented accommodation when her landlord sought to evict her.

Instead of helping the mother find accommodation before she was evicted, the council asked the family to stay in the property until the eviction date, despite a senior housing manager telling colleagues this was not legally appropriate.

The Ombudsman’s report said that Haringey initially offered the family two properties, “one of which was too far away from the family’s support network, and the other needed repairs”.

According to Haringey, the family are now in a 5-bed home “that meets their needs".

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council should have taken action some months sooner, when the mother first told officers she was at risk of becoming homeless, rather than waiting for the bailiffs to evict her. The council was also at fault for not helping to find the family somewhere to live when they were facing eviction, and for failing to consider their financial hardship before having to pay costs for the court order to evict them.

In this case, the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and pay her court costs.

It will also pay her £1,500 to recognise her avoidable distress, and a further amount in recognition of the fact the family has been in bed and breakfast accommodation for so long, causing further inconvenience and additional avoidable costs.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King said: “London Borough of Haringey should have acted sooner when the mother alerted them to the possibility her family would be made homeless. With large family homes difficult to find in the area, it was all the more important for the council to act swiftly to secure alternative, emergency accommodation before the family were evicted.

“The council has assured me this is an isolated example of poor practice, but I am concerned that some of the issues raised during the investigation may have had an impact on other people. I hope the review the council has committed to undertake will ensure it can learn from what has gone wrong in this case to ensure other people are not affected in this way again.”

Councillor Emine Ibrahim, Cabinet Member for Housing and Estate Renewal, said: “We expect the highest standards for our residents, and I am deeply sorry that we didn’t meet these on this occasion. The Ombudsman found fault with the way this resident’s assessment was carried out, and the correct procedure was not followed.

“Homes for Haringey have taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again, including extra training to ensure officers are able to make the right decisions in future. The family are now in a five-bedroom home that meets their needs and have been receiving appropriate support. We have agreed to pay compensation in line with the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

“One thing I want to be clear on is that unfortunately, due to the family’s very specific needs, we wouldn’t have been able to find immediate suitable accommodation at the time and we would have still had to place the family in emergency accommodation. There is a national housing crisis and, following decades without council housebuilding across England, there is a huge shortfall of family homes. In Haringey we are working hard to deliver 1,000 new council homes at council rents, but decades of damage have to be reversed.”

Adam Carey

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