Council comes under fire from government watchdog

NEWHAM COUNCIL bosses have been ordered to compensate a young mother who was saddled with hundreds of pounds of debt after housing officers gave out incorrect advice.

Watchdog the Local Government Ombudsman found Newham Council committed maladministration causing injustice after an officer mistakenly thought her new property in Ilford was in a different borough.

Failure to check and give the correct Local Housing Allowance rate meant the tenant built up rent arrears in the new home.

She and her four-year-old daughter had been living in temporary accommodation paid for by Newham Council.

Under the council’s bond scheme, landlords must set their rent at the same amount as the Allowance for that borough, which in this case was given at the lower, Waltham Forest rate.

The mother was unable to pay her rent fully due to the shortfall in benefit which she said caused her anxiety and embarrassment and led to a breakdown in the relationship with the landlord.

The Town Hall offered to move the family to a new address. But the mother had already signed a 12-month contract .

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The mother also argued that she should not have to uproot her daughter again and have the stress and expense of moving once more.

Local Government Ombudsman Tony Raymond agreed, ordering Newham to pay �899.60 to make up the shortfall and �250 to compensate for distress caused.

He said: “Both the complainant and her landlord sought specific advice from the Council regarding the appropriate Allowance rate for this particular property.

“They were given the wrong advice because at least one officer failed to check the correct rate for a property of its type in its location.

“This was a fault by the council which caused injustice to the complainant who is contractually obliged to meet her rent obligation without now having the means to do so.”

The Ombudsman also recommended that the council remind officers of the effect on people’s lives of getting the advice wrong and to check the exact location of properties and rates regularly.

A Newham Council spokesperson said: “The council made a genuine mistake and we are sorry for any distress it may have caused. We accept the findings of the Ombudsman and have paid the shortfall between the Local Housing Allowance and rent, compensated the complainant and apologised to her. We will be considering the Ombudsman’s report carefully to take action to minimise the chances of such errors reoccurring. We always strive to give our residents the best possible service and promote the Bond Scheme as a way to offer a good option for people needing to find a home.”