Newham Council condemned for wrongly refusing to house homeless family

A homeless couple with two young children had to spend a night in a car because Newham Council wrongly refused them temporary accommodation.

This was the damning finding of the Local Government Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin following an invstigation into the case.

In her report, she finds that, even when the Council confirmed the family’s homelessness, there was a delay of nearly seven weeks in dealing with it.

She says: “The family was in acute housing need; in my view they were let down by the Council”.

The Ombudsman expressed her concern that investigating officers repeatedly stated in correspondence with him that colleagues must be satisfied a person is homeless before they agree to provide interim accommodation.

“That demonstrates a misunderstanding of the law. The correct test is whether the Council has ‘reason to believe’ a person may be homeless and in priority need,” she said.

The Ombudsman added: “This complaint has revealed unacceptably poor standards of record-keeping by officers in the Prevention team. It has also drawn attention to the failure of some officers to understand the criteria for provision of interim accommodation.”

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She recommended a review of the council’s home visiting policy and clearer guidelines for officers on the provision of interim accommodation to eligible applicants.

At the time the family lived in his mother’s home where they shared one bedroom. Last March the man gave the Council two weeks’ notice in writing that his mother had asked them to leave her home where they lived in one room. The Council failed to act and on that day at the Council’s Housing Options Centre they were denied homeless accommodation.

She said the Council kept no records of the advice given, and so it is unclear who made the dsecions or the reasons why.

After a night sleeping in the car, the family moved back to his mother’s.

A visiting officer later confirmed he was homeless but the case was not passed on to the assessment team for statutory homelessness enquiries until May 9.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and makes recommendations and for the council to apologise to the complainant and pay him �300 compensation.