Family of seven left to live in a one bedroom flat by Bromley council

Bromley Council in south east London has agreed to pay a family £6,000 after it did not do enough to help them when they were threatened with homelessness, following a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation.

The family of seven were given an eviction notice by their landlord in July 2019 and the council accepted it had a duty to the family in September. However, the family was not evicted by their landlord because of the COVID-19 restrictions and they were not offered more suitable interim accommodation until November 2020.

That same month the council accepted its main housing duty to the family and in December added them to the housing register, backdated to late August 2019.

Prior to the claimant, ‘Mr B’ complaining to the Ombudsman, the council had already apologised and made a £4,000 payment to acknowledge the time the family had spent in unsuitable accommodation.

The Ombudsman’s investigation commended the council’s early offer to the family in recognition of its faults. However, it also found the council did not do enough to ascertain the family was living in overcrowded circumstances, or consider early enough whether the family needed interim accommodation.

Had it done so it is likely it would have found the family homeless, eligible and in priority need. Instead it took 13 months too long to do this. Mr B said the council’s failings placed his family under a high level of stress as his children (aged between six months and eight years) were sleeping in the hall and kitchen due to the lack of space, the report said

The investigation also found the council did not review its prevention duty or the personalised housing plan until the man complained, or have any consideration as to whether the family’s living conditions enabled them to enjoy a family life under the Human Rights Act.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Because of the lack of action by the council in this case, a family of seven had to live in a single bedroom flat for more than a year longer than they should have. That this happened during the first lockdown, when people’s movements were significantly restricted, can have only increased the distress they felt.

“While I am pleased the council has already gone some way to remedying the injustice to the family, I have asked it to pay a further £2,000 to acknowledge the effect such a degree of overcrowding will have had on the family. I hope the changes the council will also make to the way it deals with homeless issues will ensure other people are not put in the same situation.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise and pay the family £6,000 for having to remain in overcrowded conditions for so long.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should evidence how it will ensure all relevant staff are aware of their responsibilities in relation to assessing homeless applicants.

Patrick Mooney, Editor