Sunday, 01 March 2015

Council slammed over family that slept in car

The Local Government Ombudsman has criticised a London council which refused temporary accommodation to a young family, forcing them to sleep in a car.

The ombudsman said the family had been ‘let down’ by Newham Council by a seven-week delay in dealing with the case.

The family of four, which was not identified in the report, was confirmed as homeless by the council on 23 March 2011, but the case was not passed to the homelessness assessment team until 9 May.

They spent the night in a car on 17 March when they were refused temporary accommodation by the council after the father of the family was told by his mother that they could not remain in her house.

Dr Jane Martin, the Local Government Ombudsman, said: ‘The family was in acute housing need; in my view they were let down by the council.’

Dr Martin further recommended the council send a letter of apology to the council and £300 compensation, and that it review its policy and procedures.

She continued: ‘I am concerned that officers investigating the man’s complaints repeatedly stated in their correspondence with him that their 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.’

The Ombudsman adds: ‘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.’

A spokesperson for Newham Council said: ‘We always strive to give our residents the best possible service but in this case we failed to do so and apologise for any distress it may have caused.

‘We have considered carefully the report of the Local Government Ombudsman and fully accept her decision. We are reviewing our home visiting policy with the intention of producing clearer written guidelines in order to minimise the chance of something like this happening again.

‘We continually look to improve what we do and feedback from residents plays a crucial role in identifying and working to address our failures as well as our successes. We take complaints very seriously and work positively with complainants if we do get things wrong.’

Readers' comments (11)

  • £300 fine! great.

    that's a fine of about £6 for each night for not housing a family in desperate need. all councils must now be thinking how tempting it will be to refuse to house people (as many are already doing) safe in the knowledge that they will save loads instead of paying £40/50 per night for B+B.

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  • Mr Reasonable

    So the mother of the father and grandmother of the young children was happy for her family to sleep in a car, rather than stay in her house for a night.

    Let down by The Council - and let down by their own family.

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  • And whose money is the fine paid with?... Not by those responsible for this, far from it... they are likely to be still in line for a string of bonuses... by the taxpayers. Until those who make these mistakes pay out of their own pockets - no one is going to be fooled this things won't happen again and anything is ever going to get better...

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  • Nicole M

    well said Mr Reasonable

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  • Animal magnetism

    Yes, Mr Reasonable that's what family members do to each other, let them down. When fathers abuse their own children they let them down. When a husband batters their wife they let them down. When parents get high they let their children down. You keep your presumptions to yourself that way you let no one down.

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  • Mr Reasonable

    Are you saying in this family the father was abusing the children, battering his wife and getting stoned?

    If not, then what has this got to do with this case? Two of those would mean the father is breaking the law and probably mean the mother and children would be provided with refuge immediately by their housing provider and the father arrested.

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  • oilyboots

    OK bloggers I suggest you actually read the Ombudsman's report in full before anyone else misinterprets what actually happened. Complaint number 11 000 383 at

    Newham's handling of this case is shocking (but unfortunately they are not the only council to be behaving in this way - it's called 'gate-keeping'). It reveals a worrying ignorance of the law in Part 7 Housing Act 1996 (or a wilful choice not to apply it?). The compensation is again derisory and, rather than being a deterrent, will only encourage other councils to try and 'get away with it'. What is even more concerning is that in straitened times we may find more councils behaving in this way!

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  • Animal magnetism

    Mr Reasonable the point is families let each down all the time. It has always happened and will always happen. From the article we haven't clue what the family dynamics or issues are, so not lets presume through rose tinted glasses. Not everybody has 2.4 kids, drives a ford escort and lives suburbia & spends bank holidays in Ikea....

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  • The ombudsman is having a laugh - £300 compensation ??? Clearly that does not reflect the suffering the family went through and is certainly no deterrant to the Council whatsoever. Was anyone at the council sacked - probably nothing at all happened ! Ombudsman - try awarding compensation starting at £10,000 as an absolute minimum, maybe up to £2,000,000 then maybe all councils and housing associations would start to take you seriously !

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  • oilyboots the link does not work... any ideas ?

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