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.’