A London council left two children to share the same bed in a B&B for over a year after accepting another borough’s decision to class their family as intentionally homeless.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the family was left in unsuitable accommodation for too long
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised Redbridge Council’s treatment of the family, who, it concluded, were left in the unsuitable accommodation for too long.
Poor living conditions affected the children’s schoolwork and caused their mother to suffer increased anxiety, stress and panic attacks, an investigation found.
But the council did not make allowances for the woman’s poor mental health in its dealings with her, instead misinterpreting her behaviour as “being difficult” and blamed her situation on a lack of co-operation, the ombudsman said.
Redbridge Council said it accepted the findings and has apologised to and compensated the woman.
The family was placed in the B&B in Redbridge by another London council, which has not been named by the ombudsman.
This other local authority declared the family intentionally homeless because the mother had refused a damp and mouldy flat over concerns it would worsen her and her children’s respiratory conditions.
Redbridge accepted the other council’s decision without making an assessment of its own and consequently concluded it did not have a duty to house the family under the Housing Act.
Under the Housing Act, it is unlawful for councils to keep homeless households with children in temporary accommodation for more than six weeks.
Instead, Redbridge Council placed the family in B&B accommodation for more than a year under the Children Act.
It was not able to show the ombudsman that it had assessed the harm caused to the family by staying in such accommodation for so long, or that it regularly reviewed their situation.
While they were in the B&B, the council offered the family a studio flat where they would have had to sleep, eat and do homework in the same room or accommodation hundreds of miles away in the Midlands or the North.
The woman rejected these options, with her older child due to take GCSE exams at a local school and no support network outside London.
As a result, the council decided it no longer had any duties to the family.
Local government and social care ombudsman Michael King said: “Councils should balance the impact of being housed in bed and breakfast accommodation against the effect this might have on children, regardless of which act the council is housing them under.
“In this case, two children were left for far too long in poor accommodation. This left them – in their own words – ‘stuck in a cycle of instability’ and unable to fulfil their potential in school.
“I hope the council’s acceptance that it could have done more to support the woman, given her understandable anxiety and depression, will lead to it dealing with people in difficult situations with more empathy in future.”
As well as telling the council to apologise and pay the woman £3,900 in compensation, the ombudsman recommended that staff be reminded that mental health issues may affect people’s actions and that B&B placements for families must be regularly reviewed.
The council has also agreed to produce a joint working protocol for housing and children’s services to help arrange accommodation for families where B&Bs are not appropriate.
“We’ve reviewed the report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and accept their recommendations,” a spokesperson for Redbridge Council said.
“We recognise the adverse impact on the family as a result of being placed in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation for too long. This is always used as a last resort.
“Sadly, London’s housing crisis means that councils invariably find it difficult to avoid placing people in B&B accommodation. It’s also a stark reminder of the relentless pressure councils in London are under to house people.
“We deeply regret this episode, and an apology has been made to the family.”