Our thanks to Naomi Trewinnard of Harrow Law Centre for this note of a remarkable Ombudsman decision in which LB Brent was found to have left a homeless household in wholly unsuitable temporary accommodation for 9 years – yes, 9 years. I’ve never seen an Ombudsman award of £27,000 before. Harrow Law Centre represented the family.
Local Government Ombudsman Decision. Decision reference 20 012 006 07/09/2021 London Borough of Brent
Mr X and his family are homeless. His son, Mr Y, has a medical condition which severely affects his mobility. Prior to 2016 Mr Y could not walk. As a result of operations in 2015 and 2016 he is now able to mobilise with crutches indoors, although sometimes he also needs to use a wheelchair indoors. He needs an electric wheelchair to mobilise outdoors.
In 2012 Brent recognised that it owed a duty to secure suitable accommodation for Mr X and his family (main housing duty) and placed them in band C. This is the lowest band in their allocations scheme.
Brent placed the family in a three-storey house to meet the temporary accommodation duty. The bathrooms and bedrooms were on the first and second floors respectively. Although there was a toilet on the ground floor, it was too small for Mr Y to use with his wheelchair or crutches. Mr Y therefore had to rely on his father Mr X, to carry him upstairs to use the bathroom or access his bedroom. When he became too big for this father to carry, he used to drag himself up the stairs and had fallen down the stairs on several occasions. Mr Y could not use his wheelchair indoors as the property was not adapted. He could not use an electric wheelchair because there was nowhere at the accommodation for him to store it.
Mr X and his wife complained to the Council that the accommodation was not suitable. The Council had an Occupational Therapist report from 2010 which recommended that Mr Y needed wheelchair accessible premises with level access facilities. The Council’s District Medical Officer recommended in 2012 that the family should be moved to either ground floor or lifted accommodation.
In 2019 Mr X instructed Harrow Law Centre to request a review of the suitability of his accommodation and put in a complaint. The Council’s review panel found in 2019 that the accommodation was not suitable for the family. In December 2020 the Council eventually put Mr X in the highest priority band, but the family remained in the unsuitable temporary accommodation.
Following a complaint, the Council apologised to Mr X and offered to pay £2000 as a remedy for their having lived in unsuitable accommodation for nearly a decade. Mr X considered this insufficient and made a complaint to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman found that Brent had:
- Failed to provide suitable temporary accommodation since 2012;
- Failed to secure alternative suitable temporary accommodation following the finding by the Council’s review panel that the accommodation was not suitable;
- Considered that the accommodation had never been suitable;
- Failed to tell Mr X that he could review the suitability of the property;
- Failed to secure suitable accommodation that is or can be adapted to be wheelchair accessible or provide step-free access.
The Ombudsman found that Brent was at fault and recommended:
- That the Council apologise in writing to Mr X and Mr Y;
- Pay £27,000 for the injustice to date, to be paid to My Y as he has suffered the most injustice as a result of the Council’s fault;
- Pay £200 a month until it secures suitable temporary accommodation.
Other practical considerations:
The Ombudsman also recommended that the Council should agree a method of payment with does not impact on entitlement to any welfare benefits or otherwise disadvantage Mr X and Mr Y (as financial remedies from a local authority in application of a LGSCO decision are not covered by any disregards for means tested welfare benefits).