A cancer patient and her four children were ‘cooped up’ in a single room throughout the covid pandemic because council officials failed to check their own temporary accommodation policy
Croydon Council has been forced to pay nearly £5,000 in compensation and to apologise to a mother recovering from cancer who was left “cooped up” throughout the covid lockdown in a single room with her four children in temporary accommodation.
The council has been forced into making compensation following the latest adverse ruling from the Local Government Ombudsman.
The matter must now also be considered at a full council or cabinet meeting at the Town Hall, and the Ombudsman has also ordered Croydon Council to check its procedures for keeping the suitability of temporary accommodation under review, as well as reviewing its policy for referrals between its housing, children’s services and environmental health teams to ensure that it makes appropriate referrals where families with children may need support or are living in overcrowded accommodation.
The woman, referred to by the Ombudsman as “Miss X”, and her family have since been moved to more appropriate accommodation, the Ombudsman says in its published ruling (which can be read in full by clicking here).
Councils are expected not to leave families with children in non-self-contained accommodation for longer than six weeks. Miss X had been living in Croydon Council temporary accommodation since 2014.
Miss X said the council had not given her the correct priority under its housing allocation scheme and that the temporary accommodation it has provided is not suitable.
In the Ombudsman’s report on the case, they state, “These close living arrangements, particularly during the covid-19 lockdowns, had caused both Miss X and her children severe stress and anxiety.”
But when Miss X asked the council to be moved to more suitable accommodation, “The council told Miss X that she had the correct banding under its choice-based letting scheme and that she should continue to bid on properties to find a permanent home. It also offered to help Miss X find private rented accommodation if she wished to consider this alternative.”
Miss X lodged her complaint with the Ombudsman in July last year.
The Ombudsman’s report says, “We recognise the demand for social housing far outstrips the supply of properties in many areas. We will not usually find fault with a council for failing to re-house someone if it has prioritised applicants and allocated properties according to its published lettings scheme policy.
“The evidence shows the council has correctly applied its allocations policy and has offered Miss X other options for permanent housing, which it says she has declined. We are satisfied there is no fault with how the council has supported Miss X to find a permanent home.
“The duty to provide suitable accommodation is an ongoing duty and the council must review this where it has reasons to believe that accommodation may no longer be suitable, for example, if an applicant’s circumstances change.
“Given the changes reported by Miss X, and the significant effect her current accommodation was having on her and her family, the council should have reviewed the suitability of the temporary accommodation. However, the council has not provided any evidence it did so or that it asked Miss X for any further information or evidence about the impact her current accommodation was having…
“The council has also not provided any evidence it considered the effect of living in the accommodation on Miss X’s children, considered whether it should refer Miss X to its Children’s Services team for other support or whether the overcrowding in the property represented an environmental health risk to Miss X and her family.”
Remarkably, when the Ombudsman made its enquiries into the case of a mother, recovering from cancer, living in a single room with her four children, Croydon Council “said it still considers the temporary accommodation to be suitable”, the report says.
The Ombudsman’s next paragraph is withering in its criticism of the council.
Croydon, it says, “has not explained why it considers a one-bedroom studio flat to be suitable in light of its May 2021 decision that Miss X needs three bedrooms or that it has considered the other factors it should have done, such as whether Miss X’s home was legally overcrowded”.
In the absence of a proper decision-making process, the Ombudsman decided to step in.
As explained elsewhere in its report, the Ombudsman failed to consider any of Miss X’s complaints from before 2020 – she had brought those complaints too late.
But the Ombudsman recommendations state that Croydon Council must “consider the report at its full council or cabinet and we will require evidence of this (Local Government Act 1974, section 31(2), as amended)”.
The council has until the end of September to fulfil that requirement.
The Ombudsman says that the council has agreed to, within a month, to:
- apologise to Miss X;
- arrange suitable alternative temporary accommodation for Miss X;
- pay Miss X £300 a month for the period between January 2021 and when it makes her an offer of suitable alternative temporary accommodation to recognise the distress caused by having to live in overcrowded accommodation;
- pay Miss X £200 for the time and trouble of having to complain to both the Council and us; and
- refer Miss X to its Children’s Services team to establish what additional support it can provide for Miss X and her children.
Michael King, the Ombudsman, said: “In her complaint to the council, the mother shared the troubles her family faced being cooped up in a single room, especially during the covid-19 lockdowns, with the lack of space for the children to play and do their homework.
“The mother was also recovering from cancer which left her weak and caused her difficulty accessing her flat.
“Despite this, the council did not review the suitability of the family’s temporary accommodation, or even ask for further information about the impact the living conditions were having both on the mother and her children.”
King said he hopes the steps the council has agreed “will ensure other homeless families are not left in the same situation”. He’s probably overdue an invitation to visit Gilroy Court, or any of the other B&B hotels around Croydon which are being used for temporary accommodation by the council.
A council spokesperson said that Croydon “fully accept the LGO’s recommendations for the council, including agreed compensation”.
None of the details of this case, nor the Ombudsman’s report and findings, are to be found anywhere on Croydon Council’s own website.
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