Newham Council’s treatment of homelessness applicant criticised

There were flaws in the way the London Borough of Newham responded when a woman with a young son approached it for help with housing, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

In her report, issued today, she says: “The complainant’s appointment with the Housing Options Service was not for two-and-a-half months after she had approached the Council. That is far too long. I recognise the Council faces the dual pressures of limited resources and increasing numbers of homelessness applications. However, it needs to ensure it complies with its duties to people who are homeless.”

Turning to the issue of interim accommodation, she adds: “The Council has made much of the fact that the complainant was never actually homeless. However, the Council is only able to justify what it did with the benefit of hindsight. When she approached it for help on 13 February 2012 saying her sister had asked her to leave, the Council did not know she would be able to stay for another month.”

A woman with a young son approached the Council for help with housing after her sister told her she could no longer live with her. The Council gave her an appointment with the Housing Options Team two months after she approached it for help and did not offer her interim accommodation in the meantime.

The Council refused the complainant’s request to bring the appointment forward. During the Ombudsman’s investigation it did bring the appointment forward by about one month. But it was only following the intervention of a family therapist that the Council offered interim accommodation to the woman and her son.

The law and Government guidance say that a council must provide suitable accommodation if it has reason to believe an applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness. However, the Council counts the time it takes to reach decisions on homelessness applications from the date its Housing Options Team interviews applicants rather than the date of their approach to the Council. These interviews are routinely at least two months after the date of approach.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the Council:

  • send a letter of apology to the complainant and pay her £250 compensation
  • backdate her homelessness application to 13 February 2012, and
  • review its procedures for dealing with homelessness applications in their early stages.

Report ref no 11 022 307

Article date: 05 December 2012

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