Mother fleeing abuse told to go back home by Waltham Forest Council

The council has been told to pay her £1,800 in compensation for its failure to support her
By Victoria Munro

Waltham Forest Town Hall
Waltham Forest Town Hall

Waltham Forest Council has been told to pay £1,800 in compensation after telling a woman fleeing domestic abuse with her children to return to her former home.

The woman, who had made multiple attempts to escape and even spent time in a refuge, first contacted the council in September 2020 after moving to the borough to stay with a relative.

After initially claiming she should return home, Waltham Forest Council allowed her to move into accommodation she could not afford, failed to pay the deposit and first month’s rent and did not help when her landlord began trying to evict her.

The woman, referred to as Miss X to protect her identity, complained to the Local Government Ombudsman at the beginning of this year, who upheld her complaint. 

The ombudsman’s report reads: “The council offered to pay Miss X £300 for the injustice caused… which she did not accept. I am not satisfied this was sufficient.

“Miss X has suffered distress and anxiety as a result of the lack of support and the council’s poor communication.”

The council initially refused to house Miss X, arguing she could return to the home she had fled in another area, where “her housing officer… would assist her to make the property safe”.

However, she was able to get this decision overturned with the help of a solicitor two months later, when the council agreed it was “unreasonable for her to continue to live in her former home”.

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Miss X found a private property outside the borough that she believed was affordable and was told the council would pay her deposit and one month’s rent in advance.

However, due to a “misunderstanding” and “lack of clarity in its communications”, the council failed to make clear it would need to check the property was affordable before she moved in and it later emerged the weekly rent was £30 higher than her housing benefit.

The council also failed to pay her deposit and first month’s rent in advance, despite the relevant manager being instructed to approve the payment in February last year. 

Her email to the council in early March was ignored and, in April, “the manager noted Miss X had not contacted the council about the payment for some time and closed the case”.

The ombudsman noted this was not discovered until August, when a family support worker made enquiries after Miss X complained she had not heard from her housing officer since March.

The council’s failure to pay left Miss X in £3174.30 of rent arrears to her landlord, who the ombudsman also notes did not have planning consent for the property.

Last March, Miss X was able to move into another suitable private accommodation and no longer relies on Waltham Forest Council for support. 

In addition to the compensation paid to her, the ombudsman has instructed the council to take several steps to ensure a similar situation never happens again. 

These involve reminding relevant staff to warn people not to sign leases before the council has confirmed the property is suitable and “to ensure that appropriate checks are carried out before ending the relief duty”.

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