Council made to pay £6,000 to homeless family it ‘forgot’ about

The family were left to sofa surf for twelve months despite Waltham Forest Council deciding it had a statutory duty to help them, reports Marco Marcelline

A Waltham Forest family was forced to ‘sofa surf’ for one year because the council forgot about them.

According to an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Waltham Forest Council failed the family by missing telephone appointments arranged to review their situation, and did not take any proactive steps to help them find suitable accommodation.

The family informed the council of their situation on becoming homeless in August 2022, but the council did not provide sufficient support for a year onwards. In April 2023, the family told the council that they were still sofa surfing with friends and family and were finding it difficult to send their children to school because of long travel distances.

However, in August 2023, a year after first being told of the family’s situation, the council decided it no longer owed them the statutory duty to house them because their circumstances had changed.

Announcing the £6,000 compensation order, Amerdeep Somal, local government and social care ombudsman, said: “The council had a duty to help relieve this family’s homelessness for 12 months, but it cannot show it took any proactive steps to help them find suitable accommodation, or even look into alternative accommodation, such as a property with fewer bedrooms than they needed.

“Its own records show it had no idea where the family were living for much of the period. Had the family not been forgotten about, there is a good chance they would have been able to secure accommodation with the council’s help. Instead, the family had to rely on the goodwill of family and friends to put them up, often at a distance from the children’s schools.

“Given that there were homeless children involved in this case, I would have expected the council to liaise with its children’s services department to check their well-being. It failed to do so for a year.”

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The ombudsman also said she was “concerned” that the council has “not been able to tell us how many other families have been owed an interim duty but not been provided with accommodation”. She added that the council’s excuse that it has been “short-staffed” and lacking available accommodation was “simply not good enough”.

Alongside ordering the £6,000 compensation, the ombudsman demanded the council apologise to the family and recommended that it remind staff about its duty to provide interim accommodation if it has ‘reason to believe’ a person is homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need.

The council was also asked to evidence the steps it is making to source sufficient interim accommodation, and provide an update in nine months’ time on its progress. Finally, the council was ordered to explain the steps it has taken to reduce delays in making homelessness decisions caused by staffing shortages and develop an action plan on how it will address delays at stage two of its complaints process.

Ahsan Khan, council deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said: “We work hard to ensure that anyone who approaches us at risk of being made homeless receives the help and support they rightly deserve. We know how worrying and stressful it can be for anyone who finds themselves in this situation.

“We know that in this incident we did not meet the high standards that we set for ourselves. We have accepted and are putting into place the recommendations we have received from the ombudsman, and we apologise to the resident affected for their experience.”

Read the ombudsman’s full report here

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