A disabled man was left to sleep rough and ‘sofa surf’ for more than three months during the winter because the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead did not act quickly enough to find him accommodation, according to a new report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The man, who had mental and physical health conditions, approached the Royal Borough for help shortly before Christmas in 2015. But for more than three months he was left to sleep on friends’ sofas, or in garages.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council mishandled the man’s homelessness application. He was offered accommodation that was unsuitable for his needs.
The council’s offer letters did not differentiate between interim and temporary accommodation, and it did not tell the man of his right to appeal the suitability of the temporary accommodation. When he complained, the council mishandled his complaint, and it did not keep proper records of its dealings with the man.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “This is another example of a council on the outskirts of the capital struggling to cope with homelessness within its boundaries.
“And, while I appreciate the difficulties councils have in finding suitable accommodation, it is unacceptable that this man was placed in unsuitable accommodation for nearly a year, having been left for three months to fend for himself on the streets.
“The council also needs to improve its complaint handling, and the responses it offers to my office’s enquiries. It should not need to take the threat of witness summons for the council to provide evidence.
“Following a constructive meeting I have had with the authority’s managing director this week, I understand the council is now implementing the recommendations I have made, and look forward to an improved relationship with it in future.”
When the man first approached the council for help in December 2015, he was offered interim accommodation in Guildford, Kent or Southall at 5pm that day, but was given no way of getting there.
He was next offered accommodation some three months later, but this was in Maidenhead, some way away from his support network in Windsor. When he was later offered a place in bed and breakfast accommodation on the outskirts of Windsor, the man complained it was ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and not on a bus route. Again the man was not offered help getting to and from the accommodation.
He regularly called the housing officer, but there is no evidence the officer returned his calls.
He was moved to temporary accommodation in Windsor, but this was on the third floor and just getting to the flat caused him pain. He was finally moved to permanent accommodation in March 2017.
Faced with an investigation, the council was poor to respond to the Ombudsman’s requests for information, at one point responding to the Ombudsman only after the office threatened to issue witness summons.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.
In this case, the Ombudsman has recommended the council apologise to the man and pay him £1,050 for the three and a half months he spent without any accommodation. It should also pay him a further £2,875 for the 11 and a half months he lived in unsuitable accommodation, and a further £250 for the time and trouble taken to pursue his complaint.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council should create interim and temporary accommodation offer letters which are correctly titled. The temporary accommodation letter should set out the right of review of its suitability.
The council should also improve its complaints handling and the way it responds to Ombudsman enquiries.
© Commission for Local Administration in England, 2015