A pregnant woman, who approached Tower Hamlets council for help when she was made homeless, was left in an unfurnished flat, miles from her support network, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
The woman was left in the flat for three months, and did not even have a bed until she was awarded a grant a month into the tenancy.
She eventually moved into private rented accommodation three months after approaching the council.
The woman complained to the Ombudsman, and during its investigation the council agreed to pay the woman a discretionary housing payment to cover the shortfall in her rent until January 2020, and to refund the deposit she paid for her private rental accommodation.
The Ombudsman’s investigation criticised the council for not doing enough to prevent the woman’s homelessness: it delayed both assessing her and issuing her with a personalised housing plan (PHP).
It also did not review the assessment when her circumstances changed, and delayed providing her with interim accommodation. The council also did not consider the suitability of the interim accommodation it provided, or reconsider it when she asked it to.
The investigation also found the council also did not do enough to help the woman find accommodation, including delaying properly considering what financial support it could offer her, and making inquiries to consider whether it owed her the full housing duty.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “In this case, because of the council’s faults, the woman was left in unsuitable temporary accommodation for three months, causing her unnecessary distress and anxiety at a time when she was most vulnerable.
“I welcome the efforts the council has made during our investigation to help the woman and hope its commitment to learn from its errors will help ensure other people are not affected in the same way in future.
“We are issuing this report in part because it highlights to other councils the duties they have under the new homelessness prevention laws, and the steps they can take to learn from the errors we have highlighted.”
The woman initially approached the council for help when her father gave her notice to leave the family home. Instead of taking the right action, the council delayed assessing her and ran out of time to take steps to prevent her becoming homeless.
The following month she found out she was pregnant and again approached the council, but instead of immediately providing her with interim accommodation, it demanded extra evidence from her. She was left to sofa-surf with friends.
A week later, the woman provided her 12-week scan, and she was given the unfurnished interim accommodation in another London borough the following day. The council did not take into account her medical needs and that the accommodation was a distance away from both her vital support network and maternity hospital.
The woman continued to tell the council that her accommodation was unsuitable, but the council refused to consider her individual needs or the accommodation’s suitability. The accommodation had no bed, so she had to sleep on the floor for a month, and there was a lack of amenities nearby.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.
In this case the council has agreed to apologise and pay the woman £1,000 to recognise the time she spent living in unsuitable accommodation.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to consider service resources and the changes it needs to make to work in line with the law.