Sunday, December 6, 2020

Young family with disabled child left homeless after benefits blunder

Council failed to correctly calculate the family's housing benefit entitlement and wrongly told landlord they owed £8,000 in overpaid benefits.

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A young family, including a disabled child, had to leave their home following a miscalculation of their housing benefits by London Borough of Haringey, reports the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The single-parent family had been living in privately rented accommodation, but were asked to leave by their landlord after the council incorrectly told him the family owed more than £8,000 in backdated (overpaid) benefits.

The family had to stay in unsuitable accommodation while the council put right its mistakes and recalculated the mother’s correct entitlement.

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The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for failing to calculate her benefits properly, not using the mandatory ‘underlying entitlement’ rule to work out her overpayments and not referring her case to the appeals tribunal.

The Ombudsman has also criticised the council for wrongly telling the landlord the mother owed a significant debt, and for not properly applying the rules which limit benefits to a family’s first two children (two-child limit).

She should have always had the allowance for her third child because her youngest son was born before April 2017.

The council was also at fault for the way it handled her homelessness application once she was evicted.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The miscalculation of this woman’s benefit entitlement has had a significant impact on her family’s life.

“To compound that problem, the council did not deal with her homelessness application properly and failed to refer her case to the appeal tribunal as it was obliged to do in law.

“I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations, and hope the review it has pledged to make of past cases, and the improved policies and procedures it will put in place, will help it to understand what has gone wrong and ensure other people are not placed in the same difficult position as this family.”

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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 already contacted the woman to take a homelessness application. It should now continue to do what it can to help find suitable housing for the family.

The council has also agreed to pay the woman £1,000 for the distress caused, a further £1,300 to recognise she was in unsuitable accommodation for six months and £500 for storage costs she incurred when she had to leave her rented property.

If the woman still wants to submit her case to the tribunal, the council should submit her application immediately.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public.

In this case the council has agreed to investigate why it made calculation errors, audit cases where it calculated overpayments applying the two-child restriction, and report its findings to the Ombudsman.

Where mistakes were made, it has agreed to correct those mistakes. If the audit reveals the council calculated incorrectly in the majority of cases, it will complete a further review or consider what other steps it should take to detect and remedy any systemic problems.

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