A report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman states that Haringey Council applied “the wrong test” when it initially refused to provide emergency accommodation for the resident – referred to as ‘Miss B’.
As well as the initial delay in housing her, the ombudsman also found the council was “at fault” for not taking any steps to mitigate the impact on Miss B and her child of living in “unsuitable accommodation” when it placed the family in a hotel.
Miss B first made a homeless application in October 2022 when her relationship with her mother broke down. But in November the council told her it would not provide emergency accommodation because it “could not confirm she was homeless”. Instead the family stayed with Miss B’s sister.
The council eventually accepted it had a homelessness relief duty for Miss B in December 2022, although she chose to continue living with her sister until February 2023, when the family were eventually forced to take council’s offer of accommodation at a hotel.
The government has a six-week legal limit on the amount of time families are housed in bed and breakfast (B&B) temporary housing, where there are no separate washing and cooking facilities.
Miss B was placed in a B&B in a different London borough, which added an hour to her child’s school journey each way. Despite Miss B saying this accommodation was unsuitable as she was isolated, had extra travel costs and her medical condition made it difficult for her to share facilities, the council claimed it met basic requirements.
But in March the council accepted it had a main housing duty towards Miss B and that the hotel was unsuitable. It also apologised for the delays and offered the family a one-bedroom flat in Haringey, but there were further delays as the property still needed white goods and new flooring.
The work still had not been done by October, although the council says the family has since moved in.
In its response to the ombudsman’s findings, the council said it would remind housing staff of their duty to provide interim accommodation when there was “reason to believe” an applicant was homeless, rather than when they had “confirmed this”.
The council also said it would remind staff that its homeless relief duty lasts 56 days, after which it must decide if it is responsible for main housing duty.
The council agreed to pay Miss B £100 for the delay in accepting it had a duty to house her, as well as £100 for every week beyond the six-week limit the family spent in the hotel – amounting to thousands of pounds. It will also reimburse her travel costs.
Prior to the watchdog’s enquiry the council had proposed a £130 payment for the “unsuitable accommodation” and a one-off £300 for the “time and trouble”.
In response, Cllr Sarah Williams, cabinet member for housing services at Haringey Council, said the local authority had “apologised for the mistakes made” and would “absolutely” learn from the lessons in the report’s findings and recommendations.
Cllr Williams said: “Due to a chronic shortage of family-sized properties in the borough, hotel accommodation is sometimes used as a last resort.
“Unfortunately, in this case a series of delays which could not have been foreseen meant it took longer than we would have liked to find self-contained housing.”
Cllr Williams added: “We found the family suitable accommodation in Haringey and are pleased they are now settled in.”