London council left homeless family for ‘too long’ in B&B

Two schoolchildren were left sharing a bed in a B&B hotel for more than a year by Redbridge council in East London, according to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the living conditions the children were subject to in the bed and breakfast accommodation had a significant impact on the family. The two children’s schooling was badly affected – they had to share a bed and suffered disrupted sleep because of the night-time noise, and there was no room for them to do their schoolwork.

The family was placed in the B&B in the Redbridge area by another London borough. The other council decided the family was intentionally homeless because the mother had refused a damp and mouldy flat, which would have exacerbated both her and her children’s respiratory conditions.

Instead of making its own decision on whether the family was intentionally homeless, Redbridge accepted the other council’s decision and decided it did not have a duty to house the family under the Housing Act.

The council then placed the family in the B&B for more than a year under the Children Act. However, the Ombudsman’s investigation found the council could not show it assessed the harm caused to the family by staying in the B&B for such a long period, or that it made regular reviews of their situation.

During this time, the council offered the family options including a studio flat – where the three would have had to sleep, eat and do homework in the same room – or accommodation away from the borough in the north or

Midlands. The woman rejected the first because it would be too small, and the second because her older child was due to take GCSE exams in a local school, and she had no network of support outside the capital. The council decided it no longer had any duties to the family as the mother had rejected these options.

Because the family’s living conditions were so poor, the woman suffered increased anxiety, stress and panic attacks. The ombudsman found the council did not make allowances for her poor mental health when it dealt with her, and instead misinterpreted her behaviour as ‘being difficult’ and blamed her situation on her lack of co-operation.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Councils should balance the impact of being housed in bed and breakfast accommodation against the affect this might have on children, regardless of which Act the council is housing them under. In this case two children were left for far too long in poor accommodation. This left them – in their own words – ‘stuck in a cycle of instability’ and unable to fulfil their potential in school.

“I hope the council’s acceptance that it could have done more to support the woman, given her understandable anxiety and depression, will lead to it dealing with people in difficult situations with more empathy in future.”

In this case the council agreed to apologise to the woman and pay her £3,900. This is made up of £250 a month for leaving her family in unsuitable accommodation for 14 months, £250 for the distress caused by the council failing to consider the effect her anxiety and depression had on her actions or the difficulties she had communicating because of her dyslexia, and a further £150 for her time and trouble caused by the council’s delays dealing with her complaint.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor