Ealing Council Evicted Woman Three Days After She Gave Birth
A pregnant woman kicked out of her emergency accommodation by Ealing Council said it led to her giving up her child for adoption and having a mental breakdown.
The case was investigated by the Ombudsman, who described how she gave birth two months prematurely and was made homeless only three days later – despite her right to emergency accommodation being under review.
Identified only as Miss B, the woman went to the council for help on January 23, 2015, after being released from prison. The report notes the council accepted she was homeless and in priority need. She was temporarily housed at a bed and breakfast, but a week and a half later (on February 4) the council decided she was intentionally homeless because she had lost her previous accommodation through the crime which led to her prison sentence. A letter was sent advising that her accommodation would end on March 4, according to the report.
Miss B wrote to the Council on February 18, disputing the decision.
“She said while she was in prison, an officer worked out her sentence would be less than 13 weeks so housing benefit should remain payable,” the report states.
“The prison contacted her landlord but he did not want the accommodation to remain empty while she was in prison.”
The council reportedly investigated further, and carried out a review on April 6. The correspondence made no mention of continuing the emergency accommodation.
The report reads: “Miss B says that three days before she was due to be evicted she went into premature labour and had her baby two months early.”
A review was undertaken between April 10 and 15, and found the original decision to evict her was “significantly flawed”. Despite this finding, the council did not try to contact Miss B until June 2. They tried to reach her on the phone for two days, but had no address, and the case was closed at the end of June.
Miss B complained to the Ombudsman in July 2018 – three years after the incident.
The report notes: “She said she had been in local authority care as a child, had severe depression and on medication since the age of 14.”
“She said [she] had substance abuse issues at the time of these events. She said her daughter was eventually adopted and she had a breakdown.”
The Ombudsman noted in the case of a review, although the applicant can ask for accommodation pending the outcome, council do not have a duty to provide it. The Ombudsman also criticised the council for taking 15 weeks to complete the original review – despite a requirement to complete it within eight weeks.
The report notes the council “did not attempt to keep in contact with Miss B during this period. By the time it completed the review it had no address or contact details for her. It knew she was pregnant and vulnerable and that her accommodation was due to end on 4 March 2015. But it did not use its power to consider extending that accommodation while it considered the review.”
In recognition of the “injustice caused to Miss B” the Ombudsman asked the council to pay her £500. The council was also asked to ensure it carried out reviews of emergency accommodation holders within the eight-week timeframe in future.
An Ealing Council spokeswoman said they had increased the staffing in their review team since the complaint was made, in order to ensure they were able to meet statutory timescales.
She said: “We have reviewed our procedures for maintaining contact with customers, including by prioritising e-mail contact, where this is appropriate and possible.
“We comply with the law in all cases and have ensured the learning from this complex and difficult case has been embedded in our revised support offer available to residents in Ealing.”
Ged Cann – Local Democracy Reporter
April 16, 2019