Pregnant Homeless Woman "Slept Rough In Park"
Ruling of 'maladministration' against Council's housing services
Hammersmith and Fulham Council have been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman for failing to deal appropriately with a pregnant homeless woman.
In a recent report, Ombudsman Tony Redmond says the woman, known as 'Ms Kenza' "was not provided with the level of support and assistance she could reasonably expect as a person who was homeless and in priority need”.
H&F face criticism for not placing Ms Kenza in temporary accommodation while the Council investigated the circumstances that had led to her homelessness.
‘Ms Kenza’ (not her real name for legal reasons) complained that the Council had failed to give her adequate advice and assistance when she became homeless after she left her private rented accommodation following an incident of domestic violence. She was eight months pregnant at the time.
Council housing officers encouraged her to find accommodation in the private rented sector, but did not explain that she could also make a homelessness application. She was not provided with emergency accommodation when she became homeless, but was subsequently provided with emergency accommodation by the Council’s Out-of-Hours Service. She says that, later, she spent four nights sleeping rough in a park. She also alleges that she was subjected to racial and sexual discrimination by Council officers.
The Ombudsman came to a conclusion of maladministration causing injustice. His report says the standard of record keeping by housing officers in this case was so poor that it hindered the Ombudsman’s investigation of the complaint and fell so far below acceptable standards that it amounted to maladministration.
“It has not been possible to resolve some conflicts of evidence because of the absence of detailed contemporaneous notes recording housing officers’ contact with Ms Kenza, [voluntary agency] caseworkers and other professionals,” the Ombudsman said.
According to the Ombudsman's report, Council officers did not consider taking a homelessness application from Ms Kenza after she left her accommodation, even though she had told a housing officer she was homeless. The report says the Council applied too strict a test when deciding whether it should provide Ms Kenza with temporary accommodation by insisting she provide proof of homelessness first and that the Council also failed to follow its own procedures for referring victims of domestic violence to a specialist domestic violence housing advocate for support and advice. The liaison and exchange of information between officers in the Children’s Service and Housing Service about a vulnerable service user was also ineffective, the report states.
However, the Ombudsman concluded that in the absence of any specific incident or comment made by an officer, he did not uphold Ms Kenza’s complaint that she was subjected to racial and sexual discrimination.
In view of his findings, the Ombudsman recommended that the Council should: apologise to Ms Kenza for its shortcomings in handling her request for housing advice and assistance, pay her compensation of £750, remind all housing officers of the need to maintain accurate and detailed records of their contacts with service-users and their advisers and advocates, review its systems for sharing information between Children’s Services (and Adult Services in relevant cases) and the Housing Service about vulnerable service users, ensure the established procedure for referring service users to the domestic violence housing advocate are followed, ensure that all forms used by the Housing Service are dated, and ensure that records of service users placed in emergency accommodation by the Out-of-Hours Service are copied to the housing officer responsible for the case.
Responding to the case, a council spokesman said: "We apologise unreservedly that our Housing Options team failed to meet its usually high standards of service on this occasion and did not respond well to the changing complexities of this case. We have acted immediately on all the Ombudsman's recommendations and have sent a full apology and compensation to the lady we let down. Although we are absolutely clear that the lessons of this case are learned for the future, these cases are very rare in H&F with the last maladministration ruling against us occurring in 2005."
The Council say that in August 2008, they were named by the Government as a Housing Options 'Trailblazer' and were one of just twelve local authorities in Britain considered to be at the forefront of modernising housing services.
26 January 2010