Ombudsman ordered council to apologise to woman. Picture: Marco Verch
Hounslow Council has been fined £1,500 after failing to quickly move a mother and her children who were at risk from domestic abuse. The local authority was ordered to pay the sum by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after they acted too slowly to rehouse the unnamed woman and her family.
According to a report by the ombudsman, the woman, whose identity is protected for legal reasons, got in touch with the council in April 2021 about fears of violence from her ex-partner. The woman said her ex, also anonymous, had recently made fresh threats against her and she asked to be moved higher up the council’s housing register.
The report states that the woman did not hear anything from the officer assigned to her case and in May 2021 she got back in touch with the council because her ex-partner assaulted one of her children, who was then afraid to leave the house.
The woman was forced to move out of her home and ‘sofa surf’ at a friend’s house along with her youngest child, while her other kids were separated and stayed with different family and friends. According to the ombudsman, Hounslow Council told the mum, referred to as Miss X, that she could not be considered homeless as she had a home to go to, and that there was no immediate risk to her and her children at the property.
The council said they fitted new locks to the woman’s windows and, following her request to move to emergency accommodation, offered her several options for somewhere to stay. Reporting the woman’s description of some of the temporary accommodation offered to her by the council, the ombudsman wrote, “Miss X says this accommodation was in an extremely poor state such that she did not feel it was safe for her young baby. She said the room had a strong smell of urine and the carpet and beds were sticky and stained.”
Hounslow Council disputed that the accommodation it offered was uninhabitable. The ombudsman wrote that eventually, the social worker for one of the woman’s children got involved and also wrote to the council saying the child had missed some of their exams because of the trauma of their assault. The social worker also said that the ex-partner knew where the family lived.
The mum and her kids were eventually moved into a new home in August 2021, four months after she first turned to the council for help. The ombudsman found that the council was at fault for saying the woman was not homeless and should have provided her with accommodation in April.
The ombudsman said the family’s experience was an “injustice” and ordered the council to apologise in writing and pay her £300 for every month she spent sofa surfing, and an additional £300 for the trouble caused.
A spokesperson for Hounslow Council said: “We would like to apologise unreservedly to the complainant regarding this case and the distress caused to her. We have taken onboard the ombudsman’s recommendations and we are identifying ways we can improve our services for vulnerable residents. The Council’s ‘My Independence’ homelessness service, which prevented 3,000 Hounslow residents becoming homeless last year, will continue to support residents in the borough.”
Lisa Haseldine - Local Democracy Reporter
April 5, 2022