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HomeNewsHousing Ombudsman finds council caused ‘unnecessary distress’ to mother

Housing Ombudsman finds council caused ‘unnecessary distress’ to mother

The housing ombudsman has found that Ealing Council was at fault for causing unnecessary distress to a mother of two after saying she was going to be evicted only to reverse the decision. Ms K, who is currently housed in temporary council accommodation, made a complaint to the ombudsman after she had begun selling or binning her possessions in anticipation of the move only to be told she was staying put.

She also complained that as someone who is considered a Band C priority for housing allocation, she and her two children had been waiting for 10 years to be given a permanent address. According to the Ealing website, Band C is “for everyone else who has housing that meets the council’s standards and whose need for rehousing is not so urgent.

“This includes less serious medical issues, people agreed as homeless and most overcrowding cases. Approximately 53% of applicants are in this band.”

One of the woman’s key concerns was about her daughter, who suffers from seizures that have required the attention of emergency services in the past. She says that her current accommodation has made attending to her daughter more difficult for ambulance crew who struggle to get her from her 1st floor room and down the narrow staircase.

The mother had applied to get her housing allocation priority status changed to Band B in light of the fact that her daughter’s condition is worsening, leading to her being taken to hospital more frequently, however, this request was denied. The ombudsman did not find fault with this decision but they did take issue with the way the council handled other aspects of the woman’s housing.

In May 2022 the council informed her she was going to be served a Notice to Quit, evicting her from the property due to the fact that the managing agent of the flat was no longer going to work with the council. Alongside this, she was informed that she would be made a Band B priority. She was told that both things would happen within a few weeks.

However, after many anxious emails from Ms K about when she was going to be served the Notice to Quit it wasn’t until July that she finally received the document. Her Band was changed to B a week before her Notice to Quit was set to expire.

The Housing Officer told Ms K she would not have to leave when the notice expired as the eviction process could take some time, and the Council had a duty to house her regardless. She also said Ms K’s priority Band would first be changed when the Notice to Quit expired.

In October 2022 the new management agent for Ms K’s temporary accommodation sent her a new three-year tenancy agreement. The Council told Ms K she should sign the tenancy agreement and it reduced her priority to Band C again.

The ombudsman found that the council had failed to properly inform Ms K about the Notice to Quit and eviction process over a two-month period and failed to keep its own timescale when serving the notice.

They also found that the council failed to increase her priority to Band B when it said it would. The report also concludes that “Ms K experienced unnecessary distress due to the uncertainty around when she would have to leave her accommodation, and where she would live with her children. I found the Council’s apology was not enough to remedy the distress this caused her.”

However, the report did not find the Council at fault for Ms K’s disposal of belongings during the Notice to Quit period. Neither could it find fault with the council for the delay in Ms K being housed permanently.

The ombudsman judged that to remedy the injustice Ms K suffered the council should apologise in writing to Ms K and pay her £150 to acknowledge the distress she experienced as a result of its poor communication. It was also told to advise Ms K about getting a suitability review for the property she was currently inhabiting.

Within three months the ombudsman also told Ealing Council to review how it can improve information sharing between its Housing and Temporary Accommodation Team to ensure changes in Notice to Quit processes are communicated without delay to applicants and remind officers to adhere to timescales agreed with applicants to respond, take actions, or seek approvals from managers to avoid unnecessary uncertainty or heightened expectations.