Barnet Council has paid £500 compensation to a man who suffered “distress and uncertainty” because it delayed supporting him after he was threatened with eviction.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found the council delayed issuing a housing plan, failed to take preventative action, and should have considered offering the man and his family interim accommodation when they faced being evicted.
The watchdog’s report reveals that the man, his wife and children, who are not named, have been diagnosed with several health conditions. The man, referred to as Mr Y in the report, informed the council in January last year that his family were being evicted by their landlord and had been told to leave the property by 11th March.
After he provided medical information, the council carried out a housing needs assessment and found the family was entitled to a three-bedroom property.
In February, when their local MP warned the council that the family was facing an imminent threat of homelessness, it replied that until they received a bailiff warrant they were legally entitled to remain in the property “well past the 11th March expiry date”.
Owing to long waiting times for council homes, the authority suggested looking for private rented properties.
But in July the family’s GP told the council the family had not been able to find a home in their current area, where they wanted to stay because local specialists were aware of their complex medical problems. Their son’s school supported rehousing them in their current area.
During the same month, Mr Y told the council he had received a second eviction notice. But he did not get a reply, and two months later he said the stress of his housing situation had “significantly impacted his physical and mental wellbeing”.
On 3rd November, the county court issued an order for possession which told the family to leave the property by 14th November. The council said he would be sent an eviction notice that specified the final leaving date.
It continued to advise Mr Y to look for private rented accommodation due to the lack of available properties in the area and said it could provide financial support.
In December, the council contacted the landlord to ask about sustaining the tenancy in exchange for a one-off incentive payment but was told he had already begun the process of selling the property.
Later that month, the council wrote to Mr Y accepting it owed him a prevention duty, issued a personalised housing plan (PHP), and requested further information to assign him to the appropriate priority banding.
An appointment to assess his banding was booked for 7th February but later cancelled after he said he had secured a tenancy agreement on a property.
The ombudsman found the council should have provided a PHP when Mr Y first approached the authority. If it had done so, it said he “would have been able to see what steps he and the council should be taking to prevent his homelessness and have had a greater understanding of what was expected of each party during the prevention duty timeframe”.
The watchdog also found that the council’s failure to contact the landlord until eleven months after he received an eviction notice “caused distress in the form of uncertainty about whether, if the council had acted sooner, it could have stopped Mr Y and his family being evicted from the property”.
In addition, the ombudsman said councils should not consider it reasonable for homeless applicants to remain in a private tenancy until the date the court issues a warrant for possession, and the authority “should have considered offering Mr Y and his family interim accommodation before the warrant for possession was issued”.
A Barnet Homes spokesperson said: “Barnet Homes accepts the decision of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and its recommendations in relation to this case, have apologised to Mr Y and paid compensation of £500.