A watchdog has criticised Barnet Council over delays in assessing the needs of an autistic child who was being disturbed by noisy neighbours.
The child’s mother said the council failed to carry out an occupational therapy assessment of the impact of the noise on her daughter, which had led to a worsening of her mental health, anxiety and lack of sleep.
A report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against councils, found the child’s mother – referred to as Miss X – first reported excessive noise from the flat above her in March last year.
Officers from the council’s environmental health team investigated this and subsequent complaints but said they could not take action because it was normal domestic noise which would not be a statutory nuisance.
In June, Miss X provided various documents to the council describing her daughter’s medical conditions and the difficulties they presented. She said her daughter refused to use the stairs and was not able to calm down and settle when she was having difficulties. Miss X also said she had moved to the borough to flee domestic violence.
In August, following a full housing assessment the previous month, Miss X’s housing officer told her the council had accepted a homelessness prevention duty towards her because it was satisfied that she was threatened with homelessness as a result of anti-social behaviour from her neighbours which was having an impact on her daughter’s health.
Three months later, in November, the council discussed Miss X’s referral for an occupational therapy assessment that was being initiated by her child’s paediatrician, saying it would take any formal reports into consideration.
The borough’s multi-agency safeguarding hub said an occupational therapy referral would have to come from housing. But the council’s housing arm, Barnet Homes, said they did not need an occupational therapy assessment to assess her housing needs.
In March, Miss X complained that the council had refused to refer her for an assessment. When an occupational therapist finally visited Miss X and her daughter in May, they found the flat was no longer meeting their needs as they had issues with noise that disrupted her daughter’s sleep and had a direct impact on her behaviour.
The therapist said Miss X’s daughter had no awareness of danger, and she would self‑harm when feeling challenged or distressed.
Further advice from the therapist stated that her daughter found stairs a problem, and they would need level-access property on the ground floor or with a lift and access to outside space.
The council now accepted a relief duty and said it could offer temporary accommodation while it looked for a new property, but Miss X turned it down because she feared it could be worse than her current circumstances.
Miss X’s housing priority was band four because she had lived in the borough for less than five years. In July this year, following a review of the case, the council’s medical adviser suggested considering a waiver of this limitation, primarily to ensure the continuation of her daughter’s education.
The ombudsman found the council’s housing team agreed to make the referral for an occupational therapy assessment, but this did not ultimately happen and led to a delay in obtaining occupational therapy advice. Had it taken place earlier, the council could have accepted relief duty and placed Miss X in a housing priority band in December.
The watchdog also found the council should have considered whether Miss X’s need to move to the borough because of domestic violence warranted discretion to be applied to to remove the residential connection limit if someone has lived in the borough less than five years. If it had been applied, she would have been eligible for band two priority.
The ombudsman told the council to send a written apology to Miss X, pay £150 compensation, amend her priority date to 15th December, and review whether discretion should be applied to waive the residential connection limitation. If the council finds she missed out on housing because she did not have the higher priority, it should offer her the next suitable property that becomes available.
A Barnet Council spokesperson said Barnet Homes accepted the ombudsman’s decision and recommendations and had apologised to Miss X.
They added: “The council has swiftly implemented the recommended remedies, including apologising to the resident, and improving our procedures to ensure correct processes are followed and customers are communicated appropriately through their preferred communication methods.
“We take learning from complaints, be they directly received or via ombudsman very seriously and are always seeking to use that learning as part of our continuous improvement.”