A North London council has had to apologise and pay compensation to a mum of two after the family was left in an ‘overcrowded and mouldy’ home. The mum had lodged a complaint to the council and wanted to be moved to a larger property.
An investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) found that Brent Council was at fault for not assessing her housing application properly, meaning she had to live in ‘unsatisfactory conditions’ that were impacting the family’s health. The mum, referred to in the ombudsman’s report as ‘Miss Y’ had complained that the one-bedroom property was too small for her, as well as her two children – aged 16 and five – which led to repeated issues with mould and condensation.
Miss Y claimed these circumstances should have given her housing application greater priority. The Housing Act 1996 requires homes to be allocated based on statutory preferences, including ‘people who are occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions’.
Miss Y had been wanting to move to a two-bedroom property to tackle the ‘overcrowding’ as a result of having one less bedroom. She, alongside the youngest child, had been using part of the living room as a sleeping area. The room was also being used to dry clothes, which caused condensation and led to mould.
The LGO report stated that a council surveyor had even acknowledged that Miss Y’s home was ‘quite small’ and would ‘continue to have mould issues’ because of the lack of space. Whilst the council accepted that Miss Y needed two bedrooms, she was told only applicants lacking two or more bedrooms were awarded priority.
The council claimed that, as the children were of the same sex – one of whom was under ten – and they had a living room as well as a bedroom, they were not considered to be statutorily overcrowded and would not meet the threshold for priority housing. However, the ombudsman found that the council’s scheme ‘fails to meet the statutory requirement’, which gives preference to tenants living in ‘unsatisfactory housing conditions’. The investigator suggests this meant Miss Y lost the opportunity to be assessed and awarded priority status.
They recommended the council apologises to Miss Y, as well as paying her £150 in recognition of the ‘frustration and upset’ caused by the lost opportunity. The report also states that the council’s current scheme could ’cause injustice’ for other applicants living in poor conditions as they could be excluded from the scheme ‘because they are council tenants’.
Therefore, the council was required to review its current allocation scheme and make the necessary changes to ensure that it complied with its statutory requirements. It must also make sure its tenants are aware of these changes.
Cabinet Member for Housing, Homelessness, and Renters Security, Cllr Promise Knight, said: “We have amended the wording for our policy, as per advice from the ombudsman. We strive to provide an excellent standard of service, especially when it comes to adequate housing for residents.”
She added: “We take complaints seriously which has been proven by Brent coming first in London at acting on advice from the ombudsmen when compared against other councils in London.”