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Council pays out £3,600 to family left in ‘severely overcrowded’ property in Brent for 18 months

Brent Council has been ordered to pay a family more than £3,500 after they were left living in a ‘severely overcrowded’ accommodation for 18 months longer than they should have. The family of six had been living in a two-bed property, despite the local authority accepting that it was ‘unsuitable’.

An investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) found that the council was at fault for failing to offer the family more appropriate housing, even though it was aware of their living conditions. The local authority had a housing duty to the family at the time but the Ombudsman concluded that they were there ‘18 months longer than necessary’.

Referred to in the Ombudsman’s report as ‘Mrs X’, the mum had first complained to the council back in November 2021 about the family’s living conditions, which was causing them ‘distress and uncertainty’. The local authority accepted homeless duty for the family in August 2022, however, it failed to find them suitable accommodation until January 2024 – after she had made a formal complaint.

The Ombudsman ordered the council to apologise to Mrs X and pay her £3,600 ‘to recognise the distress of living in unsuitable overcrowded accommodation’ between August 2022 and January 2024 when it owed her the main housing duty.

According to the report, records showed that Mrs X contacted the council on numerous occasions between mid-2022 and mid-2023 for updates on the situation. On many occasions she didn’t get any response to her calls or emails and the Ombudsman noted there was ‘no evidence of any offer of temporary or permanent accommodation’ made to the family.

A housing officer had discussed placing Mrs X into emergency accommodation due to the unsuitable nature of the property she lived in, but advised that it could be shared. Not wanting to disrupt the children, Mrs X opted to keep the family there, but the Ombudsman found ‘no evidence’ that the officer had explained that it would only be if no other accommodation was available and for a maximum of six weeks.

The report states: “Evidence shows the Council discussed ‘emergency’ accommodation with Mrs X, however, because it did not fully explain the implications and temporary nature of shared/B&B accommodation, she was unable to make an informed decision about whether to move. […] It leaves uncertainty about whether Mrs X may have decided to accept an interim offer had she been fully informed.”

It adds: “In August 2022, the council accepted the main duty and Mrs X remained living in the same unsuitable property. The Council has said this was due to a lack of available properties in the London area. However, there is no evidence showing the council […] sought and offered any alternative properties for Mrs X until […] January 2024. There is no evidence of communication with Mrs X and it appears to have let the matter drift without taking action until she submitted her complaint.”

Cabinet Member for Housing, Homelessness and Renters’ Security, Cllr Promise Knight, said: “We have apologised to Mrs X about how her case was handled. She should have been offered suitable accommodation after we accepted our housing duty towards her. Because of the distress that has been caused, Mrs X will receive £3,600 in compensation.

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