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Ombudsman criticises council which left family in poor accommodation for three years

A disabled father and his family were left in “mouldy, mouse-infested” temporary accommodation, despite Enfield Council accepting it was not suitable for their needs, an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The father, who has mobility problems and uses a wheelchair, first contacted the Ombudsman in 2017. An investigation followed, which found that the council had delayed reviewing the suitability of the accommodation it offered to the family.

When the review was carried out, the council found the home was not suitable for the family. The father had difficulty accessing the property; a ramp installed did not fit securely, and the house could not be adapted for his wheelchair. It was also reported that the man found managing his personal hygiene and toileting difficult.

Enfield said it would provide the family with alternative accommodation.

But despite this, the council failed to provide them with a new home. During this time, the family's representative also informed the council there were severe mould and mice infestations, the toilet leaked, and the landlord was slow to fix any problems.

A second Ombudsman investigation took place which found the council at fault for not having a housing procurement policy in place detailing how it would meet expected demand. It also found fault with the way the council handled the disrepair problems at the property, and for failing to accept the representative's concerns as a separate complaint.

The family was eventually provided with a new home by a local housing association in August 2020.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "The law doesn't allow councils to leave people in unsuitable accommodation just because it can't find anything suitable. It should have enough housing.

"In this case it had a significant impact on the family – the father slept on an airbed downstairs and was forced to use a commode as he could not access the bathroom safely. He could not live with dignity, and he was unable to take part in normal family life, putting his children to bed or look after them if they woke in the night.

"I'm pleased the council has accepted my recommendations, but it should not have taken a second investigation by my office to put things right properly for this family. I hope the changes it will now make will ensure others are not affected in the same way in future."

An Enfield Council spokesperson said the council would like to apologise to the family for the delay in securing a property that met their needs and the distress this caused the family.

The spokesperson added: "We are pleased to now confirm that the family has been allocated a suitable home.

"Since this case was first raised, Enfield Council has taken wide ranging measures to tackle the severe homelessness pressures in the borough and the shortage of affordable, accessible housing, which are exacerbated by a lack of sufficient funding from the government.

"We have introduced a new Housing Advisory Service to support residents at an earlier stage and are taking steps to increase the amount of private rented accommodation available to residents through the establishment of an ethical lettings agency. We are also pursuing ambitious plans to building thousands of new accessible and affordable homes in the borough."

A fresh Care Act assessment of the man will also be conducted, and Enfield will ensure the Occupational Therapy equipment it provides is fit for purpose.

In addition, Enfield has agreed to pay the family £250 for every month they were in unsuitable accommodation.

The council will also improve its guidance on what constitutes a complaint and write a procurement policy for securing accessible properties, according to the Ombudsman's report.

Adam Carey

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