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LGO urges greater flexibility from housing departments in complex cases

Housing departments should react flexibly to exceptional family circumstances, the Local Government Ombudsman has said.

This followed a case in which a family spent nearly three years too long in unsuitable, cramped accommodation when Thanet District Council did not recognise the severity of their circumstances.

The Ombudsman said the family of six lived in a privately-rented three-bedroom house, where three teenagers slept in one small bedroom. The parents were full-time carers for two of their children, who have disabilities, and had been on the housing register since 2000.

Thanet asked them in 2013 to complete a new housing application and said it could only consider the medical and welfare needs of one of the teenagers.

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The family though referred in the application to their other child’s disabilities and their sleeping arrangements.

When Thanet considered the application it did so on overcrowding, and not the family’s particular needs, the Ombudsman said.

Under its local lettings plan, Thanet wrongly prioritised other families who worked or who had younger children, which meant the family could not access homes that would have met their needs.

Ombudsman Jane Martin said: “While it is important for councils to operate consistent housing policies, they also need to ensure they have processes in place to spot the complex cases, such as this family, that may require special consideration.

"To properly meet people’s needs, local authorities should allow themselves the flexibility to exercise discretion when exceptional combinations of circumstances mean their allocation policies cannot accurately meet those needs.”

Ms Martin said Thanet should pay the family £8,650 in compensation and make an apology.

Thanet’s director of community services Rob Kenyon apologised to the complainants and said: “If we make mistakes, as we did in this case, we will always seek to put right the errors made.  

“The case in question found fault in the council’s handling of a families application to be placed on a higher priority housing band. Although the council did dispute some of the findings we did accept others. As a result we have reviewed our procedures to ensure that we learn from the findings of the report to prevent similar issues from arising in the future. The council will compensate the family for the faults found and has apologised for the difficulties that our decisions caused. The family has now moved into a new home suited to their needs.”

Mark Smulian

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