Latest Public Sector News

15.08.16

Councils must have ‘flexibility’ to meet complex housing needs, says LGO

Councils need to ensure their housing departments have a flexible approach, especially when dealing with complex family circumstances, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGS) has said.

Speaking after a family in Kent spent nearly three years in unsuitable accommodation, as Thanet District Council did not understand the severity of their circumstances, Dr Jane Martin said that local authorities need to “ensure they have processes in place to spot the complex cases”.

The LGO added that councils must have sufficient discretion to deviate from local policies when awarding housing priority if a family’s circumstances are particularly difficult or complex.

The family of six lived in a small privately-rented three-bedroom house. Three teenagers slept in one small bedroom – two in short bunkbeds and one on a mattress on the floor. The parents are full-time carers to their two children who have disabilities and had been on the housing register since 2000. In 2013 the family were asked to complete a new housing application and they were told by the council that it could only consider the medical and welfare needs of one of the teenagers.

The LGO noted that Thanet based the family’s application on the overcrowding, and not on their particular needs. The Ombudsman’s investigation found that the family’s exceptional circumstances should have prompted Thanet to recognise theirs was a complex case needing a cross-agency referral.

Rob Kenyon, director of Community Services at Thanet District Council, said: “We take the findings of the LGO very seriously and work to ensure that we treat all households who approach us for assistance with housing fairly and considerately.

“If we make mistakes, as we did in this case, we will always seek to put right the errors made. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the family involved in this particular case for any distress that may have been caused due to our actions.”

Dr Jane Martin, the LGO, said that 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,” she added.

To remedy the complaint, Thanet has been asked to apologise to the family and pay them £8,400 in recognition of the impact upon the family of having to remain in unsuitable accommodation for too long. It should also pay the family a further £250 to acknowledge the avoidable stress and confusion caused by its mistaken advice.

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