After a woman with three small children fled her home because of harassment, Nottingham City Council failed to deal properly with their rehousing, reports Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex. The woman's complaint to the ombudsman was brought by Nottingham Shelter (NHAS).
'Ms Porter' (not her real name for legal reasons) and her three small children left their council home after experiencing harassment and actual physical assault from her sister and associates who lived nearby. The charity, Shelter, complained on Ms Porter's behalf about the way the council handled her rehousing, as she could be considered statutorily homeless.
The council tried using alternatives to homelessness legislation to deal with the situation. In her report the ombudsman did not criticise this approach in principle, but says 'It should not be used to set aside the rights and duties conferred by the law'. After the council had given the family a temporary tenancy, it took over two years to rehouse them permanently.
The ombudsman found compound failures by the council. It was legitimate for the council to try to find an alternative to dealing with Ms Porter under the homelessness legislation but, having given her a temporary tenancy whilst maintaining her original tenancy, it then:
- failed to take any action to resolve the situation for eight months
- made mistakes about housing benefit that caused the rent account of her original property to fall into greater arrears
- allowed the rent arrears to become an obstacle to offering her a permanent tenancy
As a result she was not rehoused to a permanent tenancy until almost two years after she had fled from her original home. Ms Porter and her children suffered the injustice of having to live temporary accommodation for longer than necessary. The council's failings also meant that a property was standing empty for almost two years.
The council has accepted fault and agreed to review its procedures so as to avoid the problems noted above. It has also agreed to pay compensation of£2,000 to Ms Porter. The ombudsman asks the council to complete its review within three months of the publication of the report and to tell her of the results.