Mark* broke his pelvis in a road accident. He returned to his third floor flat with significantly reduced mobility and fell down the stairs. The paramedics who found him completed a safeguarding alert when they saw how bad his condition was.
Then, when Mark was in hospital, his landlord illegally evicted him, leaving him homeless. The hospital triggered a homeless application and he was visited in hospital by a Housing Options Officer, who initially tried to arrange for him to be accommodated in a hostel, which turned out to be unsuitable for his needs.
By the time of his hospital discharge no accommodation had been arranged, so the officer rang his aunt and told her that if she did not take him in he would be street homeless (when of course the Council itself had a very clear duty to house him). So Mark left hospital to sleep on a sofa (with a recently-broken pelvis) in his aunt’s one bedroom flat. This arrangement broke down after a couple of days and Mark was supported by a charity to ring the Council’s out-of-hours service and was placed in Bed and Breakfast for a week or so.
By this point the homeless application was more than 20 days in to what should be a maximum 33-day process and it appeared the Council already had all the information they required to know they had a duty to house Mark in suitable accommodation.
Instead, the Council supported Mark to move into a room in a shared house owned by a slum landlord. This accommodation was not in any way a legal discharge of the Council’s duty – the accommodation failed to meet various minimum standards required by the law, including the issue of the urine that dripped through the ceiling of Mark’s room (Mark was then threatened with a sledge hammer when he raised the issue with his housemate who was using the corner of his own room as a toilet). Mark reported these issues to the Council but they did not take any action, other than write to him to say the homeless application had been ended as he was not homeless any more so they had no duty to do anything for him.
The whole situation took its toll on Mark’s wellbeing, and he attempted suicide and was admitted to a psychiatric unit. On his discharge, Mark was supported again to approach the Council who concluded that there was no reason to think he couldn’t return to his accommodation, despite the threats and unsanitary conditions, and the impact it was having on his mental health. Mark spent a lot of the time sleeping rough as he was too scared to stay in his accommodation.
By complete chance, Mark contacted JustUs. Given that he had already attempted to access the help he was legally eligible for it was necessary to complain to the Council to try to get more help for him. The complaint raised several issues including the condition of the accommodation, the fact that it was not a legal discharge of the Council’s legal duties, the fact that he was told that accepting the shared accommodation was his only option, the fact that the rent was nearly £80 per month more than he could actually afford (according to the Council’s own figures regarding affordability) and the fact that his aunt had been told she had to take him in or he would be homeless. Basically, it seemed the Council had held off with the homeless application process to try to get him housed anywhere they could so they could simply say they had no duty to him as he was not homeless any more, and told him that if he didn’t accept the accommodation there would be nothing else they could do.
Unbelievably Mark was then illegally evicted again and was helped by the police to contact the Council’s out-of-hours service, which did not pick up his call, leaving him to sleep in the park for another night. Councils have various powers to act against landlords when they act illegally, but in this case the Council said doing so would not pass the ‘public interest test’.
The next day Mark re-approached the Council, which this time placed him in temporary accommodation. It then sought to say that Mark was not vulnerable to any significant harm, despite all the professional evidence to the contrary. Among other things, his medical information was seriously misinterpreted and the health issues arising from smoking was dismissed as a ‘life choice’ (see here for more on this thinking). JustUs wrote to the Council again to spell out why his various medical conditions made him vulnerable to harm and obtained further evidence from various medics who were treating him. The Council accepted this evidence and the duty to house him properly. Mark moved into a housing association property shortly afterwards.
The complaint rumbled on. The Council did not uphold any part of the 1st stage complaint.
As an example of the Council’s perversity, the response denied that the rent of the private property was unaffordable in the face of some very simple maths that proved otherwise. The Council also denied that sleeping on a sofa whilst recovering from a broken pelvis was unsuitable for him. It seems impossible for the Council to claim they were acting in good faith.
The second stage complaint also denied any significant failures, so we then supported Mark to take the complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), which oversees the performance of some aspects of Council practice.
The LGO started its inquiries but before it got very far the Council did a complete U-turn and accepted the failures and agreed to pay Mark a significant sum in compensation. The Director of Children’s and Adult Services made an unreserved apology and acknowledged the distress that the Council’s failures had caused, also stating that because of the complaint the Housing Services’ policies had been significantly improved (which we didn’t notice if we’re honest).
This was a few years ago now, one of our first cases. Whilst other voluntary sector agencies did their best to support Mark, it’s clear that without the specialist legal knowledge and willingness to hold the Council to account for their terrible performance, he would have not been housed.
Mark still lives in his home and avoided a potential extended spell of homelessness that could have so easily entrapped him.
The Ombudsman’s report can be viewed here
*Mark’s name has been changed, along with some personal details, but the substance of the account is accurate.