06:01PM, Thursday 26 August 2021
A watchdog has ruled a woman with a rare disability was left in 'prolonged uncertainty' after the council took ‘too long’ to help despite becoming homeless.
An Ombudsman investigation has ruled the Royal Borough was at fault for not providing the woman – anonymised as Miss K – relief duty sooner leaving her forced to file for homelessness as her landlord moved her out her flat.
Miss K has a rare physical disability and received housing benefit as well as discretionary housing payments (DHP) from the council to help pay for her private rented two-bedroom apartment, which she shares with an overnight carer.
But the woman asked for a further DHP to help pay her rent when she received a notice to leave from her landlord as he wanted to sell the property.
The council said it was 'unlikely' to make a further DHP – but they would make a one-off payment to the landlord to ensure the rent was met until May 10, so an affordable accommodation could be found.
Due to the woman’s rare condition, she could not move away from her nearby GP who provided her care, which caused difficulty for the council to find another property close by.
However, luck came when the landlord decided to not sell the property and Ms K could stay there at a rent of £1,340pcm. Ms K said she can use the DHP of £479, and funds raised by her family and friends to stay longer.
But the landlord later changed his mind again. He put the property back on the market a few months later and asked her to leave by November 12, 2020. Ms K told the council she no longer had the funds from family and friends to pay the rent shortfall.
The council explained that it could not use the prevention fund or an increased DHP as the current situation was 'unsustainable' but offered the woman a temporary accommodation with a level access wet room.
Miss K’s GP advised that she needs a bath due to her physical disabilities, while her carer confirmed she will accept the DHP, but it would not meet the rent shortfall.
On September 10, the council confirmed it would consider increasing the DHP so it would cover the shortfall without Miss K’s parents having to contribute, ending in November 2020.
Two months later, Ms K’s landlord confirmed he had applied to the court for possession of the flat although neither the landlord nor Ms K has given the council proof of this. Ms K was readmitted to hospital after she fell ill and required emergency treatment last month.
At this point, Ms K effectively became homeless where the council had a relief duty and had to find her an affordable home.
The council determined her housing register application and put her in B&B. Miss K’s carer wrote to the council querying this, given her complex needs and that her landlord had applied to court for possession. The council did not respond to this.
Attempts were made to find properties in neighbouring authorities as well as asking Miss K to work with an occupational therapist to see if bathing facilities could be adapted in the proposed flat. The council said Miss K declined but there is no evidence to confirm this, the Ombudsman said.
The council accepted that it owed Miss K a relief duty on April 6, 2021. This meant they had a duty over the subsequent 56 days to help Ms K secure suitable accommodation.
The Ombudsman found the council took too long to finally accept the relief duty when Ms K became homeless in November and should not have taken that long to move from the prevention stage.
The council’s 'lack of communication' to the carer’s query was also a fault.
An inspector stated: “The council’s delay left Miss K with prolonged uncertainty over the council’s responsibilities to her and her rights. If the council had accepted the relief duty sooner, it would have decided whether it has a duty to house Miss K.
“The council has not yet accepted this. But even if the council decides that it does not have a duty to house her, Miss K needs to be certain of this in a timely manner, not least because she may want to appeal this unfavourable decision.
“In addition, as time goes on, the uncertainty becomes greater and if the council does not have a duty to house Miss K, she needs to be clear on this as soon as possible so that she can make further efforts to find accommodation in the private sector.”
The council was ordered to apologise, pay Miss K £300 in compensation, launch a review into what went wrong, and look at Ms K’s housing register priority. A council spokesman said they have accepted these recommendations and have reviewed and improved its processes.
Adding: “The council takes all complaints seriously and works hard to resolve them at the earliest opportunity. In this case, the council has accepted the recommendations of the Ombudsman, and reviewed and improved its processes.”
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