Birmingham Council’s ‘poor handling’ of one case has led to fines of £4000 ordered by the Local Government Ombudsman – payable directly to the family. The five member household, consisting of a single mother and her four children, had to flee their council home after a period of harassment and threats of violence.
She applied to the council as being homeless in June 2010 and initially her application was refused. Although it was later reviewed, that decision was upheld.
The County Court intervened, ordering a second review and it was 14 weeks later, in July 2011, that the council finally accepted her as homeless. It had by then taken over a year to make that determination and in the meantime she was subjected to a 17 week stay in a 1 bed B & B residence with all four of her children cramped into the same space.
Another article in this month’s newsletter details the full guidance with regards temporary accommodation [read article here], but the précised version is that B & B accommodation is not suitable for families and can only be used for emergency situations and, in any case, not for more than six weeks.
Her long stay in the B & B was finally ended when she was moved to a three-bedroom property with a broken oven, no hot water in the shower and a mice infestation. The council billed the woman £1,900 for removal and storage of her possessions.
The Local Government Ombudsman recommended Birmingham Council apologise to the complainant and pay her £1,980 for the stress and anxiety caused to her. It also suggested the local authority pay the family £2,000 for the injustice caused to the children for living in bed and breakfast accommodation for so long, and the charges for storing and removing her possessions – within which the LGO stated the council failed to take into account her personal circumstances.
Nigel Ellis, Executive Director for investigations at the LGO, said:
“Nearly four months is a totally unacceptable period for any family to be housed in bed and breakfast – let alone a five person family in one-room accommodation – and that is why such a significant amount has been recommended as a remedy for the injustice.
“An inappropriate use of bed & breakfast accommodation by councils to house people is a trend we are noticing, so we want other councils to be aware that government guidance is clear that it is an unsuitable long term option for families.”
The council is reported to have accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations and will pay the suggested costs and with a further £2bn worth of spending on temporary accommodation such as B & Bs, they may not be the last council facing such a reprimand from the LGO.