Kettering Council rapped by ombudsman over treatment of disabled homeless woman

GV of Kettering Borough Council offices NNL-140821-111627001
GV of Kettering Borough Council offices NNL-140821-111627001

Kettering Council has been advised to review its homelessness procedures after a catalogue of errors in the way it dealt with a woman in need.

The woman, named as Mrs C in a report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, was placed in temporary accommodation after being made homeless in 2015 while the council sought longer-term accommodation.

She has two children and uses a mobility scooter, and said the accommodation provided by the council was unsuitable.

She couldn’t access proper washing facilities because there was no stairlift, usually had to sleep on the sofa and wash using a downstairs sink, and did not have sufficient storage for her mobility equipment.

Her mobility scooter was damaged and had its battery stolen as a result of this.

But the council did not tell the woman of her legal right to request a review of an accommodation’s suitability.

A report from an investigation into the situation said: “The council did not tell Mrs C of her review right. That was [a] fault.

“The council compounded this fault by still not offering Mrs C the review right when she expressed unhappiness with the accommodation, evidently implying she believed it unsuitable, including at all three stages of the council’s complaints procedure.

“Only during our investigation did the council admit this failure.

“This was a significant fault because Mrs C was entitled to a proper suitability review in the way the law prescribes and because the council’s view about accommodation’s suitability is not necessarily final as applicants can go to court.”

Kettering Council has now changed its standard letters and advised staff to ensure they give homeless people their review rights in future.

The report also criticised the way the council dealt with moving Mrs C’s belongings.

It found that, despite Mrs C telling the council she could not move items because of her disability, the council did not fully consider it.

Because of a lack of help Mrs C had to leave behind some items of furniture worth several thousand pounds when she moved, including an ergonomic desk and freezer.

She also incurred continuing expense by putting some items in storage.

The council also admitted it was at fault for not telling Mrs C that they had ruled out adapting the property to let her stay permanently.

It also made errors by not properly deciding whether to include her daughter, Miss D, on the housing application and not explaining that Mrs C couldn’t bid on a two-bed property with stairs.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “People in temporary accommodation have a legal right to a review of that accommodation, and ultimately to have that review considered by the courts.

“But they can only follow this process if councils tell them about their rights in a timely manner, as statutory guidance dictates.

“While I am pleased Kettering Council has already amended its letters to residents, I would urge other authorities to look at their correspondence to ensure people’s review rights are made clear.

“Complaints are a learning opportunity for councils, and this is one all councils in England can learn from to improve their services.”

As a result of the investigations, the ombudsman made a number of recommendations to Kettering Council.

They recommended that they should review the suitability of Mrs C’s temporary accommodation, apologise to Mrs C for the injustice and pay her £500 for the ‘lost opportunity, frustration, uncertainty and justified anger’.

They also recommended that the council reviews its procedures to minimise the risk of the fault recurring.

Kettering Council accepted the recommendations.

A council spokesman said: “Kettering Council accepts the findings of the ombudsman’s report and, in doing so, has formally apologised to the customer and paid the suggested compensation sum of £500.

“The council has also reviewed its procedures and standard documentation for the management of applications from homeless households to ensure that the procedural errors that have been identified in the report are not repeated.

“The council is constantly striving to ensure that we provide the best service that we can for our customers and regrets that, on this occasion, we have fallen short of that aim.”

Independent councillor Michael Brown said: “The council administration should work hard to ensure that residents have transparency on their rights, and also, get to work on their promised generational council house building program which will increase the supply of permanent residences and help ensure people are homed adequately and quickly.”

“I fear this may be a case of the administration trying to discourage residents from executing their rights of complaint in light of their failure to deliver a quantity of new council properties.”