Disabled man compensated for ‘unsuitable’ home

Payout to family by Enfield Council followed ombudsman investigation, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

A disabled man and his family were left in mouldy, mouse-infested housing because of failings by Enfield Council.

A report by local government ombudsman Michael King rapped the council over delays that meant the family was stuck in unsuitable accommodation for three years.

It revealed that after becoming homeless in June 2017, the family was placed in temporary accommodation, but six months later, a review found it was unsuitable – a ramp did not fit securely and the house was not adapted for his wheelchair.

And even though the family told the council the property had severe mould, mice infestations, and the toilet leaked, the council did not find them a new home – until August this year.

The council agreed to pay the family £9,500 compensation – £250 for every month they were in unsuitable accommodation. Michael King said: “The law doesn’t allow councils to leave people in unsuitable accommodation just because it can’t find anything suitable. It should have enough housing.

“In this case it had a significant impact on the family – the father slept on an airbed downstairs and was forced to use a commode as he could not access the bathroom safely. He could not live with dignity, and he was unable to take part in normal family life, putting his children to bed or look after them if they woke in the night.

“I’m pleased the council has accepted my recommendations, but it should not have taken a second investigation by my office to put things right properly for this family. I hope the changes it will now make will ensure others are not affected in the same way in future.”

A council spokesperson said: “We would like to apologise to the family for the delay in securing a property that met their needs and the distress this caused the family. We are pleased to now confirm that the family has been allocated a suitable home.

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“Since this case was first raised, Enfield Council has taken wide ranging measures to tackle the severe homelessness pressures in the borough and the shortage of affordable, accessible housing, which are exacerbated by a lack of sufficient funding from the government.

“We have introduced a new housing advisory service to support residents at an earlier stage and are taking steps to increase the amount of private rented accommodation available to residents through the establishment of an ethical lettings agency.

“We are also pursuing ambitious plans to building thousands of new accessible and affordable homes in the borough.”

The ombudsman report comes as it was revealed the council had previously paid out £7,600 to residents to make up for its failings, over the 2019/20 financial year. The largest of these payouts – £3,620 – was paid to another disabled man, who said he felt “distressed, anxious, and disgusted with the council” after delays adapting his home meant he was unable to wash properly for two years.

Other payments included more than £2,600 to make up for failings when dealing with a homelessness application and £300 over mistakes made when invoicing a man for social care.

The overall figure could be significantly higher, as in one case the council and NHS clinical commissioning group were ordered to reimburse care home fees of almost £29,200 to one resident who was entitled to have the full costs covered. It is unclear how much the council paid towards the reimbursement.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against councils, revealed 61% of complaints against Enfield Council were upheld in 2019/20, compared to an average of 70% in similar authorities. In a fifth of cases, the local authority had already provided a satisfactory remedy before the complaint reached the ombudsman – higher than the 15% figure for similar-sized councils.

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