Published: 20:30, 13 May 2022
| Updated: 11:46, 14 May 2022
A family of seven who were left cramped in a one-bed flat will be paid £6,000 by a council.
The family were handed an eviction notice, but Bromley Council failed to provide suitable interim accommodation until 13 months later.
'Mr B' lived in the small flat in Bromley along with his partner and five children, who at the time of the eviction notice in July 2019, were aged between six months and eight years.
The man's partner and children had arrived from abroad in July 2019, with the children sharing a bunk bed in the living area and the youngest sleeping in a travel cot.
The council had until the September of the same year to find interim accommodation of a suitable size.
Luckily the family were not evicted by their landlord because of the Covid-19 restrictions but were left in the unsuitable overcrowded flat until November 2020.
They were not added to the housing register until the following month when the council accepted its main housing duty to the family, although this was backdated to August 2019.
An investigation by a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has now found that Bromley Council failed in its duty of care and could've left the family homeless and at risk.
Prior to the man complaining to the Ombudsman, the council had already apologised and made a £4,000 payment to acknowledge the time the family had spent in unsuitable accommodation.
Although this early offer was commended by the Ombudsman it also found the council didn't do enough to recognise the family was living in an overcrowded space and didn't consider early enough whether the family needed interim accommodation.
The investigation states that had the council looked into the situation more closely it would've been immediately obvious that they were in priority need.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Because of the lack of action by the council in this case, a family of seven had to live in a single bedroom flat for more than a year longer than they should have."
"The fact that this happened during the first lockdown, when people’s movements were significantly restricted, can have only increased the distress they felt," he said.
Bromley Council has now agreed to pay the family £6,000 to acknowledge the effect such a degree of overcrowding will have had on the family - a rate of £400 a month from August 2019 to November 2020.
Mr King added: “While I am pleased the council has already gone some way to remedying the injustice to the family, I have asked it to pay a further £2,000 to acknowledge the effect such a degree of overcrowding will have had on the family.
"I hope the changes the council will also make to the way it deals with homeless issues will ensure other people are not put in the same situation.”
The investigation also found the council did not review its prevention duty or the personalised housing plan until the man complained, or have any consideration as to whether the family’s living conditions enabled them to enjoy a family life under the Human Rights Act.
Article 9 of the Human Rights Act states: "When considering whether accommodation is suitable councils must take account of whether the accommodation might cause physical or psychological harm or if inadequate accommodation interferes with private or family life."
When 'Mr B' was interviewed by the council in early September 2019, it concluded that the accommodation was "not severely overcrowded" - the investigation has found that this was an incorrect judgement and delayed the family in receiving help to find a new home.
But the Ombudsman report shows that following further interviews with 'Mr B', a manager in the homelessness team agreed the council would seek a private rental sector property and the council started to look for a four-bedroom private rental property.
The council said that, while under this prevention duty, it put 'Mr B' forward for two privately rented properties in December 2019 and January 2020.
He was keen to accept the first property but unfortunately the landlord accepted a different applicant, but he did not reply to an offer to view the second property in January.
The council offered 'Mr B' further private rented properties to view in April and June 2020 but says Mr B did not respond to either of these invitations or respond to contact by email or telephone.
In mid-December 2020 the council added the family's housing application to its housing register and they were placed in Band 2H - H denotes homeless.
The council says that 'Mr B' has yet to bid on any properties under its choice-based lettings system and that two suitable four bed properties have become available since December 2020.
Between August 2019 and December 2020 six four-bedroom properties were advertised on the choice-based lettings system.
But four of these were allocated to applicants in Band 1, another was given to an applicant in Band 2 as a direct offer and the other was offered under the Emergency Band.
All the offers made under Band 1 and Band 2 were to applicants (in similar positions to Mr B and family) who had been on the system for at least three years.
Had the family been offered interim accommodation in the Summer of 2019 they would now be much higher on the list to bid for a permanent property.
Within three months, Bromley Council will be asked to provide evidence on how it will ensure that all relevant staff are aware of their responsibilities in relation to assessing homeless applicants.
It has also been asked to review the casework management system and implement necessary changes including the incorporation of computer generated monitoring and reminders to assist staff with managing homelessness cases.
Bromley Council declined to comment.