A London mum was told she could use her living room as a bedroom by a council that failed to find a suitable home for her family. A mum-of-three was refused a new property from Westminster City Council while living in a cramped, damp home riddled with mice, a watchdog report concluded.
The housing ombudsman found multiple failings in how the local authority handled the situation and ordered it to pay the mum, known as Miss X, £500 compensation. The family’s ordeal began in October 2020, when Miss X asked the council to move them to a bigger home.
She was given a temporary two-bed property in 2015 when she had two young kids but asked for a larger space arguing there was no longer enough room and it wasn’t suitable for her eldest, aged 10, to still be sharing a bedroom. She also told the authority there was widespread damp, mould and a mice problem.
A report by the ombudsman said the council told Miss X her two older kids should have their own rooms but she was not legally classed as being overcrowded “because she can use the living room as a bedroom”.
It says the council told the ombudsman there was no damp in the flat but just some condensation caused by poor ventilation. However, her housing association’s told the watchdog there was damp in the property – inside the kitchen from a leak in the flat above and in one of the bedrooms.
The report also said the council claimed Miss X refused to let contractors repair the property. But the ombudsman ruled she had a right to because she was worried about catching Covid-19 at the time and she had just given birth. They also said one of her kids was at risk because they have asthma.
It adds: “Miss X’s concerns about her family being at risk were therefore not unfounded. Due to the ongoing restrictions, and the time of year, as well as the ages of her children, it was not practicable for Miss X to be away from the property all day while works were carried out, as she might have done in other circumstances.
“The council remains responsible for ensuring that homeless households live in safe and suitable accommodation. The rodent infestation and the serious leaks Miss X reported should have prompted the council to consider whether it needed to act to ensure the property remained safe and suitable.”
The council told Miss X that her accommodation was suitable but did not tell her that she had a right to appeal the decision, which the ombudsman said is a fault and an injustice. The council eventually gave Miss X emergency housing after she complained to the watchdog and suffered from another leak at the property. It was ordered to pay the woman £500 and apologise to her.
The council’s executive director of housing Debbie Jackson said: “We fully accept the findings of the ombudsman’s report, and would like to apologise to the tenant. Miss X and her family have now been moved to more suitable accommodation.”
If you’re having problems with council housing, get in touch with our reporter: [email protected]
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